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
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
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
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.