The Sugar Line Pipe of Ross Valley
A six-mile water pipeline, laid in the 1920s, helped to shape Marin County.
WHEN IT WAS laid in the early 1920s, the six miles of 12-inch pipe running from Ross to Point San Quentin was known as the “Sugar Line.” Why? Because the California & Hawaii (better known as C&H) Sugar Company’s processing plant in nearby Crockett needed fresh water — and the only sure way to get it was from the the young Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD). By 1916, several private local water companies had been consolidated into the MMWD, and within a decade an agreement with C&H Sugar had been finalized. The five-year contract called for MMWD to supply the sugar company with 300 million gallons of water a year for $30,000, plus $10,000 for an additional 200 million gallons whether they were used or not. The original C&H contract paid for the expansion of the water district’s transmission line through the Ross Valley, and a contract extension covered the cost of raising Alpine Dam by eight feet. The six miles of cast-iron pipe originating in Ross traveled in trenches dug by hand through Kentfield, Greenbrae, Larkspur and San Rafael, reaching Point San Quentin near the McNears quarry and brickyard. The above photo was taken along what is now Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, about where Marin Catholic High School is today. According to Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Municipal Water District by MMWD Director Jake Gibson, the cast-iron bell and spigot pipe came by rail from the American Iron Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Portions of the original pipeline are still in use.