Scope and Content
Title: Charles H. Lee Papers,
Date (inclusive): bulk 1912-1955
Collection number: MS 76/1
Lee, Charles H. (Charles Hamilton), 1883-1967
ca. 24 linear ft.
48 online items
Water Resources Collections and Archives
Shelf location: Water Resources Collections and Archives
Selected digitized images from this collection.
Collection is open for research.
Alternative Form of Materials Available
Copyright has not been assigned to the Water Resources Collections and Archives. All requests for permission to publish or
quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Archives. Permission for publication is given on
behalf of the Water Resources Collections and Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or
imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], Charles H. Lee Papers, MS 76/1, Water Resources Collections and Archives, University of California,
Scope and Content
Report, correspondence, documents, maps, photographs, clippings, etc., pertaining to projects in hydraulics, sanitation, irrigation,
municipal water supply, surface water and groundwater hydrology, and soil in California and other Western states, particularly
for the City of Los Angeles regarding water supply from the Owens Valley.
Golden Gate International Exposition (Calif.)
Water-supply -- California
Owens Valley (Calif.)
Colorado River Aqueduct (Calif.)
Los Angeles Aqueduct (Calif.)
Owens River (Calif.) -- Water rights
San Luis Rey River (Calif.)
Mono Lake (Calif.) -- Water rights
Mono Basin (Calif.)
Water-supply -- California -- Los Angeles
San Bernardino Valley (Calif.)
San Joaquin Valley (Calif.)
St. Francis Dam (Calif.)
This is an annotated listing of reports, papers, photographs and maps in the Charles H. Lee collection, Water Resources Collections
and Archives, University of California, Riverside. The Lee collection was bequeathed to the Water Resources Collections and
Archives by Mr. Lee.
The collection is arranged here in the order in which it was kept by Mr. Lee, i.e. chronologically, and his file numbering
system has been adopted with minor changes to accomodate miscellaneous material. Numbers are not sequential in all cases,
indicating files which were not included among the donated materials. Reports of his soil testing laboratory, included in
the collection, form a separate chronologically arranged group. If not otherwise designated, geographic locations are in California.
It should be noted that papers resulting from Mr. Lee's work with the State Conservation Commission (1912) and later with
the State Water Commission and Division of Water Rights (1919-1921) are not among the materials here. They presumably are
in the State Archives in Sacramento.
Manuscript materials in the collection of the Water Resources Collections and Archives cannot be loaned. Arrangements can
be made to photocopy items of interest.
This collection was cataloged by Linda K. Appel.
Charles Hamilton Lee was born February 1, 1883, in Oakland, California, and graduated from the University of California, Riverside,
with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1905.
He then began his career as a hydrographer for the U.S. Geological Survey but resigned in 1906 to become assistant engineer
for the city of Los Angeles. From 1906-1911, he was involved in design and construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. During
this period his report on the groundwater basin of the Independence region of the Owens Valley was published as U.S.G.S. Water
Supply Paper 294.
From 1912-1917 he had his own practice as a civil and hydraulic engineer in Los Angeles, serving in 1912 as hydraulic engineer
for the California State Conservation Commission. Work from this period is the earliest represented in this collection and
deals primarily with water supply, both surface and groundwater, and irrigation.
World War I interrupted his career and from 1917-1919 Lee served in France as captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
concerned with military water supply and sanitation. Returning after the war, he was appointed President of the State Water
Commission of California and subsequently Chief of the Division of Water Rights. In this capacity he had an active influence
on water resource development in California.
In 1921 Lee again set up private practice, this time in San Francisco, doing a wide variety of work in all phases of water
supply and structural foundation. A major client was the city of Los Angeles for whom he did work connected with the Owens
Valley, in large part relating to pending litigation. In 1926 he also established the Pacific Hydrologic Laboratory, the first
soils engineering Laboratory on the West Coast.
In addition to work performed for the city of Los Angeles, Lee was consulting engineer for several other California municipalities
and numerous U.S. departments and agencies including the State of California; water, public utility, and irrigation districts;
and private companies and individuals in California and elsewhere. He was consulting engineer for the fill project which built
Treasure Island and from 1936-1939 he was chief of Water Supply and Sanitation for the Golden Gate International Exposition
on Treasure Island.
