The Santa Clarita Valley, with its high-desert ecology and streams that run only a couple of months out of the year, would seem an unlikely place to find four fairly large lakes. Of course they are all man-made and exist largely to supply the water needs of people well removed from the area.
The oldest of these existing dams is Bouquet, completed in 1933 by the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Twenty-four years later the United Water District impounded Piru Creek, just across the Ventura County line. Bouquet is part of the Owens Valley Aqueduct, supplying DWP customers in Los Angeles, while Piru Dam keeps orchards green in Ventura County by recharging ground water tables so growers' pumps do not run dry.
The most renowned and largest water delivery system in the world is the massive California Aqueduct, the only local landmark listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Castaic and Pyramid lakes are part of what has been variously called the Feather River Project or State Water Project. The project is owned and operated by the California Department of Water Resources and stretches 684 miles from Oroville to Perris.
Although many people were involved in planning and construction, two men are generally considered the prime movers. A burly state engineer named Arthur D. Edmunson laid out the route and proved that water could be moved two thousand feet up the Tehachapis in a single lift. Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown campaigned vigorously for it, staking his political career on the outcome.
In 1960 California voters approved a bond act that provided funds for construction. It was the largest bond measure ever passed by a single state, amounting to some three billion dollars. Principal and interest were to be repaid by those who bought water and power, along with operating and maintenance costs. The Department of Water and Power does not levy taxes and from time to time even shows a profit — a rare occurrence among state agencies.
Construction of the Castaic Dam started in 1967 at the junctions of Castaic and Elizabeth creeks. Removed were such venerable institutions as Kasababian's Pig Farm, Castaic Brick Yard, Lyon's Dairies and the Cook and Cordova ranches. Some moved to high ground while others left for good.
On February 9, 1971, the dam was subjected to a test when a 6.6-magnitude temblor knocked over a wing of a hospital in Sylmar, collapsed freeway bridges, destroyed the Newhall Pharmacy building and the 1923-era First Presbyterian Church, ruptured a boiler at Thatcher Glass, felled chimneys around Valencia and caused general disruption of day-to-day activities. Although still under construction, the dam in Castaic was not affected in any way.
When completed in June, 1972, the embankment stood 425 feet high and was forty-five feet across at the top and two thousand feet across at the bottom. Sliced in half it would look like an earthen pyramid.
A pond in front, called the Lagoon, covered 198 acres with three miles of shoreline. Actually a catch-basin for the main lake, it became popular for swimming, sailing, fishing and picnicking.
Castaic Lake itself swelled to a twenty-nine mile shoreline, with 105.5 billion gallons of water covering 2,235 acres. Although primarily a drinking water supply for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, more than a million people flock to it each year for waterskiing and other aquatic sports.
Seven miles to the north looms the four hundred-foot-high Pyramid Dam, impounding 171,196 acre-feet of water and covering 1,297 acres. Also built by DWR, it has been open since 1974 for recreation and has a ninety-three unit campground.