Tag Archives: Catalina

Catalina Island’s Fresh Water

Water is an essential part of life for almost every single animal on planet earth. Without water, life on this planet may not have ever been possible. Human beings are no exception. Humans rely on water as a biological necessity as well as a tool for advancing civilizations. We have used water for many purposes for centuries for transportation as well as a source of energy used to power our earliest factories thanks to water wheels in streams and rivers. Eventually humans developed indoor plumbing for more sanitary restrooms and kitchen sinks doing away with outhouses and outdoor wells. Technological revolutions have allowed humans to populate areas where finding access to fresh water was historically difficult if not impossible. As our population increases our water consumption increases as well, but our supplies are no longer able to meet the demand in many parts of the world. Catalina Island is a prime example of this problem and how it is being managed.

Humans have inhabited Catalina Island for many centuries and possibly millennia. Though Catalina spends most of the year without rainfall, the native Tongva people always had access to fresh water thanks to small natural ponds around the island that could hold water year round such as Haypress Pond and Echo Lake.

Fresh Water 1

After the Tongva people were removed from the island during the 1800s eras of ranching, farming, and even mining came to the island. Ownership of Catalina changed hands several times over the years but eventually settled in the control of William Wrigley Jr. who helped stabilize the small community of Avalon and make it a tourist destination. Avalon would continue to prosper and William Wrigley Jr. helped establish many other camps and facilities around the island like the boarding school at Toyon Bay. The year round population of Catalina Island has now reached nearly 4,000 people and receives around 700,000 annual visitors. This amount of people far exceeds the historic water supply of the island. During the winter months the average water usage in Avalon is around 200,000 gallons per day and nearly 800,000 gallons per day in during the busiest summer days. To meet demand for water on Catalina Island, fresh water wells were established around the island over the years and the Middle Ranch Reservoir was constructed to hold the water for treatment and distribution.

Fresh Water 2

Photo Credit: Southern California Edison

For most of the 1900’s these ground water reserves were plenty to supply all of the residents of the island. In 1991 a desalination plant was constructed to help supplement the fresh water supply with the ability to add nearly 240,000 gallons of fresh water per day if needed.

Fresh Water 4

Photo Credit: Southern California Edison

The need for fresh water and growing population finally came to a head on in August of 2014 when Catalina was placed under stage 2 water rationing. The historic California drought had brought the middle ranch reservoir down to nearly 1/4th of its maximum capacity and all of the other wells on the island were just as strained. Residents and businesses of the island were forced to reduce their water usage by 25% or face penalties. At the beginning of 2016 a second desalination plant was installed to help reduce the strain on the reservoir by adding an additional 150,000 gallons per day, but it still was not enough. In September of 2016 Catalina was placed under stage 3 drought conditions. Under stage three residents were forced to reduce their water usage by 50%. As things were looking their worst and the reservoir sitting at nearly 1/10th of its maximum capacity, Catalina was in desperate need of rain. Luckily the southern California area had a record year for rain including a record-breaking 24-hour rainfall period and the reservoir and wells were filled to pre drought levels. Although the water stocks were replenished water conservation remains a top concern for island residents as Catalina still remains in stage 1 drought water rationing for the foreseeable future.

Spring Arrivals on Catalina Island!

It’s the first day of spring, and here on Catalina Island spring has definitely sprung! This is the time of year that many plants are either seen for the first time or are in full bloom. Catalina Island is home to approximately 400 native plants, some of which are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth!). The indigenous (native) Gabrielino people on Catalina Island used these plants for various purposed for thousands of years – and we continue to use many of them still today! Here are just a few that you might find on a visit to Island…

  1. Lemonade Berry – Rhus integrifolia

The lemonade berry is a shrub or small tree that can be found on sea cliffs and rocky slopes throughout the entire island. While in bloom, the lemonade berry has bunches of small pink flowers like those in the picture above. The fruits that this plant produces are small and yellow to pink in color – a lot like lemonade! But not only does this plant’s fruit resemble the refreshing tangy drink, it was also used by the native islanders and early settlers to make an acidic drink that tastes a lot like lemonade too. It is said that the seeds can also be brewed like coffee beans to make a warm drink for chilly spring mornings.

  1. California Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum jordanii

The California maidenhair fern is one of the most beautiful and unique plants that can be found on Catalina. Because these ferns love shade and water, they are always rare and exciting to find on a desert island. On Catalina, they are most likely to be found in canyons with north-facing slopes because there is more shade and moisture in these areas. The California maidenhair fern is easily identified by its delicate black stems, which were used by island natives in their basket-weaving projects to create intricate designs.

  1. Wild Cucumber – Marah macrocarpus


At first glance, the wild cucumber vine looks like something from out of this world! This native (and possibly endemic) species can be found everywhere from rocky cliffs, to grasslands and shaded canyons. The wild cucumber vine is easily identified by its small white star-shaped flowers and its apricot-sized spiked fruits. If you think these fruits look pretty cool, you’re not the only one! Native islanders used these fruits to make jewelry. They also used the oils found within the seeds to create paints for petroglyphs and other art forms. 

  1. Coastal Sagebrush – Artemisia californica 

Coastal (or California) sagebrush is one of the most common plants on Catalina Island, especially on sunny south facing slopes. But don’t let its abundance trick you into thinking it’s boring – this plant is anything but! The soft, wispy branches have been referred to as “Cowboy Cologne” because of its pleasant and aromatic scent. It was also brewed into a tea by native islanders as a cure-all for illnesses like the common cold and sore throats. 

  1. Stinging Lupine Lupinus albifrons

The stinging lupine just might be one of the most beautiful flowers you can find on Catalina Island, however, it is not very commonly seen. These flowers are generally only seen following years with heavy rainfall or after wildfires. We had a lot of rain this winter here at CIMI and we are being rewarded this spring with the lupine’s purple presence! The stinging lupine was known by the native islanders to have long and sturdy roots, which they wove together to make ropes and cords.




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