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California State Water Project Milestones



Special session of the Legislature, called by Governor Goodwin J. Knight, creates a single State Department of Water Resources. It replaces the State Engineer's Office, the Water Project Authority, the State Water Resources Board, and the Division of Water Resources of the Department of Public Works. (Water rights jurisdiction are assigned to another new agency--the State Water Rights Board. In 1967, its functions are taken over by the State Water Resources Control Board.)

On July 5, 1956, the State Department of Water Resources comes into existence.

The new Department is organized with a Division of Resources Planning, Division of Design and Construction, Division of Administration, and a Southern California District.

DWR also acquires the duties of the State Water Board, later renamed the California Water Commission.

Governor Knight appoints a distinguished consulting engineer--Harvey O. Banks--to be its first Director. Banks serves as DWR Director from 1956-1961.


The Department completes the California Water Plan (Bulletin No. 3). It presents preliminary plans for developing all of the state's water resources to meet its ultimate water needs. Those plans include a system of reservoirs, aqueducts, pumping and power plants that would transport water from areas of surplus in the north to the water deficient south.


State engineers recommend alternative routes for aqueduct systems to serve Southern California.

The Legislature enacts Burns-Porter Act, providing initial funding of $1.75 billion in general obligation bonds and authorizing construction of its facilities.



California voters approve the Burns-Porter Act to finance construction of the State Water Project.

Whale Rock Dam, located near San Luis Obispo, is completed to meet the county's water needs. It was the first major dam designed and constructed by DWR.


On January 1, William E. Warne is appointedDirector. Warne serves until December 31, 1966. (Mr. Warne died March 9, 1996.)

The Department is reorganized with the Division of Resources Planning split into four branches situated in Sacramento, and a headquarters staff. The branches were the Bay Area, Delta, Northern and San Joaquin Valley, and a Technical Services Office. The Division of Operations and Maintenance is added, as well as the Division of Design and Construction was established, approved and financed by the Burns-Porter Act.

Construction begins on State Water Project facilities, including Oroville Dam, key water storage facility on the Feather River in the upper Sacramento Valley.

California and the U.S. Government sign an agreement to build the San Luis Joint-Use Facilities for storage, pumping and conveyance for state-federal water operations.


President John F. Kennedy and Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr. join in a dedication ceremony for the San Luis Dam and Reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley west of Los Banos. (Governor Brown, a leader in developing the State Water Project, served as California's Governor from 1959 to 1967. The California Aqueduct was renamed the Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct in his honor in December 1982. He died on February 16, 1996.)


Construction begins on San Luis Dam. The San Luis Reservoir is planned for joint use by the SWP and the federal Central Valley Project, since both systems require storage of surplus flows pumped from the Delta.

Construction begins on the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant in the South Delta, starting point of the California Aqueduct.

The Baldwin Hills Dam failure dramatically impacts and restructures the Division of Safety of Dams.

The Power Office is created in October.

The San Joaquin District is established in Fresno.


December storms cause severe flooding along North Coast rivers, including the Smith, Eel and Van Duzen. December flooding on the Feather River is checked by the partly-completed Oroville Dam.

DWR moves into the Resources Building from 19 locations in Sacramento. The building is dedicated on January 8, 1965.


Construction begins on A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant, largest pumping facility of the State Water Project, to lift water almost 2,000 feet up and over the Tehachapi Mountains into Southern California. At peak capacity, the plant pumps almost 2 million gallons a minute through 10 miles of pipeline across the Tehachapi Mountains.

The new Division of Safety of Dams is created on July 1.

Bay Area District is established in Vallejo. It closes in 1968 and merges with the Sacramento District to form the Central District.


Effective January 1, Governor Ronald Reagan appoints William R. Gianelli as DWR Director. Gianelli serves until April, 1973.

Feather River Salmon and Steelhead Hatchery below Oroville Dam opens to help compensate for the loss of natural spawning areas to the dam.

