• Email
  • Print

Harnessing the Leaping Brooks

p in the canyon of the Santa Ana river a steel pipe comes down the sheer mountain side. High up it runs, almost perpendicularly, entering into a building of concrete at its lower end. The pipe is not very large. It does not look imposing. Thousands have passed it on the way with scarcely a look, not knowing that this steel tube is one of the most remarkable pipes in the world.

The Headwaters of Bear Creek in Bear Valley and the Bear Valley Lake, 3000 Feet Above the Valley, the Source of the Immense Water Power

Suppose some unwary traveler, in a playful mood, should punch a small hole into that pipe, allowing a little jet of water to escape. Even if that hole were only half an inch in size the stream of water issuing from it would pick up the puncher and hurl him clear across the width of the canyon. Should he attempt to sever the jet of water with a sword, the insignificant stream would smash the sword the second it touched the water, and the wielder of the weapon would describe a few somersaults that would be a credit to any circus acrobat.

Against every square inch of the bottom of that pipe the column of water above exerts a pressure of 800 pounds, a pressure four times greater than the strain exerted by the steam of the mogul engines upon the boilers.

Until a few years ago that pipe standing 2000 feet high on end furnished the largest head of any water-power plant in the world. Only recently its head of 2000 feet has been exceeded by two plants, one in South America with a drop of 2200 feet and one back of Manitou in Colorado where the water falls 2100 feet before it hits the revolving blades of the turbine that transmute the impetus of the roaring stream into the invisible force of the electric current.

The San Bernardino Valley, among its numerous other innovations that have shown the way for the rest of the country, is the mother of the development of electric power out of the mountain streams and of the long-distance transmission of the current. When the electricity generated by the first power plant on the Santa Ana river was first conducted to Los Angeles, a distance of 75 miles, the whole world, laymen and technological experts, watched the experiment with the greatest interest. Though mistakes, disappointments and errors in this first long-distance transmission line were numerous, it proved that the transportation of electric current over long distances was feasible and profitable, and as a result of this experiment that broke the trail, water power plants sprang up in remote places all over the world. From the Himalaya to the Andes, from the Canadian Rockies to the Mexican ranges, in every place in the world where water tumbles over steep mountain sides, the offspring of that first plant in the San Bernardino mountains is busy today turning out power that lightens the load of humanity in the rocky solitudes everywhere the silent turbines are flying about their axis, the shrill notes of the dynamo tell of its labors and heavy copper strands follow the path of the released streams into the habitations of man, to illuminate the cities, move the traffic and turn the machines of the factories and shops.

Ontario Furnishes a Striking Example of the Utilization of Water In Power Development as Well as Irrigation

The first water-power plant built in the Santa Ana canyon 25 years ago has had numerous children in the San Bernardino mountains. The San Bernardino Valley is now supplied with current from nearly a dozen plants generating more than 5000 horse power, more than the valley needs at present, the surplus going to Los Angeles. The Southern California Edison company utilizes the water of the Santa Ana river three times for the development of power and it is building a fourth plant on Bear creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana. Long tunnels have been drilled through protecting mountain sides, shortening the tortuous path of the streams and making possible the extreme heights from which the water is dropped upon the turbine blades.

Two other plants of the same corporation are located on Mill creek and a fifth plant is using the water of Lytle creek. The Pacific Light and Power company operates one plant at Mentone and a smaller one at Highgrove while San Antonio creek furnishes a large amount of horse power for the San Antonio Power Company which furnishes current for Ontario and vicinity.

While the quantity of water used in the generation of electric current on the slopes of the mountains that rim the valley is relatively small, the lack in volume is compensated for by the extreme heads made possible by the steep, precipitous sides of the range down which the streams dash headlong. however, the current produced is at present more than sufficient to supply all the industries of the valley, all the homes and groves with all the current needed at rates below the prices paid for current in the East.

Power and Irrigation Ditch,
Carrying Over 700 inches of Water.

Owing to the multiplicity of the power plants in the mountains there is little danger of a shortage. If one plant should be crippled temporarily by floods or storms, the others, all tied together on the line, could easily carry its load, and if the unforseen [sic] should happen, if all of the plants should go out of commission at once, still the valley would not suffer. By simply throwing a few switches the enormous amount of power developed at the headwaters of Kern river and brought into Los Angeles would be available at a moment's notice, the supply being reinforced by the large auxiliary steam plants operated in Los Angeles as well as in the San Bernardino Valley.

Undoubtedly the growth of San Bernardino industrially will, within a few years, absorb all the surplus power at present going to Los Angeles and call for more, but no outside plants need be relied upon. Lying hidden in the rushing mountain streams at least enough power to double the present supply is available. The Lytle Creek Power Company has as yet made no use of its power rights on the stream from which it derives its name. The Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company, upon the completion of its system of reservoirs and mountain piercing tunnels, will enter the market with a goodly supply. Bear creek offers more opportunities for power plants than have been used so far. On the north slope the water of Deep creek, Holcomb creek and of the Mojave river has not as yet assumed the burden it can bear. And when these sources have been developed to their full capacity without satisfying the future demand, thousands of kilowatt can be brought into the valley from outside after the Los Angeles municipal plants are in operation and supply as much power as is brought into Los Angeles today from all sources. The Edison corporation, besides, has under construction additional units of its plants on the Kern river, thus precluding any possibility of a water-power shortage in Southern California and assuring the San Bernardino Valley the full measure of the strength possessed by its roaring brooks.

Return to the Table of Contents