Col. Finley Writes Story of Early Santa Ana Water

Col. S.H. Finley
Santa Ana Journal, May 28, 1936

Editor’s Note: Col. Finley is secretary of the Metropolitan Water District [MWD], of which Santa Ana is a member. He was city engineer at the time Santa Ana installed its first municipal water system and has followed its development since that time. Col. Finley has been an important figure in the history of Santa Ana and Orange County.

My first memory of a Santa Ana water supply was when I arrived in this small village in 1878. At that time the scattered residences around the business section were supplied from individual shallow wells.

A portion of the business houses were furnished with water from an artesian well 300 feet deep, located on the ground now occupied by the W.H. Spurgeon building, which was operated by Mr. Spurgeon.

Soon afterward there was a demand for water in the second stories of buildings, which the natural pressure from the well would not reach, and a windmill and 3,000-gallon tank were installed for meeting the requirements. Within a few years the windmill failed to supply sufficient water for the growing town and a new pump and steam engine replaced the windmill. The entire new equipment could be carried on an ordinary buckboard.

Following this advanced step, various mains of limited length were installed to supply new customers, some of the pipes being as large as two inches in diameter. When the boom of the 80’s struck Santa Ana and the population rapidly increased, it became apparent that the local water system, which Mr. Spurgeon had provided because no one else would do it, was inadequate for the needs.

Upon incorporation of the city in 1886, it was possible to secure a public water system. The first bond issue ever authorized by the city was provided to the amount of $60,000, in 1889.

5th and main santa ana 1887
An 1887 view of Fifth and Main in Santa Ana
Courtesy the Orange County Archives

The writer was city engineer at that time and it became his duty to take charge of planning and constructing the municipal system. The Baker Iron Works of Los Angeles secured the contract for installing the systems. The original pump is still in place—kept as a souvenir.

With the available funds, lands were purchased at the corner of Flower and West Fifth streets, upon which an artesian well was provided, pumping plant installed and concrete reservoir constructed, into which the water flowed, and from which it was pumped through the cast iron mains (the largest of which was eight inches in diameter) to the business and close-in residential areas of the city.

Mr. Spurgeon was glad to be relieved of the responsibility which he had taken on, of providing water for the community. However, in the gradual transfer of the services to the municipal system, numerous difficulties were encountered by a double hook on some of the older lines, and consequent breaking of old pipes.

Soon, however, all services were connected directly with the city system and old pipes abandoned. The location of some of them was unknown. A. Best was manager and the only record kept was in his memory.

Gradual extensions of pipe lines and installation of new pumps and drilling of new wells have continued to the present time, when the investment in our water system has increased from $60,000 to $1,243,000.

In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the underground basin from which we have been securing our water supply would no longer meet our needs and in 1928 Santa Ana, by a vote of five to one, united with 12 other cities in organizing the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the purpose of which was to transport water from the Colorado river to supplement our present supply and provide against any shortage in the future. The plans of this district are so familiar to all of us that it is unnecessary to recount them here.