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A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County



Sol P. Elias

Modesto, Cal.



pg. 136




Progress of Modesto District



Since the year 1905, the Modesto District has made phenomenal progress which is reflected in the following data:


Assessed valuation of the lands of the Modesto Irrigation District:

1888, $4,037,462; 1890, $3,361,347; 1895, $2,845,412; 1900, $1,997,275; 1905, $4,575,040; 1910, $5,709,375; 1915, $6,950,395; 1920, $7,476,290; 1921, $7,484,800; 1922, $7,488,420; 1923, $7,474,790. The constant decrease of valuation of the property of the district from 1888 to 1900 illustrates the baleful effect of the litigation while the steady increase of valuations from 1905 to the present time indicates the value of water and harmony.


The number of assessment payers is as follows: 1888, 741; 1890, 753; 1895, 818; 1905, 1,160; 1910, 1,890; 1915, 3,077; 1920, 4,146; 1921, 4,511; 1922, 4,850; 1923, 5,277. These figures more than anything else bespeak the progress of the Modesto Irrigation District. Since 1905 the number of assessment payers has more than quadrupled.


Area irrigated: 1904, 6,895 acres; 1905, 10,500 acres; 1906, 12,680 acres; 1907, 14,020 acres; 1908, 18,530 acres; 1910, 28,197 acres; 1911, 34,954 acres; 1912, 39,777 acres; 1913, 48,269 acres; 1914, 52,381 acres; 1915, 51,915 acres; 1916, 53,759 acres; 1917, 54,066 acres; 1918, 57,861 acres; 1919, 55,475 acres; 1920, 58,825 acres; 1921, 58,659 acres; 1922, 60,652 acres.


The canals were completed in September, 1903, too late for use in that year. The water was, however, run through the system in order to test it out, to ascertain breaks, and to puddle the bottom and the sides of the canal. It was indeed a most pleasant sight to the men of the district who had made the long battle to thus witness the fruition of their labors. In 1904 as much land as the farmers could prepare went under intensive irrigated cultivation.


pg. 137


This area has steadily increased year by year. The progress and the prosperity of Modesto have followed this increased devotion of the land to irrigation. Indeed, water is wealth.


The crop acreage under irrigation for the year 1921 was as follows: alfalfa, 23,209 acres; trees, 6,246 acres; vines, 6,061 acres; beans, 4,830 acres; corn, 2,282 acres; grain, 13, 889 acres; rice, 1,156 acres; peas, 568 acres; tomatoes, 150 acres; garden, 268 acres; total acreage, 58,659 acres. In beans, corn and grain there was some effort to grow second crops. The acreage that was dry farmed was 5,837 acres, wholly in grain.


The crop acreage under irrigation for the year 1923 was as follows: alfalfa, 18,404 acres; trees, 10,752 acres; vines, 11,191 acres; beans, 7,310 acres, with 1899 acres under second crop; corn, 1,800 acres, with 576 acres under second crop; grain, 10,740 acres; rice, 346 acres; peas, 628 acres; tomatoes and melons, 389 acres; garden, 436 acres, and miscellaneous, 74 acres. During this year 8,531 acres were devoted to grain under the dry farming method of cultivation. The total acreage irrigated was 61,770 acres. The total under second crop was 2,475 acres and the total acreage that was dry farmed was 8,531 acres.


The length of the canal system is as follows: main canal from the dam to the district, 22.69 miles; main canal through district to river, 21.96 miles; total, 44.65 miles. There are 160.03 miles of laterals in the district, making the entire system comprise a series of canals 204.68 miles in length. The length of the ten drainage canals is 45.09 miles.


The report of the Irrigation District Bond Commission of California made in June, 1914, contains interesting and important data concerning the Modesto District. Its findings are as follows:


“(a) That the supply of water available for the project amounts to an average flow of two feet in depth for the irrigable area of the district; that the right of the district to this amount of water is established.


“(b) That the soil of the district is fertile and susceptible to irrigation; that the water of the district available is sufficient to cause the land to produce remunerative crops; that portions of the district are in need of drainage, provisions for obtaining which have been partly effected and plans are being made to complete a drainage canal.


pg. 138


“(c) That the district irrigation project is entirely feasible; the present works when the projected improvements are completed will be sufficient to meet the requirements of the district for many years and will cost not to exceed $610,000.00; that future extensions and additions to said works sufficient for the needs of the district for all time, which said additions and extensions will be made in co-operation with other irrigation districts, will cost said Modesto Irrigation District for its proportionate share thereof not to exceed $500,000.


“(d) That the reasonable market value of the water, water rights, canals, and irrigation works owned by said district, or to be acquired or constructed by said district, is $1,225,000.


