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The San Pablo Reservoir is an open cut terminal water storage reservoir owned and operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility Districtmarker (EBMUD). It is located in the valley of San Pablo Creek, north of Orinda, Californiamarker and south of El Sobrantemarker and Richmondmarker, east of the Berkeley Hillsmarker between the Sobrante and San Pablo Ridges.

The earthen dam, built in 1919, is located at the El Sobrante end of the reservoir, above Kennedy Grovemarker. The reservoir has a total capacity of 38,600 acre feet (48,000,000 m³), and a watershed of 23.37 square miles (61 km²). The San Pablo Dam Road runs along the west side of the reservoir. EBMUD's Briones Reservoirmarker is in the hills southeast of the San Pablo Reservoir and drains into the reservoir.

Although the dam impounds the waters of San Pablo Creek, the great bulk of its water is imported via aqueduct from Pardee Reservoirmarker located over a hundred miles to the east in the Sierra Nevada foothills.


EBMUD owns and maintains the San Pablo Reservoir Recreation Area, which consists of boating and fishing access to the reservoir itself, and some watershed land on the west side of the reservoir. EBMUD charges $6 for daily entrance into the park. The recreation area is managed under contract by Urban Parks Concessionaires (UPC) and includes a restaurant (The San Pablo Grill) and gift shop, where fishing permits can be purchased and boats can be rented. There are picnic areas available, a children’s play area and a boat launch ramp.

Because this reservoir is a storage facility for drinking water, swimming and wading is prohibited. Fishing, boating, and canoeing are allowed. However, to reduce the possibility of gasoline components in the reservoir, only four-cycle engines using MTBE-free gasoline are allowed.

There is a 5 ½ mile (9 km) hiking and biking trail along the west side of the reservoir. Most of this trail is on the Old San Pablo Dam Road, replaced in the 1950s by the current San Pablo Dam Road. It is not possible to legally circumnavigate the reservoir on hiking trails. While there are trails on the east side of the reservoir to accommodate a circumnavigation, they are off limits even to people with EBMUD Trail Permits, and the roadway on top of San Pablo Dam proper is similarly restricted.

Many anglers fish on the reservoir for smallmouth bass, white sturgeon, bluegill and crappie, along with the regularly planted trout and catfish. (Read 2009 California EPA Health Advisory Guidelines on safety of eating fish from San Pablo Dam Reservoir)

San Pablo Dam

Seismic Retrofit

In October 2004, a study commissioned by EBMUD concluded that a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault could cause the San Pablo Dam to settle as much as 35 feet (11 m). As a short-term measure, the District has lowered the reservoir level by 20 feet (6 m) to create a 35 foot (11 m) buffer.

Current plans are to seismically upgrade the dam without taking it out of commission. Once all of the construction permits have been obtained and funding secured, construction is scheduled to take about two years.


  1. [1], California EPA Report, February 2009
  2. San Pablo Dam Vulnerable to Earthquake, EBMUD Press Release, October 27, 2004
  3. Water Level Lowered at Reservoir, Lee, Henry K., San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2004
  4. Public Notice of Application to Fill Wetlands, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, December 22, 2006

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