Construction is completed on Oroville Dam. At 770 feet high, Oroville Dam is the tallest earthfill dam in the nation. Its reservoir is the largest in the SWP, with a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet.

Construction is completed on the San Luis Dam. With a capacity of two million acre-feet, the San Luis Reservoir in the eastern foothills of the Diablo Mountain Range, is the largest off-stream reservoir in the United States.


Electric power generation begins at Oroville Dam.

On April 3, the Department sells $150 million in bonds to pay for construction costs of the Oroville Division power facilities. This is the first sale of revenue bonds to finance SWP construction. (The Department was able to retire the 50-year bonds by April 1, 1994.)

Banks Pumping Plant is completed. With seven units, its pumping capacity is 6,400 cubic feet per second. (In 1991, four more units are added, boosting total capacity to 10,300 cfs.)


The Reclamation Board staff and responsibilities are transferred to DWR.



On October 8, Governor Ronald Reagan starts the first pump at A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant, as part of a ceremony celebrating the first water deliveries to Southern California.


Initial facilities of the State Water Project are completed.

John R. Teerink, a career DWR engineer, is appointed Director. He serves until 1975. (Teerink was killed in an automobile accident on July 30, 1992.)


Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. appoints Ronald E. Robie, an attorney and legislative consultant on water law and policy, as DWR Director. Robie serves until 1983.


The State Water Project Analysis Office is established to handle contract administration and negotiations, as well as project repayment and financial analysis for the SWP.


The California Cooperative Snow Survey Program celebrates its golden anniversary, as does the Dam Safety program.

The Office of Water Conservation is established to bring together urban and agricultural conservation efforts.



DWR celebrates its 25th anniversary at the Sacramento Convention Center.


Voters reject Proposition 9 (SB 200) to build a Peripheral Canal along the eastern edge of the Delta. (In 1977, DWR had proposed a combination of state- federal programs and facilities, including a 42-mile canal to bypass the Delta and more efficiently move water from the Sacramento River south to CVP and SWP pumping plants. These later evolved into Senate Bill 200)


David N. Kennedy, an engineer and water industry executive who worked for DWR as an engineer in the 1960s, is appointed Director of DWR by Governor George Deukmejian.

DWR becomes a bulk power agency to better manage its power needs, making the State Water Project the fifth largest electric utility in California. (DWR is also the twelfth largest public-owned electric system in the nation.)


The Legislature authorizes construction of Los Banos Grandes, a 1.75 million acre-feet offstream reservoir south of the Delta. It would benefit the Delta by increasing export pumping flexibility to offset impacts on Delta fish. (The project is put on hold pending a Bay-Delta solution.)


DWR and the Department of Fish and Game sign an agreement to determine mitigation measures for the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant. Often called the "4-Pumps Agreement," referring to the four additional pumps to be installed at the Pumping Plant. The agreement's primary purpose is to offset the direct losses of striped bass, chinook salmon and steelhead caused by the pumping plant's operation. Funding comes from an initial $15 million to support fishery improvement programs and an account funded by the State Water Contractors to offset annual fish losses. This engineering addition will add significant new capabilities to the SWP's Delta export program.

In February, DWR's Flood Operations Center becomes the headquarters for many Northern California flood fights after torrential rains, starting February 19, lashed much of the North State for more than a week. Flooding occurs along several major Northern California rivers. The toll: 12 dead, 67 injured, 1,382 homes destroyed, and 12,447 homes damages. Total damage is estimated at more than $500 million.

The East Branch Enlargement begins to expand the capacity of the aqueduct to move more water south during wet years for storage in groundwater basins. The work includes raising the canal lining, building a new power plant, and modifying other facilities.

A ceremony marks the beginning of construction of the Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates, which will allow fresh water into the marsh to preserve it as the largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining in the U.S. The gates are declared operational on November 22, 1989.


The California Legislature recognizes 1986-87 as a critically dry water year and requests that DWR provide drought contingency planning assistance to the water industry.

