Our Story

Uniquely Metropolitan 

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California might not be a household name. But if you’re a Southern Californian, there’s a good chance you get some of your water through Metropolitan. We serve 26 public water agencies cities, municipal water districts and one county water authority that then deliver supplies directly or indirectly to 19 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.  

We have imported water from the Colorado River since 1941 and from Northern California since the early 1970s. We are the largest single contractor of the State Water Project and a major supporter of Southern California water conservation and water recycling programs, along with other local water management activities.  

Whether it’s historic drought or the longer-term threat of climate change, we’re here to protect the region and provide high-quality affordable water in an environmentally responsible way.  

Metropolitan’s
Annual Report


 

The Annual Report provides a detailed recap of activities for the fiscal year. With 100 pages of text, more than 50 tables and charts and dozens of photos and graphics, it captures the year’s highlights and information covering Metropolitan’s water supplies, governance, operations, programs, projects and policies. The website includes online versions of the First Annual Report and all reports from fiscal year 2007 onward.

Bond Billboard 1931

Adapting to
Growing Demand


 

By 1920, Los Angeles had grown to a million residents. Water shortages were on the horizon. Leaders were concerned the desert would reclaim the land as cities battled each other over water rights and worried that Los Angeles would annex them for their water. Southern Californians united around an ambitious dream to bring Colorado River water across the Mojave Desert. Their vehicle the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, created by state law in 1928.

 

Our founding mission: to build and operate the Colorado River Aqueduct.  The first Board of Directors met in Pasadena at the historic Huntington hotel in 1928. W.P. Whitsett, the founder of the community of Van Nuys, was elected chairman.

Metropolitan helped forge landmark federal agreements like the Boulder Canyon Project Act, which divided up the Colorado River water supply and led to the creation of Hoover Dam. Voters overwhelmingly approved a $220 million Depression-era bond that provided jobs to 35,000 tunnel borers, miners, engineers, cooks and more. That would be the equivalent of a $3.75 billion investment today. Workers toiled in 120-degree heat on the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct, building 150 miles of canals, siphons, conduit and pipelines. We erected five pumping plants to lift water over mountains so deliveries could then flow west by gravity. We blasted 90-plus miles of tunnels, including a waterway under Mt. Jacinto, where crews battled columns of water 600 feet high.  

“This has been just about the roughest, toughest tunnel job in construction history. These tunnel men have accomplished what many persons said could never be done.” 

W.P. Whitsett, Metropolitan board chair, 1938 

West Coachella Tunnel 1934

History Alive


 

On June 17, 1941, a valve was turned from the new F.E. Weymouth Water Softening Plant and for the first time water flowed to the city of Pasadena, one of the original 13 cities whose voters approved the 1933 aqueduct construction bond. By the end of July, water would flow to Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton and Santa Monica. Orange County would soon follow.

As the final countdown began to delivery day, it was a time of promise and uncertainty. Slugger Joe DiMaggio was in the middle of his 56-game hitting streak and heavyweight champion Joe Louis was racking up a string of knockouts. Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington were cutting records like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Take the A-Train.” 

The first commercial TV broadcasts were weeks away. Across the Atlantic Ocean, World War II raged from Belgium to Britain as Nazi Germany tightened its grip on much of Europe. For weeks, America had been in a state of emergency because of Axis threats, and six months later, the Pearl Harbor attack would plunge the nation into war.

The new aqueduct provided crucial support to the war effort, and years after the war ended, each generation of Southern Californians has risen to the challenge of preserving water reliability to a region and its industries that took their place on the world’s stage.

Learn about Metropolitan’s early days through the film and voices of the people who built and witnessed what is considered one of the nation’s greatest civil engineering feats.

Thirteen Golden Cities

In late 1938, Metropolitan released this motion picture to major Southland movie theaters and schools that detailed the story of the Colorado River Aqueduct project with a background of California's romantic and colorful history.  The film was created to give a vivid account of the men and women involved in this historic project.

The Colorado River Aqueduct

This silent film (recently set to music) was created by Metropolitan in 1938 to record the history and details of the building the Colorado River Aqueduct and its delivery of water to 13 original cities.

The Dream Comes True

A video history of Metropolitan, including early clips that show the 1928 building of the Colorado River aqueduct and how the district has evolved to keep step with public values such as water quality and stewardship.

Early CRA Hospital

Spearheading Innovation

Innovation has been a hallmark of Metropolitan’s planning and operations since our early days. We provided medical care to workers through a nickle-a-day payroll deduction plan, working with the doctor who would later use this as the model for Kaiser Permanente. We built a pioneering water treatment plant in La Verne that was the largest of its kind. On June 17, 1941, we began delivering water to Pasadena as supplies coursed into a two-county area, linked by a vast network of tunnels and feeder lines snaking beneath the streets of 13 cities. Our water helped build Navy ships during World War II and supported the post-war boom. Faced with pleas to share our Colorado River bounty, we devised an annexation system that allowed Metropolitan to grow to cover six counties.

Gov. Pat Brown 1960
SWP Pumpplant Construction

We began incentivizing our members to store our water in their local groundwater basins for drier times. An extended drought prompted our 1990s shift into conservation, recycling and groundwater cleanup and construction of Diamond Valley Lake. We also began putting forth new ideas, like purchasing conserved water from farmers. When 21st Century demands and drought pressured the Colorado River, our creative alliances with farmers and southwest states plugged the gap. When contamination and stricter standards threatened supplies, we served as a key backup, investing millions in treatment upgrades and protecting water in faraway rivers. We buffered the region from historic 2010s drought as we expanded storage, invested hundreds of millions in conservation and sought a long-term balanced solution to the water supply and environmental issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, paving the way for even more breakthroughs in the 2020s.

The heroic efforts that sent water across the desert and flowing into Southern California 75 years ago have inspired Metropolitan and its 26 member public agencies to make sure the promise of water reliability is one that will always be kept.

The mission of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is to provide its service area with adequate and reliable supplies of high-quality water to meet present and future needs in an environmentally and economically responsible way.

Uniquely Metropolitan: A Regional Success Story

Schematic Colorado River Aqueduct 1934

The images below are from our photo archives of the men and women, spanning from 1927 to 1941, who were all part of the engineering and construction project, the Colorado River Aqueduct.