A Look Back in History: Lobos Creek 19th Century Water Supply

Lobos Creek is created from runoff in the Presidio and Seacliff areas, along with underground seepage from the springs that create Mountain Lake. It runs into the Pacific Ocean and marks the division between Baker Beach and China Beach. It is the Presidio’s primary source of potable water. About a million gallons per day – half the average flow of the creek – is diverted to a water treatment facility in the Presidio.

San Francisco City Water Works (SFCWW) had been incorporated in June of 1857 by John Bensley with two partners. In September 1858 they began delivering water to the city from Lobos Creek near Mountain Lake. George H. Ensign and other owners of the Spring Valley Water Works had incorporated Spring Valley Water Works Company (SVWWC) in June of 1858, having been authorized by the state legislature to “lay down water in the public streets of San Francisco.” The Spring Valley firm introduced the waters of Islais creek into the city on April of 1861, filling a new reservoir on Potrero Hill. Hence began a rivalry.

By 1864 the SFCWW water was running short, and Bensley had a connection affixed to SVWWC waterways. Needless to say, the SCWWC took great umbridge, and a trial ensued. SFCWW lost the rivalry and Bensley lost the company to Spring Valley.

Lobos Creek in the 19th Century.

SVWWC had the outfall of Lobos Creek dammed in order to pool water which was then shunted via flume around the tip of the peninsula to be pumped up to Lombard and Francisco Reservoirs.

For a romantic “walk” along 21st century Lobos Creek read the article: “San Francisco’s Last Creek flows through lush landscape / Lobos Creek holds ideas for gardeners”, SFGate May 31, 2003.

Flume rounding the Peninsula taking water to the Northeast corner of San Francisco.