Celebrating 75 Years of Service and Planning for the Next 75

As we count down to the District’s 75th Anniversary this fall, we’ll be sharing historical photographs and archival materials on our website that document the infrastructure we all rely on every day. Many of the photos and exhibits were recently digitized, and have not been seen in decades.

While plenty has changed in the intervening years, much of the original infrastructure built out in the 1950s and 60s remains in place. Continued investment to maintain and slowly replace this aging system will ensure ongoing service reliability for customers.

1940s – Water District Formed to Battle Severe Drought

In the midst of WWII, Goleta Valley was battling a brutal drought that was drying up the entire South Coast.  It was becoming clear that additional water supply sources were needed to supplement local water.  At the time, no official agency represented the Goleta Valley in the debate concerning the development of Lake Cachuma on the Santa Ynez River.  The District was founded on November 17, 1944 by a vote of the people to represent the water interests of the Goleta Valley.

Cachuma Map and Article Photo


1950s – Cachuma Project Rescues Water-Short Goleta Valley

Goleta residents joined other County citizens voting to approve the Cachuma project by a 3-to-1 margin.  Construction began in 1950 and was completed in the mid-1950s. The Tecolote Tunnel, a seven-foot diameter, six-mile-long gravity-fed water conveyance pipeline, bored straight through the Santa Ynez Mountains delivers water to the South Coast.

Tecolote Tunnel Cosntruction PhotoThe Tunnel required years of work and earned its reputation as a “snarling vicious tiger.”  Work was repeatedly stopped by massive flooding in the tunnel, extreme temperatures, dangerous levels of toxic gas, explosions and hard rock that crushed support beams. 

Like so much of the District’s water supply, this effort to secure a reliable source of water required significant investment by rate payers.  The Goleta Water District is entitled to 36%, or 9,322 AF of the Lake’s yield each year.  Historically, that alone is enough to meet three-quarters of the District’s water needs. 

Lake Cachuma Drought Image 2013Lake Cachuma plays a critical role in the District's water supply portfolio.

1950s and 1960s – Vast Water Infrastructure System Constructed in the Goleta Valley 

Most of the basic water infrastructure in the Goleta Valley was built in the 1950s and ‘60s.  Including much of the over 270 miles of water pipelines that the District maintains today.  

District Yard with Staff and VehiclesDistrict staff with a fleet of vehicles at the District headquarters located on Hollister Avenue and Puente Drive, 1967.

District Crews 1969District staff working off Cathedral Oaks and N. La Patera Lane, 1969.

1970s –The Goleta Groundwater Basin

The Goleta Groundwater Basin plays a critical role in the District’s water supply portfolio, especially during periods of drought.  Most of the District wells were drilled in the 1970s, and are approaching 50 years old, which is the estimated useful life for a groundwater production well.  Under normal conditions, the District has a court-determined right to pump 2,350 acre feet per year, and the District can store water in a drought buffer for use during dry periods. With recent rehabilitation work completed in 2016 the wells can currently produce 6,000 acre feet per year, enough to meet the minimum health and safety needs of the community. 

Cachuma GroundbreakimngGroundbreaking at the Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant, 1973. 

In 1973 the District broke ground on the Corona Del Mar Water Treatment Plant (CDMWTP). The plant is located in the Goleta foothills and treats water delivered through Lake Cachuma. The CDMTP uses a gravity feed system to deliver treated water to District customers, which is extremely energy efficient.

CDMWTP ConstructionConstruction of the sediment and flocculation ponds at the CDMWTP, 1973.

1980s – Water Conservation Leader

Ongoing water shortages led Goleta Water District to become a national leader in water conservation. The District introduced the first low-flow toilet rebate program in the United States, in 1986. Other conservation programs included the first large scale effort to replace shower heads with low-flow models. The District also began to encourage water efficient landscaping.

Conservation ButtonsConservation buttons promoted water saving.

1990s and 2000s – Drought and New Water Supplies

Even the most innovative conservation programs could not balance water supply and demand during the epic drought that struck in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Goleta Water District in partnership with Goleta Sanitary District began a project to recycle waste water, and deliver the recycled water to District commercial irrigation customers. In addition, voters approved the State Water pipeline, and the Safe Water Supplies Ordinance (SAFE), which has had a lasting impact on the health and sustainability of the groundwater basin.

SWP PhotoThe State Water Project brings imported water down through Lake Cachuma to the South Coast.

The State Water Project depends on a complex system of dams, reservoirs, power plants, pumping plants, canals, and aqueducts to deliver water from rivers in Northern California. The District is entitled to up to 7,450 AF of water per year, and during drought, imported water accounts for about 1/3 of the District’s water supply portfolio.

Recycled Water Program Purple PipesThe Recycled Water Program utilizes purple pipes to deliver a drought proof source of supply.

Recycled water represents approximately 7% of District supplies, or 1,000 acre feet a year. A drought proof source of supply, every drop of recycled water conserves potable water supplies for drinking, health and safety.  

2010s and Beyond – Continued Investment In Water Supplies

Today, the District has invested in, developed, and maintains a diverse water supply portfolio that meets the water supply needs of the Goleta Valley now and into the future. Supply sources include Lake Cachuma, groundwater, recycled water, and imported water from the State Water Project. Delivering water from these four supply sources has required significant expansion of the District’s distribution system and pumping capacity to move water throughout the system, including to higher elevations. In response to the current drought, and to deal with changing water quality conditions at the lake, the District anticipates having to increasingly rely on the combined use of surface and groundwater. This involves more complex mechanical equipment, and places operational demands on the system. Even maintaining access to current water supply sources requires ongoing investment in the infrastructure necessary to access it. Continued investment in our water treatment and distribution infrastructure is vital to providing our customers with safe and reliable water supplies while planning for the next 75 years.

WDYWCF Web Graphic

Click here to view the new video series profiling the District's water supply sources.