You have probably driven along the Chet H. Harritt Dam on Lake Jennings Park Road. You have likely even visited Lake Jennings. If you ever wondered who Lake Jennings and its dam are named after, then keep reading. Helix Water District named the lake and its dam after two people who left an impressive legacy for the communities we serve.

Water lawyer William Jennings

William Jennings

William Jennings was one of the most well-respected and known water lawyers in California and served Helix Water District from 1936 to 1969. As a lifetime resident of San Diego, Jennings played an influential role in helping San Diego secure imported water sources to benefit the region.

William Jennings grew up during San Diego’s early 1900s. As a farmer’s son and living on multiple farms, he saw firsthand the importance of water in our region. He started practicing law in 1930 and later began serving in local government with the City of La Mesa and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce. In 1936, Jennings started working in water, serving as General Counsel with the La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley Irrigation District, which was later renamed Helix Water District. He also served as a board member for the San Diego County Water Authority.

During his career, he guided and negotiated water decisions that included the formation of the San Diego County Water Authority, the construction of the San Diego Aqueduct, our region’s annexation into the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the legislation that started the State Water Project, which delivers water by aqueduct from Northern California to Southern California.

Helix first General Manager Chet Harritt

Chet H. Harritt

In 1908, Chet H. Harritt went to work for the Cuyamaca Water Company, which owned and operated the San Diego Flume. Helix still uses parts of the original flume system today to bring water from Lake Cuyamaca to East County. He became the water company’s superintendent, in charge of water operations. When the La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley Irrigation District purchased the company in 1926, Harritt became the district’s first general manager. The photo below, taken in 1947, shows Harritt smoking a cigar and opening a valve to bring Colorado River water to East County for the first time.

Historic photo of 1947 Colorado River Water arriving to Helix

November 1947. Chet Harrit pictured left, opening a valve that will bring Colorado River water to the region for the first time. 

From 1936 until 1948, Harritt and Jennings worked together on water supply issues. While Harritt developed the infrastructure and resources needed to deliver a reliable water supply for East County, Jennings negotiated agreements with neighboring water agencies to pool resources and finance projects to deliver imported water into the San Diego region.

Their legacies benefit us today. Lake Jennings is a reservoir for the water supplies that Jennings secured for East County. The Chet Harritt Dam provides our region with the access and reliability to which Harritt devoted his career. Finally, their commitment to public service and leadership instilled a culture at Helix Water District that staff and elected officials embrace every day. 

Lake Jennings is one of two reservoirs owned by Helix Water District. The lake can store up to 9,790 acre-feet of water and is open to the public for boating, fishing, camping and hiking.

Lake Jennings is located at 9535 Harritt Road in Lakeside.


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