A Look Back in History: Water Rights Dispute Resolved in Spring Valley Water Company’s Favor

What follows is an interesting bit of correspondence regarding water rights to Locks Creek, a 1.9-mile-long stream in San Mateo County, California. It is the largest tributary of Frenchmans Creek, a larger stream.

Locks Creek is situated between Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir and El Granada on the coast.

Evidently, in 1922, a plaintiff, one D.B. MacDonald, had brought some form of claim to waters of Locks Creek, or perhaps simply to have Spring Valley Water Company (SVWC) cease to control those waters. One will notice that a co-defendant with Spring Valley is one Jose Cornelio Bernal, the grandson of a man of the same name who was granted the Bernal land grant back in 1839. The elder José Cornelio Bernal was a grandson of Juan Francisco Bernal, who was a Spanish soldier on the Spanish Anza Expedition to explore Alta California.

In 1839, Mission Dolores and the adobe military post now known as the Presidio were the only settlements within the present limits of San Francisco. While there were a few scattered squatters, three-quarters of the present area of the City was in possession of holders of land grants.

The October 1922 memo on Page 7 is from the Pacific Title Insurance Company, which documents for the water company the existence of an “Interlocutory Decree of Partition” [temporary judicial decision pending further hearing] dating from 1910 finding that the company “[has] the right to take the waters of the Arroyo or Creek, called Locks Creek.”

An “answer” by the defendant was filed in a legal document and is referenced in the statement by the Pacific Title Insurance Company. Sections IV and V of the “Answer” were delivered to Spring Valley Water Company shortly following the legal statement. They are included here (Pages 8 and 9).

Section IV refers to the transaction between the water company and one Carmen Sibrain de Bernal. Carmen was the widow of Jose Cornelio Bernal, the land grantee of 1839. He had died in 1842 with Carmen and their son, Jose Jesus Bernal, inheriting the grant property. Jose Jesus had died in May 1870, and a year later in May 1871 Carmen “did grant and convey to the Spring Valley Water Works, by deed dated May 30, 1871, and recorded June 1st, 1871 … the right to take the waters … of Locks Creek.” Further detail is added describing the arrangement to include the right to flume and pipe those waters across Carmen’s lands in accordance with a “plat attached to said deed.”

The recorded plat (map) was not found with this documentation in the SFPUC Historical Archive. However, Section V of the “Answer” goes on to describe the flume and pipe line down to a surveyor’s level of detail, from Locks Creek to pipe to flume to pipe again and flume again and finally pipe to empty out into “the center of Apanolia Creek.”

Pacific Title Insurance Company’s Letter to the Spring Valley Water Company
By C.M. Jones, Examiner, October 1922. Sections IV and V of the Defendant’s (SVWC) “Answer”.
Pacific Title Insurance Company’s Letter to the Spring Valley Water Company
By C.M. Jones, Examiner, October 1922. Sections IV and V of the Defendant’s (SVWC) “Answer”.
Remainder of Section V of the Defendant’s (SVWC) “Answer” Surveyor Grade Details of the Flume and Pipe Line Maintained by Spring Valley Water Company.