The Tustin Water Works, now the water department of the City of Tustin, was established in 1887 and is the oldest business in Tustin. Charles F. and Hiram Willard, and Henry Adams formed Willard Brothers Water Works, utilizing an artesian well on the site which it still occupies on the corner of Main and Prospect. Planned to prosper with the boom of the late 1880s, the business faltered when the expected prosperity weakened.
After Adams left the firm, and his brother moved to Northern California, Charles Willard continued the losing venture. In 1897, he sold the business to his former schoolmate, C. E. Utt. Utt paid $2,000, a loss of $6,000 plus for Willard. The business reportedly lost money for the next 30 years. In Volume I, History of Orange County (Mrs. J. E. Pleasants, 1931), Utt writes, I, probably because I didn’t know any better, took over the business and have operated it for 35 years. During this period, it has increased from 50 customers to 800, or from a losing business to a fairly profitable one. This increase cannot be taken as a gauge of population growth. A large part of it is due to the extension of the mains to include new territory. Now the old Willard Water Works serves a territory as large as the city of Santa Ana with only about one-tenth the population. Utt changed the name to Tustin Water Works, drilled a new well and replaced the steam driven pumps with gasoline driven pumps. These changes cut his costs significantly.
The Utt family operated the water works for over 80 years. Stepson Walter Rawlings became superintendent and was in charge during Tustin’s post World War II growth. New equipment and replacement buildings maintained the efficiency of the company.
The City of Tustin acquired the water works in 1982. In addition to building an underground reservoir at the cost of nearly $9 million, the city has replaced the old buildings with new structures, using a style of architecture reminiscent of the 1900s. These house the well, pumps, generator and treatment plant. The well provides the new reservoir, which has 2.2 million gallon capacity, with 1,400 gallons a minute. The water works can produce 12% of Tustin’s total water needs each year.
The Willard brothers never dreamed Tustin residents would ever use 13 million gallons a day.