Department of Water Resources Home

William Hammond Hall: First State Engineer

William Hammond Hall

During the Civil War, William H. Hall served under the U.S. Engineering Corps. His education and experience as a field engineer, draftsman, and hydrographer eventually led to his appointment as the first State Engineer in 1878. He had $100,000 to do a comprehensive study that would improve navigation and drainage on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, determine the effects of hydraulic mining, and assess the irrigation needs of the Central Valley.

The most intensive years of research were conducted from 1878-1883. His survey team, working from boats, gauged and sounded large portions of the Sacramento, Feather, and American rivers. They installed an extensive system of permanent river gauging stations. Irrigation acreages and practices were recorded.

Their efforts were summarized in five progress reports to the Legislature from 1878-1882. Impressive in their detail and quantity, the data was presented in extensive tables, maps, and narratives with cost analysis.

During his term as State Engineer, Hall built a number of navigation improvement projects for river commerce; gathered information eventually used to end hydraulic mining, proposed an integrated flood control system for the Sacramento Valley, compiled an abundance of data on irrigation, and called for long-range water planning by the State. However, his work suffered as the Legislature began providing him with less and less funding as some members questioned his methods and the validity of his investigations.

Hall's proposal to reform the state's system of water rights brought him the most opposition. He argued for public ownership, regulation, and control of the State's waterways and against public funding of irrigation works that he felt should be borne by private irrigation districts.

In 1888, Hall resigned his position after he went through criminal proceedings for misuse of State funds. He was exonerated and went on to continue his work as a private consulting engineer to the federal government, California irrigation districts established under the 1887 Wright Act, and projects in South Africa and eastern Europe.

Return to the History of the SWP.