The 1930s was a period of high hopes and anxiety for Pasadena’s young water department. While the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California pushed forward with construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct, promising Pasadena’s first water imports early the next decade, local groundwater levels continued to fall precipitously.
The Water Department initiated a process to define sustainable water rights in the Raymond Basin, a 40-square-mile natural aquifer tapped by Pasadena and adjacent cities. The various parties arrived at a consensus in the Raymond Basin Adjudication of 1944, which set a legal precedent and lasting model for fair, responsible division of water rights in California.
As Pasadena boomed in the post-World War II era, the Water Department focused on refurbishing and expanding its water storage capacity. It completed its 10th and largest reservoir in 1952, the 50-million gallon Jones Reservoir in Hastings Ranch. Meanwhile, its water quality lab kept pace with rapid advances in chemistry and biology, giving Pasadena ever greater confidence in the safety of its drinking water.
A series of regional droughts between the late 1980s and 2011, plus restrictions on water deliveries from Northern California that began in 2009, refocused the Water Department on emphasizing local supply and conservation. Aggressive incentive programs to encourage customer conservation and construction of a state-of-the-art treatment plant for rehabilitating contaminated groundwater became a high priority. In 2011, citywide water conservation hit a high mark of 18 percent and the Monk Hill Water Treatment Plant came online, both signifying Pasadena’s determination for to self-reliance.
With recent concerns about supply shortfalls, climate change and long-term drought, the challenges for Pasadena Water and Power today are different than in the past. In 2011, Pasadena adopted the PWP’s Water Integrated Resources Plan, a comprehensive strategy for ensuring reliable, cost-effective and sustainable water supply for the next 25 years.
Pasadena Water and Power is a community enterprise that has always been essential to the health, economy and quality of life for our city. In this Centennial Year, the department’s proud heritage of safe and reliable water can be shared and celebrated by all in Pasadena.
This concludes a three-part series by Pasadena resident Tim Brick on Pasadena’s water history as part of PWP’s Water Centennial Celebration. Mr. Brick serves on the board for MWD and is the author of a forthcoming book on the history of water in Pasadena.