Water: Sausalito’s Liquid Gold

By Larry Clinton

The earliest European visitors to the Bay found that our area was home to high quality spring water.  The springs supplying that water were marked by groves of willow trees, which gave the town its early name: Saucelito, or “little willow.”  Whalers found that Sausalito water not only tasted better, it lasted better on long voyages.

Sausalito’s first water system was built by town founder William A. Richardson, who piped water from springs above the town to a great cistern for later distribution. Here's how the Sausalito News described the operation:

This photo, taken c. 1852, shows rudimentary buildings and piers in Whaler’s Cove, now known as Shelter Cove.  Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

This photo, taken c. 1852, shows rudimentary buildings and piers in Whaler’s Cove, now known as Shelter Cove.

Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

“In connection with the records, the following local ‘point’ is of especial concern to those preserving the records of early-day Marin: Name of Historical Point—Water wharf, from which water for drinking and cooking purposes was shipped to San Francisco. Location— East Richardson street, between Water and Front streets, Sausalito, Marin county, California. Name of Owner—Town or City of Sausalito. History and Description — This wharf, so called, was really a sort of a trestle carrying a pipe from the shore to vessels, outfitted with tanks, in which the water was conveyed to San Francisco from Sausalito. There were many springs of surrounding the valley, formerly fine mountain water in the hills called Hurricane Gulch, now named Shelter Cove.

“It is the generally accepted theory that these springs were and are fed from the Sierras. In 1850, Capt. W. A. Richardson. one of the original settlers in Sausalito and the grantee of the Spanish Grant Rancho Sausalito, piped the water from these springs to a great cistern thirty feet square and fifteen feet in depth. The water was then carried in a large pipe to tanks and casks on the boat, ‘The Water Nixie,’ which conveyed it to San Francisco. It was then distributed to purveyors with horse or mule drawn two-wheeled carts carrying casks, and peddled by the bucket to consumers, bringing 25 cents a gallon or 50 cents a bucket [that’s $14 a gallon adjusted for inflation, according to Jonathan Westerling of Radio Sausalito].  The usual amount sold to a customer per day was two buckets. As San Francisco depended on wells for its water supply, and the water was brackish, Sausalito and Tiburon supplied the growing city with water, for drinking and cooking purposes, until the Spring Valley Water system was installed. Later these springs in Sausalito were developed and tunnels run Into the bills and Sausalito was supplied with water from this source.”

After Richardson died, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company bought his property and water works in 1869 and by 1891 was serving much of the community. The Sausalito Bay Water Company was incorporated in 1887 with a capital stock of $50,000, divided into 50,000 shares, according to the Daily Alta Californian. That firm built a system that was bought by the Sausalito Spring Water Company in 1905. The city of Sausalito built its own water works in 1909 and in 1912 voted to join the new Marin Municipal Water District, which was incorporated on April 25, 1912, according to the.

Marin Municipal Water District.