Member Spotlight – July 2018

  • by Will Holbert
  • Jul 20, 2018
  • Newsletters

Bon Tempe Reservoir is one of seven storage reservoirs in the Marin Municipal Water District, which was the first municipal water district in California.

100-year-old Alpine Dam Underpins Marin Municipal Water District’s Rich History

Replacing pipelines, maintaining infrastructure and ensuring the flow of high-quality drinking water to customers tops the agenda of most municipal water districts in California today, including the very first one in the state. But if there is one thing the Marin Municipal Water District has more of than water, it’s history.

The Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) traces its roots to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which resulted in a population boom as former City residents relocated in Marin County. That helped create pressure to establish a publically owned water supplier, against the wishes of private water companies. The private water companies lost and Marin Assemblyman George Harlan successfully drafted legislation allowing the creation of municipal water districts, starting with MMWD in 1912. A century later, the district’s rich history was chronicled by MMWD board member Jack Gibson in “Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Municipal Water District.” 

Quite a lot of MMWD’s early history is told through its first major project, Alpine Dam on Lagunitas Creek, which marks its centennial next year. MMWD will be hosting a community event to commemorate the occasion in May 2019.

The freshly minted district recognized an urgent need to balance population demand with water supply. It managed to get a $3 million bond issue passed to build Alpine Dam, despite the private water companies fighting a rear-guard action through an aggressive vote-no campaign. 

Meanwhile, real fighting on the other side of the world almost shut down the construction of Alpine Dam.  America’s entry into World War I drastically increased the cost of labor and decreased the supply of construction materials. The contractors hired to build the concrete dam gave up, forcing MMWD to take over construction and appointing district Board Member Michael O’Shaughnessy to step in as head engineer. O’Shaughnessy went on to design the eponymous dam that created Hetch Hetchy, a fact that has modern-day Alpine Dam nicknamed Hetch Hetchy’s “Mini Me,” according to MMWD Facilities and Watershed Division Manager Crystal Yezman.

Completed in early 1919, Alpine Dam measured 100 feet in height and spanned 325 feet along the crest. A 15-foot-wide road along the top was just wide enough for automobiles of the day. Alpine lake behind it contained more than 3,000 acre feet of water. Over the years, Alpine Dam would grow taller and become one of four MMWD dams on Lagunitus Creek, which drains the Mount Tamalpais watershed. 

Shortly after Alpine Dam opened, the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company, better known as C&H, offered MMWD a sweet deal. The giant sugar processor offered to pay for raising Alpine Dam eight feet and then for pipelines that would carry fresh water to Point San Quentin. From there, barges would haul the water across the San Francisco Bay to C&H’s massive refinery in Crockett. The expansion became known as the “Sugar Line,” and while no longer in use by C&H, the pipeline remains in use today as a water main supplying communities in Marin County’s Ross Valley.

Global developments once again affected work on Alpine Dam in 1941, when crews were raising it by 30 additional feet to double its capacity. Concrete was poured one week after Pearl Harbor, and timing became a critical factor because the war effort would quickly deplete available manpower, according to Gibson’s book.

While Alpine Dam is among the earliest dam and reservoirs built in MMWD’s system, it’s not the oldest. That honor goes to Lake Lagunitas, built in 1872, and Phoenix Lake built in 1905, both inherited from private water companies. The district added Bon Tempe reservoir in 1948, followed by Kent Lake in 1954. The district then built Nicasio Reservoir in 1960 followed by Soulajule Reservoir in 1979, the last addition to the district’s water storage system. Alpine Dam is the district’s only concrete dam.

Over time, MMWD has also built a legacy for responsible stewardship of its property – mainly the Mount Tamalpais watershed, which accounts for 75% of the district’s water supply. 

Alpine Dam today.

“As the largest landowner on Mount Tamalpais, MMWD prides itself on working with conservationists and making its land accessible for public recreation,” Yezman said. 

The district maintains one of the oldest park ranger programs, dating from 1917. During the 1950s, a developer approached the district with a proposal to build a resort on top of Mount Tamalpais. MMWD turned it down in favor of maintaining the mountain in a more natural state. 

Alpine Dam under construction 100 years ago. Next year marks the centennial of Alpine Dam’s completion.

MMWD continues its emphasis on conservation today by engaging in forestry work to reduce fire risk and restore habitat for endangered species, as evidenced by its healthy population of Northern Spotted Owls. It also invites the public to participate through a watershed volunteer program established in 1995. Today it works closely with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to protect its land and preserve public access to Mount Tamalpais.

“In a way, we were founded as part of an early movement toward publically owned water, and today we reflect that legacy through environmental stewardship and keeping land open for public recreation,” stated Jack Gibson, board member and resident historian for MMWD.


