Local Lore: Yes, Encinitas has always had problems with water shortages


We are all aware of the water shortage challenges that we currently face.

We have been taught that we all need to conserve water and be conscientious about helping to keep our water clean. Well, this is certainly not a new concept. Rainfall charts from the 1880s to the present remind us that we truly are a Mediterranean/desert climate.

This was a fact that the real estate agents selling farmland to California emigrants in the 1880s neglected to mention, emphasizing instead the mild climate and acres of open land. The early settlers arrived only to find that there was precious little water for planting crops and for family use.

In fact, my great-grandfather wrote an article in the late 1800s for the local paper in Encinitas describing the water system (or lack thereof). The entire water system for the area consisted of a large tank of water, filled by Cottonwood Creek, that sat by the railroad tracks in town.

The only means of getting water for home use was to fill a barrel and roll it over the dusty, rut-filled road to your destination. This was the way water was transported to the townspeople. I am sure that this was a much-disliked regular chore for local boys who would have preferred to be out roaming the open countryside.

The story goes that guests of the local hotel were told that if they wanted to take a bath, they were welcome to go to the beach, where there was plenty of water in the ocean. And a bathing suit was not necessary, they were told, because they would be the only ones there.

Those who lived on the ranches outside of town had a much more difficult time. My great-grandfather and the rest of his 10 family members had to fill two five-gallon cans and carry them back to the ranch on horseback. Those 10 gallons were for the whole family, and didn’t last long.

Some of the ranches (such as the Hammond’s Sunset Ranch) had a cistern to catch rainwater. If you think about it, the amount of rain that we receive here during a year is not very significant. The children learned when they were young that it was necessary to conserve every drop of water.

The Lake Hodges Dam was completed in 1918; however, the pipelines to include the Encinitas area were not completed until 1923. The Encinitas area at that time had a population of no more than 40 residents.

When the water finally arrived in the area, the community began to grow quickly. Many of the older homes in the area were built soon after, in the late 1920s. The La Paloma, for instance, was built in 1927, only four years after piped water arrived. Quite suddenly, there were enough new residents to support a local movie palace.

While we are lucky enough now to always have water running from our taps, it is interesting to imagine the difficulty only a little over a century ago. Water conservation has been an issue for a very long time and we need to continue to be aware of how valuable our water is to us.

Please stop by and visit the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, where you can see how the original settlers captured, transported and pumped their own water. The museum is at 450 Quail Gardens Road in Encinitas, open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Barbara Grice is a descendant of Encinitas pioneers and the executive director of the San Dieguito Heritage Museum.