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Topics / ENVIRONMENT : Going With the Flow : Sunny Slope Marks 100 Years as a Water Company

August 11, 1994|ANN GRIFFITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Each of Sunny Slope Water Co.'s 85,000 customers owns at least one share of stock in the nonprofit firm, with the option to buy more and reduce monthly water bills.

But few realize that Sunny Slope, in its 100th year of business, is possibly the oldest municipal water company in Southern California,

The company still is based in the same place: a 15-acre spot in Pasadena that bears signs of history long before Sunny Slope was founded.

Local historian William A. Myers wrote a book about Sunny Slope and credits luck and timely infrastructure upgrades for the district's century of survival. Sunny Slope was able to send its water farther with the earliest hints of growing suburban sprawl. It now serves parts of San Gabriel, San Marino, Pasadena, Temple City and a 22,000-acre county strip.

The company was created by the same phenomenon that drew the Gabrieleno Indians to the spot about 750 years ago: lakes filled by springs that were forced above ground by the Raymond Fault.

General Manager and Vice President Michael Hart is so proud of the history-filled land where the district headquarters sit that he crafted a wrought-iron gate for the entryway to celebrate Sunny Slope's centennial. Past the gate is a pond full of bass, bluegill and crawfish, surrounded by cattails taller than most people. The Indians used these tules to build their homes.

When the Spaniards came, missionaries used Indian labor to harness the spring water with a dam and irrigation canals, built more than 175 years ago to serve the San Gabriel Mission and its Old Mill, which still survives in Pasadena.

A low wall bears moss-covered palm prints left by the workers as they built the structure.

Sunny Slope was purchased by an English syndicate in 1887 and became a water company on Jan. 7, 1895, to serve the land the syndicate had subdivided.

Eventually, the natural springs dried up and deep wells were needed to pull water to the surface.

In 1937, Sunny Slope was one of 26 local water companies named as a defendant when Pasadena sued for water rights.

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Coastal cities sued in 1959 when ground-water levels had been drained to below sea level, affecting the coast's water supplies.

The amount of water San Gabriel customers withdraw from the ground every year is limited by the decision resulting from that battle. Now Sunny Slope bolsters its water supply by purchasing about 500 acre-feet of water each year from the Colorado River.

Facilities have been modernized over the years. Electric pumps sound like a Yosemite waterfall as they churn out 4,500 gallons of water a minute to feed four dams.

But Hart has tried to bring back the glory days of the estate with his landscaping project, adding the lake and a stream as well as a hilly cactus garden and a field of wild flowers.

Inside the company's hallways are a small museum of old maps, photographs and tools. Hart says he plans to offer tours, by appointment about three times a year.

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