Much of the Western U.S. naturally gets limited rainfall, and the East Bay is no exception. In Oakland's early days, the chronic shortage of water led to competing private water companies, and the famed "Water War" over resources and customers between Contra Costa Water Company and the Oakland Water Company. Both sides had experts proclaim the water from the competition as "unfit for human consumption" and sabotaged each other's equipment. 2

William Dingee and the Oakland Water Company ultimately won the water war and Dingee made a fortune in real estate. But his fortunes collapsed in 1908 and he died in obscurity in 1941.

1852 Oakland incorporated, population about 2,000
Wells are the primary source of fresh water
1866 Anthony Chabot organizes Contra Costa Water Company
1868 Chabot constructs Lake Temescal
1870 Chabot completes San Leandro Reservoir (later renamed Chabot Reservoir)
Population increases to 10,500
1890 Population increases to 47,000
1893 William Dingee organizes Oakland Water Company
1898 City starts formation of a municipal waterworks
Dingee gains control of a combined Contra Costa Water Company
1906 Syndicate Water Company formed by "Borax" Smith and Frank Havens
Peoples Water Company formed
Syndicate Water Company buys Contra Costa Water Company
1907 Peoples Water Company buys Syndicate Water Company
1910 Population swells to 150,000 including post-1906 earthquake refugees
1916 East Bay Water Company buys Peoples Water Company
1921 MUD Act adopted by the state
1923 EBMUD is organized (May 22, 1923)

Dingee's Oakland Water Company moved quickly. It was formed in 1893; in 1894 the city council voted to give it the water concession west of Broadway. 3

The idea of a municipal utility district (MUD) including parts of the East Bay was discussed for years before the MUD Act was passed by the state of California in 1921. This was necessary because the population had outgrown the available water supply, meaning water had to be brought in from somewhere else like the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was no longer feasible for a single private company to create the needed infrastructure. The MUD Act allowed for a municipal utility district to be formed even across county lines and including unincorporated areas of the counties.

copy/paste from [Thank you NAParish for sharing!!] … too fascinating not to post … needs to be rewritten: (we have so much stuff on this! i can look back at all the CM posts and see who is related. i'll check what i tagged them-gk)

Anthony Chabot, a native of Quebec, organized the Contra Costa Water Company in 1866. His company was the first to successfully deliver piped water into Oakland. At that time, wells were Oakland’s primary water source.

William J. Dingee and the Contra Costa Water Company continued to occupy their adjacent offices in the Leimert Block until the mid-1890’s, when they became ruthless adversaries during the celebrated “Water War”. The water war started when the water company turned down a service request by Dingee. He had wanted the water to develop some of his acreage in the Montclair – Piedmont area. The refusal seems to have been due primarily to the company’s continued supply problems.

Dingee responded by drilling tunnels into the hills on his estate above Shepherd Canyon to tap underground water sources. In order to pay for this costly venture, he extended his pipes beyond his Piedmont property and into the Oakland flatlands, portions of which were still poorly served by the Contra Costa Water Company, and forming in 1893 the Oakland Water Company. This placed him in direct competition with the Contra Costa Water Company.

The competition soon became fierce. Both companies hired experts to analyze each other’s water and to declare it unfit for human consumption, results which they then loudly publicized. Holes were bored into Contra Costa Water’s marshland flumes, so that brackish water contaminated its supply for several days, and a City sewer was found hooked onto one of it mains, incidents which were blamed on the Oakland Water Company. Oakland Water claimed that someone was pumping millions of gallons of fresh water out of its Alvarado Wells into the bay. Dingee exclaimed, “The Contra Costa Water Company has hired newspapers to libel me…They have lied about the quality of our water…(and have) pumped lime into our lines….” He also accused Contra Costa Water of cutting and blowing up his mains.

The war resulted in severe water shortages. It became impossible to get water into the upper floors of downtown buildings in the afternoon. Pitchers had to be used to carry water to the second floor of City Hall. Mayor Thomas urged that the two companies consolidate and he threatened to form a municipally-operated water company to take over their service, but Contra Costa initially refused to consider consolidation. Finally, in 1898, the City initiated formation of a municipal waterworks, which apparently induced the warring companies to merge under the name of the Contra Costa Water Company, but with Dingee in control.

Although Dingee and the Contra Costa Water Company remained neighbors in the Leimert Block at the start of the water war, by 1895 the Contra Costa Water Company had moved into the Blake and Moffit Block at the northeast corner of 8th Street and Broadway, its Leimert Block office being taken over by Dingee’s Oakland Water Company. By 1899, after Dingee had gained control of Contra Costa Water, both operations relocated to the adjacent building whose address is now 801-7 Broadway. At the end of the war, Dingee was a millionaire. 1

See Also

Links and References

  1. The History Of Old Oakland, retrieved 2013-07-31
  2. President Dingee's Charges Against the Contra Costa Water Company San Francisco Call July 19, 1895
  3. The Contra Costa Water Company Worsted By Its Rival, The Dingee San Francisco Call November 20, 1894