Other soil engineering work included slide repairs, foundation engineering, tunnels, and earth dams. He was recipient of the
1939 Norman Medal awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers for his research on materials for earth fill dams.
Charles H. Lee was the author of a number of papers during his career. He was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers,
the American Water Works Association, American Sewage Works Association, Seismological Society of America, California Sewage
Works Association, and the American Geophysical Union. He died at his home in Berkeley on May 4, 1967, at the age of 84.
Experts Seek Underground Waters As Aid to Rancher
San Diego Sun, February 25, 1915.
Looking for all the world like a jitney bus, but serving what is perhaps an even more important purpose, a little Ford automobile
came whizzing down Fifth street the other day, direct from the back country.
Its occupants, three in number, were Charles H. Lee and DeWitt L. Lee, brothers, and K. B. Sleppy, all young men with a purpose.
Under the direction of Charley Lee, who holds the contract with the U. S. government, the trio, with headquarters here, are
engaged in a survey of the underground water sources of San Diego county, which is destined to prove of inestimable value
to rancher and city man alike.
For six months, although little of it has been said, Lee and his assistants have been busy with the work and have compiled
a wide variety of data to be submitted to the geological survey at Washington and to be embodied in a water supply paper or
bulletin for distribution through the county by civic organizations and through government channels.
Interviewing Mr. Lee
Charley Lee is only 32 years old, but being a youngster has not interfered with his climb to the top of the hydraulic engineering
ladder. Lee today is looked upon by experts as the best informed engineer on underground waters in the world.
Our work will not be completed until next September, our contract having been for a year, said he today. "We are getting along just fine, and although the underground waters of this county are not so extensive as
further north, they are none the less valuable and worth developing. The U. S. geological survey makes investigations in several
points each year, and San Diego was selected as one point for the year 1914-15. This was because of the many inquiries concerning
wells and well water. The work is under the direction of the water resources branch of the survey, ground water division.
We intend to let the people of this county know just what they have in the way of underground water and just how to proceed
to get it.
Watch 200 Wells
"When we commenced our work the chief of the ground water division, O. E. Meinzer, was here for a week to assist in getting
things started, but I am now in charge.
"We are gathering a great deal of well data and records about 200 wells in different parts of the county being observed regularly
every two weeks, and in very wet weather observe some of them daily to note the rise in the levels.
"It is often necessary to do a lot of explaining to owners of the wells before we are allowed to observe them, but as a rule
the ranchers are co-operating nicely, realizing what at means to them.
"We have got water samples from all over the county and have made pumping tests from selected plants in various locations.
Data is taken of the formation where wells were drilled, and, when completed, the report will be the first presentation to
geology as related to ground water development.
"A detailed study is being made of the rainfall and the amount absorbed by soils and sands. Record is kept of the run-off
and the absorption of the run-off in the river valleys.
"The report, when distributed as a paper, will outline the relative advantages of different portions of the county for obtaining
well water and maximum depths to be drilled in different districts and the amount that can probably be obtained from the wells.
The probable yield of pumping plants if properly constructed and equipped, with numerous matters relative to drilling and
equipment, will also be shown. The closing chaptere of the report will contain general matters of value to the irrigator.
"As we go through the county, we are taking the names of ranchers who wish copies of the report after it is finished. The
state is paying part of the funds for this work, and the city is interested. Of course the city will be greatly concerned
in our findings, but, like all others, must wait until the report is finished before making use of its contents.
It is not easy work. Only recently my assistants were marooned between two branches of the Tijuana river and had to stay there
all night in the storm. We are doing some stream gauging work supplementary to the government work as regards surface waters.
Lee is a native of Oakland. He is a graduate of the state university. He is consulting engineer in Los Angeles, where he now
spends port of his time, and also has important work in New Mexico and Arizona. He is consulting engineer for the U. S. public
health service at Fort Stanton. Recently he testified at the Cuyamaca hearing, as a witness for the Cuyamaca company and greatly
impressed his hearers with his concise and ready answers.
