(Photos on left and right courtesy East Bay MUD, center photo courtesy SF Public Utilities Commission)
Bay Area water history, one month at a time
Library calendar documents H2O's journey from 'Mountains to Mouths'
| 07 December 2006
Paeans to the engineering feats of urban water systems have a long and honorable tradition, from De aquae urbis Romae on the aqueducts of ancient Rome (".with such an array of indispensable structures carrying so many waters, compare if you will, the idle Pyramids or the useless, though famous works of the Greeks," 1st-century water commissioner Sextus Julius Frontinus famously wrote) to Its Name Was M.U.D.: A Story of Water (Ida McClendon, ed., 1999), whose description of the opening of the monumental Pardee Dam, 30 miles northeast of Stockton, in the hot, parched summer of 1929, reads like this:
"[W]orkmen.knocked out bulkheads to set the water flowing down the pipeline at long last. All that night it crept like a caged liquid serpent down from the foothills and across the valleys, over the Delta peatlands and into the Walnut Creek pumping plant. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, 1929, the head of the stream dipped into San Pablo Reservoir and began to spread. It wasn't a moment too early..At long, long last, all danger of water famine in the East Bay was lifted."
"Mountains to Mouths," a 2007 wall calendar, is a new addition to the water-works genre, albeit in visual form. The seventh in a series of annual calendars produced jointly by the campus's Water Resources Center Archives and Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library, it illustrates the historical development, mostly in the early 20th century, of the intricate network of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and pumping stations that delivers high-quality water to millions of thirsty people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Photos included in the calendar come from archival collections at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) - which, though technically open to the public, are not easily accessible, notes water librarian Paul Atwood. His collaborator on the project, Kendra Levine of the transportation library, says that many of the remarkable negatives, photos, and glass slides they discovered on their research expeditions were made for engineering purposes, to document how the work was done, and are still referred to by the utilities agencies for retrofit and repair projects. She adds that local drinking water comes from the Sierra Nevada but - like most of us - "I never thought about how it got here" before working on this project.
An ambitious reading of Its Name Was M.U.D., or Hetch Hetchy and its Dam Railroad, or the SFPUC's Water Supply Master Plan, or a small mountain of unpublished "gray literature" on the subject - all found in the Water Resources Center Archives - would be one way to honor the Chinese proverb "When you drink the water, remember the spring." Another would be to contemplate, for an entire year, "Mountains to Mouths"' photographic record of the human feats - today contemplated with heightened awareness of their environmental costs, but feats nonetheless - that bring Sierra water "like a caged liquid serpent" across the valley to our taps.
Proceeds from the sale of "Mountains to Mouths" support the Water Resources Center Archives and Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library. Copies - selling for $13 each plus tax - are available in person from the latter, located at 412 McLaughlin, or by submitting the order form available online (lib.berkeley.edu/WRCA/cal2007.html) along with your payment.