The Office of Public Information and Communications (now known as the Office of Water Education) is established.

On November 24, after more than 25 years of negotiations and Congressional approval, Director Kennedy and David Houston, Regional Director, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, sign the Coordinated Operation Agreement. It ushers in a new era of cooperation in operating the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project.


Major California drought impacts SWP water deliveries. DWR operates the Drought Information Center and expands water conservation education efforts.


After more than two years of planning and negotiating, the Department purchases 19,900 acres adjacent to the Kern River, establishing the Kern Water Bank, a SWP groundwater recharge program.


The week of May 1-7 marks the first statewide celebration of Water Awareness Week. The event is later extended over the entire month of May.



Governor Pete Wilson reappoints David N. Kennedy as DWR Director.

DWR initiates a California Water Bank to facilitate transfers and sales of water during drought to meet water needs. The Water Bank was activated in the drought years of 1991, 1992 and 1994.


In April, Governor Wilson announces a long-term comprehensive water policy that takes account of the needs and concerns of each of the major interests in water use and development. It includes fixing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, protecting groundwater resources and fish and wildlife, and promoting water marketing, water conservation, and water recycling.


In December, DWR begins construction on a 100-mile Coastal Branch. This pipeline project will allow State Water Project water to be transported to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties---a drought- vulnerable area---as a supplemental water supply. Completion of this $530 million project is expected in 1997.


In July, state and federal agencies sign the Framework Agreement, whose principles set into motion processes to provide more reliable water supplies for Northern and Southern California, protect wildlife in the Bay- Delta ecosystem, and prohibit the listing of more endangered species. To help fulfill the agreement, the CALFED Bay-Delta Program was established and charged with developing long-term solutions to problems in the Bay-Delta estuary.

On December 1, negotiators for DWR and the State Water Contractors reach an agreement, known as the Monterey Agreement, to modernize the way the State Water Project allocates, stores and sells water. These changes represent the most significant since contracts were signed in the early 1960s.

As a leading state agency, DWR signs on December 15 "The Principles for Agreement on Bay-Delta Standards," a major agreement on Delta water supplies, water quality and environmental protection. The Department will also serve as an active partner in the CALFED Bay-Delta Program process created by the agreement to develop solutions to Delta water supply and quality challenges.


DWR relocates operational headquarters for the SWP from the Resources Building in downtown Sacramento to a renovated building north of the downtown. The new Joint Operations Center is shared with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operators of the Central Valley Project, and the National Weather Service, a partner in DWR's new Flood Center.


Heavy rain and snowfall during January and February assure ample water supplies for 1996. On March 8, DWR announces it will deliver 100 percent of the water amounts requested (about 2.7 million acre-feet) by its 29 long-term water supply contractors in 1996.

DWR and USBR releases environmental documents for a South Delta Program to improve flows for fish habitat, agriculture and water exports. It includes installing three permanent flow control structure and a fish barrier, dredging channels, and constructing a new intake to Clifton Court Forebay.


The 100-mile-long Coastal Aqueduct was completed and the project was dedicated on July 18, 1997. The pipieline project transports State Water Project water to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.


Thomas M. Hannigan was appointed as Director of the Department of Water Resources by Governor Gray Davis.

In December, the State Water Project Atlas was published. This multi-color, highly-illustrated reference book describes the major features of the State Water Project.



The CALFED Bay-Delta Program published a plan to fix Delta water problems and address its major water challenges over the next 30 years. Agreement on the plan was jointly announced on June 9, 2000, by California Governor Gray Davis, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein. The plan was formalized in a Record of Decision issued on August 28, 2000.

DWR assumed a leading role in the implementation of the CALFED plan, including programs related to water storage, Delta conveyance, Delta levee system integrity, watershed management, water use efficiency, and water quality


The CALFED Environmental Water Account, or EWA, completed its first year of operation. The EWA provided 287,000 acre-feet of water for environmental purposes without reducing Project deliveries.