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February 22, 2011 > History: Artesian Wells in Alvarado

History: Artesian Wells in Alvarado

In the late 1850's, when drilling a well, an aquifer below Alvarado was discovered that produced artesian wells (wells that produced water without pumping). Richard Bensen, who owned the land around the Henry Smith landing, allowed the water to flow into a natural depression, creating a lake. Bensen built an artificial island and on it, an arbor and a picnic area. He rented boats allowing visitors to paddle around and lunch on the island. In 1857, Richard Barron bought the landing and the lake became known as Barron's Lake. The flow was about 100 gallons a minute and the lake was about 4 or 5 acres in size. Overflow from the lake flowed into the bay. The well itself was 185 feet deep.

Other artesian wells in the Alvarado area were; E. H. Dyer's well at 273 feet deep, he also had a couple on the grounds of the sugar mill; Eb Farley's well at 283 feet deep; John Hall had three wells on his property with one only 78 feet deep; and Mr. Crane, Mr. Ingalls, and Mr. Nelson each had a well on their property.

In 1890, William Farwell of Oakland started planning to tap the artesian wells in Alvarado and supply the water to the City of Oakland. In 1894, the Eureka Chemical Company and F. B. Granger sold land to William Farwell. In October of 1894, two rail car loads of pumping equipment from the Edw. Allis Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, arrived in Alvarado for the plant of the Oakland Water Company, run by William Dingee. Mr. A. J. West and A. E. Werner arrived from the Edw. Allis Company to supervise the erection of the pumping plant. The water was flowing from Alvarado to Oakland by December 13, 1894 at the rate of 3 million gallons in a 24 hour period. A 30-inch line was put in from Alvarado, due north over the salt flats, to Oakland.

Oakland had two water companies supplying it, the Contra Costa Water Company that used large reservoirs and the Oakland Water Company, getting its supply from the artesian wells in Alvarado. Each company was competitive, and the Contra Costa Water Company made claims about the purity of the water from Alvarado. Professor E. W. Hilgard from the University of California, Berkeley, wrote an open letter attesting to the softness and purity of the artesian water from Alvarado.

In 1895, the Oakland Water Company was ready to provide water to anyone in Alvarado, having laid pipes along the principal streets. The original pipes used to get the water out of Alvarado were wooden; in July of 1895, the Company put in an order with the Francis Smith Pipe Works to replace the wooden flume.

Also in 1895, the Contra Costa Water Company bought land in Alvarado, where the old glue factory was located and put in their own wells. Instead of sending the water to Oakland, the company pumped the water out into the marshes and the bay. It appeared that they planned to drain the supply from the Oakland Water Company. The Oakland Tribune reported on August 3, 1895 that a number of Oakland citizens travelled to Alvarado to check these reports and were shocked to see that it was true. Christian Schreiber described it this way, "I cannot find the words strong enough to express my opinion of the men who would assist in such a dastardly waste of pure water as those people are pouring over the marshes of Alvarado." It was later reported that by October, dumping water had ceased.

By 1899, the Oakland Water Company merged with the Contra Costa Water Company. At that time they had a total of 31 wells, with depths from 197 to 1,000 feet and diameters of 4 to 10 inches. About 5 million gallons were pumped from the wells each day.

By 1909, People's Water Company, formerly Contra Costa Water Company, was running the Alvarado pumping plant covering 318 acres with 37 wells and a capacity of 9 million gallons a day. In 1913, the People's Water Company acquired the well at the Alvarado sugar plant, increasing its capacity by another 3 million gallons a day.

By 1927, the amount of water being pumped out of the aquifer lowered the water table to below the bay and salt water began to intrude in the local wells. At this time, outflow was 10 million gallons a day. In 1930, the Alameda County Water Company, which serves most of Washington Township, purchased the Alvarado wells, including the local water distribution system from the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (formerly the People's Water Company), for a cost of $265,000.

In 1932, Hayward was still getting water from wells in Alvarado and Judge John D. Murphy upheld the right of Hayward to keep pumping water from the wells, up to its limit of 182,646,000 gallons.

For many years the brick pump house from the Oakland Water Company stood near Alameda Creek in Alvarado. In 1995, the Union Sanitary District purchased the land where the pump house sat. In 1999, the Union Sanitary District made plans to level the building and replace it with a new fuel station in a new corporation yard. A 1995 Environmental Impact Report reported that no buildings of historical significance were found on the property and plans were made to demolish the building. Some complaints were made about the demolition but the Union Sanitation District determined that it would cost far too much for refurbishment, so demolition was allowed.

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