Professional and Special Experience Record
Charles H. Lee, Consulting Engineer
58 Sutter Street San Francisco, California
2. Contributions to Literature of Groundwater Hydrology
- "An Intensive Study of a part of Owens Valley,
California," Water Supply Paper 294, U.S. Geological
"The Determination of Safe Yield Underground
- Reservoirs of the Closed-Basin" -- Transactions,
Am. Soc. Civil Engineers, Vol. LXXVIII, p. 148
- "The Interpretation of Water Levels in Wells and
Test Holes," National Research Council, Trans. Am.
Geophysical Union, Section of Hydrology, Part II,
- "Classification and Definitions of Subsurface Water.)
Bul. 24, International Union of Geodesy and Geo-
physics, International Assoc. of Scientific Hydrology,
Washington, D.C. Sept. 4-15, 1939.
- "Subterranean Storage of Floodwater by Artificial
Methods in San Bernardino Valley, California," Report
of Conservation Commission, State of California,
- "Evaporation and Transpiration with Special Reference
to a Salt Water Barrier below confluence of Sacramento
and San Joaquin Rivers," Appendix C, Bul. 28,
California Department of Public Works, Division of
Water Resources, 1931.
- "Drainage and Leaching at Treasure Island," Convention
Proceedings, 1939, American Road Builders' Association.
- "Sealing the Lagoon Lining at Treasure Island with
Salt," (Trans. A.S.C.E. Vol. 106, p. 577, 1941).
Transpiration and Total Evaporation, (Chapter VIII),
HYDROLOGY, by Charles H. Lee, Edited by Oscar E.
Selection of Materials for Rolled-Fill Earth Dams,
(Trans. A.S.C.E. Vol. 103, p. 1, 1938).
Building Foundations in San Francisco, Proceedings
A.S.C.E. Separate, No. 325, November 1953."
Friant-San Joaquin River Litigation, (Journal of
Irrigation and Drainage Div., Proc. A.S.C.E.
3. Active Practice of Profession
||Sixty years as civil engineer, specializing in hydraulics, sanitation, irrigation, municipal water supply, and surface and
groundwater hydrology... including seepage into and from streams, precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, consumptive use,
well fluctuation and yield, interpretation of groundwater contour maps, and safe yield of underground reservoirs.
||Hydrographic engineer, U. S. Geological Survey; Stream gaging throughout California, including Sacramento and San Joaquin
Valleys, Southern California, Colorado River.
||Assistant Engineer, City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct, - 1 year on Aqueduct design; 1 year on precise leveling
for con ol of aqueduct construction; 3 years in charge surface and underground water in investigations in Owens Valley. Prepared
numerous reports, one of which was published by U.S. Geological Survey as Water Supply Paper 294. Also made study of irrigation
diversions and practice in Owens Valley in connection with proposed storage regulation at Long Valley and on Big Pine Creek;
later made surveys for hydroelectric development at Owens River Gorge and Big Pine Creek and transmission line to City of
||Hydraulic Engineer, California State Conservation Commission - in charge groundwater investigations, including special study
of replenishment of pumped well supplies by spreading torrential flood waters of Santa Ana River in San Bernardino Valley,
Calif. (Report published by the State of California.)
||Engaged in private practice as Civil and Hydraulic Engineer in Los Angeles, including irrigation, water supply, groundwater
and geology in States of California, Nevada and New Mexico.
||On special military duty in France as Captain, Corps of Engineers, U.S.A., with American Expeditionary Forces, General Headquarters,
on military water supply and sanitation. Assigned to Water Intelligence duty, including general study of geology and hydrology
of theatre of war, and control of all drilling equipment and to advise on water development at military bases. Assigned to
duty as Water Intelligence Officer, Water Supply Service, 1st Army, during latter part of war.
||Served as President, State Water Commission of California, and later, Chief of Division of Water Rights, State Department
of Public Works. This was during a period of very active development of water resources in California and applications to
appropriate water for storage and direct diversions throughout the State were acted upon.
||Engaged in private practice as consulting engineer in San Francisco, including irrigation, water supply, land drainage, flood
control, sewage works, water works, ground water investigations and utilization, and structural foundations. Practiced in
California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho, Hawaii, Jamaica, Thailand. Clients: U.S. Governmental departments
including Army, Navy, State, Justice, Public Health Service, Bureau of Reclamations, Veterans Bureau, Geological Survey; State
of California, municipalities, counties, water, public utility and irrigation districts, public utilities, private companies