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Los Vaqueros Project History

Though Contra Costa County is bordered to the north by the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, the quality of that water has been a concern since the area was first settled in the 1870s.

Concerns about rising salinity from the San Francisco Bay is one of the reasons the Contra Costa Water District was formed in 1936.

One of the first blasts for Los Vaqueros Dam construction is fired in 1995.
The dam -- consisting of 3 million cubic yards of material -- nears its eventual 192-foot height.
The Los Vaqueros project included 20 miles
of 6- to 8-foot diameter buried pipeline.
The dam -- consisting of 3 million cubic yards
of material -- is seen in this aerial photo in 1997.

Though the District pumped most of its water from Delta locations upstream near Oakley, salinity continued to be a problem.

During the drought in 1977 -- the driest year on record in California -- salinity levels exceeded public health limits and water was rationed by CCWD and other Northern California water districts.

The District considered a number of ideas, and in 1988 voters approved authorization funding of the $450 million Los Vaqueros Reservoir project. The measure won with 68 percent of the vote.

After years of design, construction began in 1994.

It was a massive project. In addition to building the $61 million 192-foot-tall dam, the district had to:

  • build 12.8 miles of Vasco Road around the watershed at a cost of $27 million
  • relocate 20 electrical towers and 12 miles of gas line
  • build a new $20 million 10,000 horsepower pumping plant on Old River near Discovery Bay
  • construct a new $12 million transfer station with 8,000 horsepower pumps
  • build 20 miles of 6- to 8- foot diameter buried pipeline connecting all the new facilities with district's existing canal system in Antioch
  • the District needed to secure nearly 20,000 acres land for the dam and the watershed.

The District also made a commitment to preserving the environment and respecting Native American and other historical sites in the watershed.

Construction began on Sept. 17, 1994.

In the first year, the new portion of Vasco Road was completed and half of the pipeline was finished. On the dam site, the spillway was under construction

By 1996, the pipeline was complete, work was well underway on the Old River pumping station and the dam's foundation had been dug.

In 1997, most of the major construction was complete with the dam finished in December. The dam is made of 3 million cubic yards of tightly compacted fill.

The district began to fill the reservoir in February of 1998. Because of the very wet water year and the availability of high quality water, it was filled by January 1999, a year ahead of schedule.

A dedication ceremony was held in May 1998 and the project was was honored as the "Outstanding Civil Engineering Accomplishment" in the nation by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Los Vaqueros is the first major dam built in California in more than 15 years.

As part of its ongoing environment protection program in the watershed, the district planted more than 9,000 valley and blue oak seedlings.


Moving Marina
Because of the increased capacity of the reservoir, the Marina building had to be moved to higher ground.
Expanded Dam
The completed dam and reservoir following the expansion project that added 60,000 acre-feet of capacity to the reservoir

The Contra Costa Water District expanded its Los Vaqueros Reservoir starting in 2011, with finishing in fall of 2012.

The reservoir's capacity grew from 100,000 acre-feet to 160,000 acre-feet.

 The dam has increased in height by 34 feet, and is now 226-feet high. The additional water storage will help ensure high-quality water deliveries to customers, reliability during drought and protections for Delta fisheries and the environment.

In addition to enlarging the dam, the District purchased more than 5,000 acres of land in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Joaquin counties to provide habitat for several endangered species.

In January 2013, the District began to fill the reservoir past its previous 100,000 acre-foot capacity.

 The total expansion project cost $120 million.




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