Mayor Carlos Olvera surveys the view of Dana Point from Louise Leyden Park in Capistrano Beach. Photo: Andrea Swayne
Mayor Carlos Olvera surveys the view of Dana Point from Louise Leyden Park in Capistrano Beach. Photo: Andrea Swayne

By Carlos N. Olvera

We live in a desert?

The history of getting water to the Los Angeles basin is a long and political story. Orange County is no different. The first recorded water supply was that of Aaron Buchheim of Serra—the train stop now known as the Doheny Village area of Capistrano Beach—and it was a well, dug by hand in 1897 along San Juan Creek.

In 1914, Blanche Dolph’s new house on the hill—Dana Point’s oldest residence—had water delivered by pump to the home. On one occasion the pump was not shut off and water flooded the acreage causing many flowers to bloom along with a bumper crop of figs, grapes, olives, citrus and other fruits.

In 1915 the Capistrano Water Company utilized the flow of San Juan Creek and its ground wells.

In 1924 the San Juan Point Corporation announced it was laying a pipeline from a well drilled at Serra Station to Dana Point where a two million gallon reservoir was planned for water storage for a gravity flow system.

In 1925 it was predicted that Capistrano Beach’s population would reach 75,000 with the new developments.

In 1926 the Buchheim Water Company was authorized by the State Railroad Commission to become the San Juan Water Company. But as demand was increasing, quality got worse. This then convinced area founding fathers (developers) Edward Doheny and S.H. Woodruff to join forces with Buchheim. Together they were able to say there would be water for a population of 125,000. Dana Point’s problem was San Juan Creek couldn’t support the thousands of people expected due to developments in the mid to late1920s.

In 1927, Woodruff had a water tank built, located at Stonehill and Golden Lantern, to insure he had water for his new development and the golf course he had planned. The tank was emblazoned with the words “Dana Point Water.” He later advertised there would be water for more than 100,000 people.

So-called “water wars” were declared in 1930 when San Clemente filed a lawsuit to establish its right to take water from San Juan Creek. It was fought by the San Juan Water Company and Petroleum Securities (Doheny).

In 1931, a meeting was held in Laguna Beach to discuss the formation of the Coastal Water District, comprised of the coast cities and communities, with the object of joining the Metropolitan Water District. It included Woodruff of Dana Point, Buchheim of San Juan Capistrano, and H. F. Kenny of Doheny Park.

By the mid-1940s, the local population was 10,000 and ground water levels were low. By 1946 the water district was known as the Coastal Municipal Water District of Laguna Beach.

In 1947 the land owners of the Doheny Palisades requested annexation to the Coastal District. A year later, the Chandler-Sherman Corporation petitioned for annexation for Dana Point. The South Coast Water District, originally formed in 1932, recommended the county approve the annexations.

In 1956 it became necessary to ration water in Orange County. Due to a line break, Dana Point Heights was without water for a month.

In 1959 voters elected to create the Tri-Cities Water District. This was to align it with Metropolitan Water district due to salt water in-flux into wells and to make Colorado River water available. Division 1 covered Dana Point, Division 2 covered Capistrano Beach and Division 3 was San Clemente. This set the stage for San Juan Water to become Capistrano Beach Water District by 1960 and for imported water from Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles.

By 1997, after a two year fight, Tri-Cities Water was dissolved and later became a part of South Coast Water District.

Managing water in South Orange County has been a problem since day one. Importing water has been its only choice.

Dana Point residents are supplied water by three different agencies, South Coast Water District—the majority supplier—Moulton Niguel Water District and the City of San Juan Capistrano. With three companies competing for the same water, could there be another round of water wars?

Conservation did not work in the past; it will not work in the future. We have always had more people than water.

Carlos N. Olvera is chairman of the OC Historical Commission and mayor of Dana Point.

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