DAMS AND WATERWAYS

                

In view of the need for water, plans were made to build a way to control and save the water with dams and flumes    The period from 1895 to 1922 marked the beginnings of San Diego's water system with transition from privately owned system to a municipal one.  The Tecarte Mountain Water Company rights and Otay Water Co. were combined in 1895, when E.S. Babcock and Mr. Spreckles’ (of San Diego fame) interests merged.  This became  Southern  Calif. Mountain Water Company.  In 1912 this company was sold to the city, so Spreckles and his company could promote the building of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad.  The city eventually bought the entire water system from Morena to Otay. 

Otay Dam was finished in 1897.  During the flood of 1916 the dam burst.  Ella McCain (4) of Potrero relates the story, “When the Otay Dam broke I was in the kitchen, when I heard such a great roaring sound, it sounded like a great hole had opened up between us and the McAlmond Ranch, at the lower end of the valley, and all that great stream of water was pouring into it.”  “One of the Harvey boys that lived at the Harvey Ranch back in the mountains north of Dulzura, was out looking after the cattle, and from the mountains where he was, he could see that the Otay Dam had gone out.”  “Almost all of Otay and Palm City, both small towns, were swept away by the flood waters.”  People were warned to go to the hills, but some animals were swept out to the bay.  

Morena Dam was started back in 1886 and because of bond issues declared illegal and other problems it went through five building stages, several owners and numerous headaches.   Finally 19 feet were added just prior to 1930 to complete a total height of 160 feet.  The water flowed directly from Morena into Barrett Dam when completed, via tunnels and flumes.

During this same period (1919-22) the Barrett Dam was built also to bring the water to Otay.  This was a big undertaking for that time considering the equipment available and it brought lots of workers and equipment to this area.  The first problem was to build a twelve mile road to the dam site.  From Barrett Junction, a steep grade was hewn out of sheer walls of very hard rock before it reached the site of the dam.   If you have ever driven the road to Barrett Dam, it is a hair raising experience (closed to traffic now).  The road is a narrow, dangerous, twisting road and only room for one car.  If you meet someone, the car going down the hill must back up to one of the few turn outs.  This must have been the condition of most roads at that time.  I traveled this road years ago when fishing in Barrett Lake was legal.  About 13 miles of conduit flumes and tunnels were built between Barrett Lake and down to Otay. 

The main objective was to provide San Diego with water and improving Highway 94 was an added advantage.    To do this construction, roads needed to be improved to aid in the movement of material and equipment.  Also by controlling the water routes it slowed some erosion and severe wash outs on the road.  At this time Highway 94 was still a narrow, windy and unpaved road.

 

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