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
[Identification of item], Charles H. Lee papers, MS 76/1, Water Resources Collections and
Archives, University of California, Riverside.
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
Water-supply -- California
Owens Valley (Calif.)
Colorado River Aqueduct
Los Angeles Aqueduct
Owens River (Calif.) -- Water
San Luis Rey River
Mono Lake (Calif.) -- Water
Mono Basin (Calif.)
Water-supply -- California -- Los
San Bernardino Valley
San Joaquin Valley
St. Francis Dam
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.
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
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, Berkeley, 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
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
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
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
"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
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 (1915).
- "The Interpretation of Water Levels in Wells and Test Holes," National Research
Council, Trans. Am. Geophysical Union, Section of Hydrology, Part II, 1934.
- "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, January
- "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
(Chapter VIII), HYDROLOGY, by Charles H. Lee, Edited by Oscar E.
Selection of Materials for Rolled-Fill
, (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
(Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Div., Proc. A.S.C.E. December,
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,
||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 Los Angeles.
||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
||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 and individuals.