Originally known as the San Leandro Reservoir (due to being the first dam built atop San Leandro Creek), the reservoir now called Lake Chabot began construction in 1874 under the supervision of Anthony Chabot’s Contra Costa Water Company, which at the time maintained a water monopoly over much of the East bay. Chabot, a French-Canadian businessman, had pioneered then-cutting-edge (though highly destructive by modern environmental standards) hydraulic mining techniques. He employed these methods previously throughout California during the Gold Rush of the mid-1850s wherein high-pressure water cannons were used to erode flakes of Gold from nearby mineral deposits. The general shape of Lake Chabot was formed in this same way, creating a gradual basin of sediment that would fill and drain in a predictable, controllable manner.
The primary purpose of the new dam was to provide water to the growing population of the East Bay, specifically the city of Oakland whose previous water source of Lake Temescal (a reservoir also constructed under Chabot’s guidance) had begun to prove insufficient. The amount of labor required for the project was immense and, like many of California’s industrial achievements during the mid-to-late 1800s, the hard work of Chinese immigrants was indispensable. In fact, a vast majority of the most crucial work during the construction of the Lake Chabot dam can be traced to them.