The drought of 1898 shocked Pasadena’s residents into realizing that its burgeoning population needed a more reliable water supply and distribution system.
Seeing a clear link between economic growth and water, Pasadena’s Board of Trade led the charge to consolidate three private water companies into one municipal operation. While most residents were enthusiastic, setting a fair purchase price proved contentious: 14 years of bitter political battles and scandal ensued. The debate became further convoluted when Los Angeles offered Pasadena a stake in its Owens Valley Aqueduct project, but at the price of annexation and loss of independence.
In 1912, Mayor William Thum shaped a consensus to purchase all three private water systems for $1.2 million and the Pasadena Water Department was established on Nov. 1. Under its first General Manager, Samuel Morris, the new Water Department began overhauling a patchwork of aging infrastructure, modernizing water treatment facilities and securing new
The long campaign to establish a municipal water system cemented Pasadena’s determination to remain independent. In 1913, Pasadena rejected the annexation proposal from Los Angeles and would later champion a multi-city cooperative approach to pursuing new water supplies.
Pasadena Mayor Hiram Wadsworth (1921-25) chaired the Colorado River Aqueduct Association that gave birth in 1929 to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The 13 original member agencies worked together to construct the massive aqueduct, and in 1941 Pasadena became the first city to receive supply from the Colorado River.
To Be Continued.
Tim Brick lives in Pasadena and serves on the Board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He is the author of a forthcoming book on the history of water in Pasadena. Find out more at www.PWPweb.com/WaterCentennial.