Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District Celebrates 60 Years

  • by Katherine Causland
  • Oct 16, 2020
  • Newsletters

An unidentified man stands on top of the USG-3 Service Connection nestled in Azusa Canyon in this photo from the 1970s. The connection conveys water to the Upper District from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District celebrates a 60th Anniversary this year, but this ACWA member agency’s rich history already contains enough firsts, milestones and challenges overcome to fill a centennial. 

During the early 1930s, the San Gabriel Valley was a productive land bursting with citrus orchards that gave way to a community of homes, thriving businesses and emerging industries that established a firm base for its growing wealth. From the beginning, the story of the Valley is similar to the booming growth story of Southern California, which is bound to the story of water. The San Gabriel Valley is unique and fortunate to have a vast underground water supply that at one time seemed inexhaustible. However, by the early 1950s, San Gabriel Valley water producers faced the sobering fact that the demand would soon outstrip the supply as the region experienced rapid urbanization and population spikes.

The Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, widely known simply as the Upper District, was incorporated on Jan.7, 1960. The newly minted water wholesaler’s Board of Directors immediately began discussions to solve the local water supply challenges. They were tasked with determining two things: how much supplemental water would be needed for the basin and what would be the most economically feasible water source. A careful analysis was performed known as the “Stetson Report” which found Colorado River water to be the most affordable and safest source of supply. This supply would be obtained by joining Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which operates and owns the Colorado River Aqueduct system. 

Voters approved the annexation into MWD in 1963, which gave Upper District the capability to import water supplies from the Colorado River and eventually allow the ability to import water from the State Water Project when it became available in the 1970s.

As it grew and developed, the Upper District marked a number of breakthroughs and “firsts,” in addition to being the first San Gabriel Valley water agency to join MWD. During the early 1970s, General Manager Jane Bray was among the first women general managers among Los Angeles area water agencies. Upper District’s San Gabriel River Watershed Restoration Program, initiated in 1991, earned it another regional first. The Upper District was also the first water district to introduce recycled water to its region.

“Each of our retailer customers and everyone we serve together is a part of the Upper District story. Whether its community members participating in one of our conservation programs, or customers collaborating among to ensure a safe and reliable water supply, ours is a history worth celebrating,” said Upper District Board President Ed Chavez. “This celebration also serves as a reminder of the Upper District’s vibrant potential for continuing innovation.”

Today, 80% of the San Gabriel Valley’s water demand is met by available groundwater in the Main San Gabriel Basin, while the other 20% is imported from Northern California that supplement these local supplies. Imported water from MWD is delivered through an outlet called the USG-3 Service Connection nestled in Azusa Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. As part of its groundwater replenishment efforts, Upper District works in cooperation with the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, who closely manages and protects groundwater resources in the San Gabriel Valley. 

At its core, Upper District’s primary role is to import supplemental water to help replenish the groundwater basin and help meet residential and commercial water demands in the Valley. However, acknowledging the negative impacts of high water usage on the environment and the basin, Upper District prioritized conservation early on, including it as a major cornerstone of its water portfolio. This longstanding emphasis on educating residents of smart water use efficiency practices is reflected in its 60th Anniversary celebrations, such as its newest campaign – Conserve-a-Palooza, an online giveaway program.

Director of Government and Community Affairs Patty Cortez said the impetus to celebrate a 60th Anniversary stemmed in part from talking with long-term employees who had been with Upper District for about 30 years. 

“We have a lot of cool firsts, and a lot of great archival material, but realized we had never celebrated any other annual milestone. So it was time,” Cortez said.

Planning started last year and centered on an in-person event. But then, modern history-in-the-making caught up with plans to celebrate. However, that is not stopping Upper District. Cortez said Upper District is producing a virtual event that will be shared with the community through its member agencies and cities later this fall.

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