At its founding in 1911, the Long Beach Water Department was originally placed under the control of the Long Beach City Manager. In the subsequent years, the City of Long Beach continued to grow while its water supply became more unreliable. It eventually became apparent that independent oversight of the Water Department would be necessary.
The need for an independent Water Commission was brought to the city’s attention by two separate committees formed in 1930, a Citizens Water Committee and a Water Rights Committee. Each committee would be tasked with studying local water conditions and subsequently reporting their findings and recommendations.
”While the matter of administration of water affairs was not referred to the Committee, the need of a Water Board or similar organization to constantly study, investigate and administer the affairs of the Department is most apparent…The Committee therefore most heartily makes such a recommendation.”
The Citizens Water Committee released a report of their own, and agreed that the City’s Water Department should be governed by an independent body.
“We are unanimous in the opinion that the City of Long Beach is destined to be a large city, and that the problem of a permanent water supply for a large city in this location, under existing conditions of receding water levels and unreliable meteorological conditions, can only be dealt with by a Water Commission that is provided by charter and whose tenure of office can be assured for a sufficiently long period of time to enable it to adopt policies which are impossible with the present management of water affairs, and which would be authorized and empowered by charter provisions to make plans…, looking to the future of the City…”
Each committee had arrived at the same conclusion. They recognized that the Water Department operated under complex operational parameters and as such, it should be placed under the control of an independent water commission, with the double motive of providing continuity of policy and long range planning and of removing it from political influence so far as possible.
At a special election held on February 17, 1931, Long Beach voters amended the city charter to establish the Board of Water Commissioners. The city charter amendment held promise of an efficiently operating board and a continuity of policy that was utterly impossible under city manager control.
“There is hereby created a Water Department which shall be under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of five commissioners who shall be known as the Board of Water Commissioners. Said Water Department shall have full and complete jurisdiction over all water works necessary and incidental to the use, sale and distribution of water owned and controlled by the City and all of the City's sewer system.”
The first five citizens named to the Water Commission were C. L. Heartwell, R. M. Dickinson, John Schinner, H. F. Ahlswede and J. W. V. Steele.