Hargis + Associates Inc

The historic water system of mission San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego County, California.

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Courtesy of Hargis + Associates Inc

The Old Mission Dam and Flume is an historically significant system of water control structures on the San Diego River, San Diego County, California. The most conspicuous remnant of the system, Old Mission Dam, is located at the head of Mission Gorge in the western corner of El Cajon valley, about six miles upriver from Mission San Diego de Alcalá. This system, designed and built from the late 1700s to the early 1800s by Franciscan missionaries and Kumeyaay Indians affiliated with the Mission, was intended to provide a reliable year-round supply of water to Mission San Diego and to the irrigated fields that supplied crops to the Mission and the San Diego Presidio.

Old Mission Dam, also called Padre Dam, is considered to be of significant historic value and is a registered landmark at the national, state and local levels and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The dam itself remains largely intact, but the outlet works, other appurtenances, and much of the flume that directed water to the Mission fields have either been destroyed or are inaccessible. Review of historic and aerial photography has clarified water management features around the Mission itself, and has more accurately defined the flume’s course through and downstream of Mission Gorge. Comparison with contemporary water systems in New Spain, both by field observations and by review of published research, has improved our understanding of the functional appearance and performance of the various components of the Mission water system.

This presentation will review the physical, geologic and historical setting of the dam and flume, and will describe the findings of recent research on the structures. The long-term objectives of this ongoing research project include developing a conceptual model of the water system as it operated during the most productive period of the Mission, resolving some of the discrepancies noted in the published literature based on field observations of the remaining structures, and proposing preservation measures and interpretive programs or exhibits that would enhance the educational value of this ancient water system to the public.

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