Print PDF Version

Suggested Resources

15 RESOURCES prev next
Bay-Delta Plan Update Toolkit

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

ACWA 2018 Regulatory Summit Presentations

ACWA’s 2018 Regulatory Summit was held on Oct. 16, 2018 at the Hilton Arden-West in Sacramento. The theme of this […]

Comments on Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Implementation

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Implementation of Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Letter excerpt:  The Association of California Water Agencies […]

Joint Comments On Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life: Primer

Agency: Department of Water Resources Subject: Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life: Primer of 2018 Legislation on Water […]

August 2018 Federal Regulatory Chart

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Toolkit Available for Supporting, Educating About Proposition 3

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

WATER PROFESSIONALS APPRECIATION WEEK TOOLKIT

California’s second annual Water Professionals Appreciation Week will kick off Oct. 6, highlighting the important role of water industry professionals […]

Comments on 2018 Draft Basin Prioritization Under SGMA

Agency: California Department of Water Resources Subject: 2018 Draft Basin Prioritization under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Letter excerpt:  The Association of […]

Bay-Delta Plan Resources

The following resources related to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and related documents are available to ACWA members. State […]

ACWA Dues Automation Process Webinar

ACWA has a recording available of the webinar on the new Dues Automation Process. The purpose of this recording is to assist […]

Joint Comments on Bay-Delta Plan Amendments for Flow Objectives on Lower San Joaquin River

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Bay-Delta Plan Amendments for Flow Objectives on Lower San Joaquin River Letter excerpt: The […]

ACWA Comments on Revisions to Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Amendments

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Revisions to Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Amendments Letter excerpt: The Association of California Water Agencies […]

2018 ACWA Member Directory

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

July 2018 Federal Regulatory Chart

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Joint Comments on Proposed Recycled Water Policy Amendment

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Suggested News

15 Articles prev next
Member Spotlight – October 2018

Q & A with Executive Director Designate Dave Eggerton What do you identify as the most significant challenge facing public […]

Faces of Water Q&A – October 2018

Jason Word, Irrigation Field Services Manager, Modesto Irrigation District 1. Describe your job. My duties consist of overseeing the operation, […]

DWR Breaks Ground on Dutch Slough Tidal Restoration Project

SACRAMENTO – The Department of Water Resources (DWR), along with state and local partners,  celebrated the groundbreaking of the Delta’s […]

Moulton Niguel Awarded $300,000 Federal Grant to Prevent Leaks, Upgrade Meter Technology

Moulton Niguel Water District is getting a boost in its efforts to detect leaks and upgrade its infrastructure. This month, […]

ACWA Regulatory Summit Looks Ahead on Treatment Methods, Rules

ACWA’s 2018 Regulatory Summit hosted scientists, experts and representatives from state government who shared insights with approximately 120 attendees on […]

DWR Accepting Public Comments on Draft Guidelines for Prop 1 IRWM Implementation Grant Program

On Oct. 5,  DWR released the 2018 Proposition 1 – Round 1 IRWM Implementation Grant Draft Proposal Solicitation Package and IRWM Grant Program […]

VID Accepts Statewide Award for Governance and Transparency

VISTA — The Vista Irrigation District (district) has received a major statewide honor, the District of Distinction Gold Recognition award. Additionally, […]

Water Professionals Appreciation Week 2018 Showcases Agencies’ Creative Side

Water agencies throughout California celebrated the second annual Water Professionals Appreciation Week between Oct. 6-14 by highlighting career opportunities and […]

EMWD Hosts Free Birding Tours Beginning in October

PERRIS — Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) is again hosting its monthly birding tours at EMWD’s San Jacinto Wetlands beginning […]

TUD Hires New General Manager

After an extensive and collaborative executive recruitment process, the Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) Board of Directors has selected a new […]

‘Beyond the Brink’ Now Available on DVD

Filmmaker and Producer Jim Thebaut’s exploration of a future where water, food, and natural resources teeter on the edge of […]

Four Riverside County Schools Awarded Coveted Solar Cup Competition Sponsorships

RIVERSIDE – Western Municipal Water District (Western) has announced it will sponsor four teams from its service area in western […]

PWD Shares Water Facts with Students on “Imagine A Day Without Water”

PALMDALE – To mark the fourth annual Imagine a Day Without Water, Palmdale Water District (PWD) staff visited Palmdale Prep Academy […]

October Priority Issues Update

The October 2018 Priority Issues Update is now available online to members. The update is bullet-style summary of the latest […]

Senate Passes Infrastructure Spending Bill

The Senate today passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA), S 3021, by a vote of 99-1. This bipartisan bicameral […]