“(e) The reasonable market value of the land included within the boundaries of the district is $15,291,000. (These figures would of course be increased in 1923.)


“(f) That the aggregate amount of outstanding bonds of said district, including bonds authorized but not sold, does not exceed 60 per cent of the aggregate market value the land within the district, and of the water, water rights, canals, reservoirs, reservoir sites, owned or to be acquired and constructed with the proceeds of said bonds.”


It should be noted in passing that the drainage system has already been installed and is now in good working condition.


This report devotes many pages of interesting material to a description of the source of the supply of the water of the Tuolumne river and to a discussion of the history of the water rights in this water. It finds that the two districts are amply provided for and protected in their original filings to the extent of 2,350 second-feet of water at the La Grange dam.


As the conclusion from a discussion of the needs of the Modesto District for water and the quantity available the reports says:


“The conclusions drawn from the foregoing presentation are that the natural flow of the Tuolumne river furnishes at all times sufficient water available to the districts to irrigate their lands to the depth of 2 feet even in the driest years recorded.


pg. 139


That of ordinary years the quantity available amounts to not less than 2 1/2 acre-feet; that when the Modesto Irrigation District shall have completed the improvements in its system now being made, it will be able to divert and use the water available up to its needs.”


In 1912-13 the Dallas-Warner reservoir was built by the Modesto District with a capacity of 28,000 acre feet of water which is sufficient for one irrigation for the entire district. T. K. Beard, one of its most prominent and active former directors, was the contractors. This reservoir is a well constructed and substantial piece of work and materially provides for the demands of the irrigators.


The Don Pedro dam, completed by the Modesto and Turlock Districts in January, 1923, creates a reservoir capable of storing 265,000 acre feet of water. This dam is 283 feet in height, 177 feet thick at its base, 16 feet thick and 1,020 feet long at its top. It is estimated to contain 265,000 yards of masonry. It is accounted the highest dam in the world above the stream bed. It rests on a solid rock river bed that required no excavation for the superstructure. From actual drilling in order to ascertain the character of the foundation it was found that the river bed rested upon hard blue flint rock for over 200 feet into the earth from the surface of the bed of the river. Both districts have arranged to utilize the power that may be generated by this dam to supply their inhabitants with electricity for domestic and industrial use, in addition to the storage of water for irrigation. This power being jointly owned by both districts, its ownership will open remarkable opportunities and prospects to their inhabitants. Its possession and distribution will add to the industrial wealth of these two districts in the not distant future. The estimated cost of the Don Pedro dam is $3,724,000. This includes the additions that may be made to it.


The bonded indebtedness of the Modesto District in February, 1922, was $4,206,741 with $298,400 bonds then unsold and in the possession of the district. The then recent sale of Modesto District bonds brought a handsome premium, selling at 106.77 The district was then bonded for about $49 the acre as against $52.50 after the disposal of the bonds then unsold. The bonded indebtedness of the district in October, 1923, was $4,284,686, with some bonds still unsold and with a prospective issue of an additional sum of $500,000 to complete the construction of the transmission lines for the supplying of electric power from the Don Pedro dam.


pg. 140


The Modesto District is now building its transmission lines for the public distribution of electric power to the inhabitants of its territory. On August 1, 1923, this district was granted a permit from the city council to enter Modesto for the purpose of selling its power. This permit is to run twenty-five years and was unanimously granted.


Considerable progress has already been made by the Modesto District in the construction of its system of distribution of electric current. During October, 1923, its substation and its transmission line from the “Turlock” sub-station to the “Modesto” sub-station were completed and the electric energy turned on. The circuit connecting the Modesto city water pumps and its street lighting system and the schools of the Modesto City School District were also completed during this month. The total mileage of line now completed (October, 1923), is as follows: 7 1/2 miles of 66,000 voltage, 10 miles of 11,000 voltage, 27 1/2 miles of 4,000 voltage, and 2 1/2 miles of 2,300 voltage. In October, 1923, the council of the city of Modesto, consisting of Mayor Sol. P. Elias, Councilman E. J. Boundey, A. N. Brown, Albert Osvald, and T. H. Prewett, awarded the contract to the Modesto Irrigation District for the furnishing of electric energy to the city. The contract was entered into in November, 1923. The electricity generated from the Don Pedro Dam now illuminates the streets of Modesto and supplies the propelling force to the city pumps. This contract carried with it business to the District approximating $30,000 yearly. The completion of this part of the Modesto District's electric transmission lines was fittingly celebrated, in conjunction with Armistice Day by the American Legion of Modesto on November 12th, 1923, by the entire citizenship of Modesto.


The election for directors in 1921 resulted in the choice of H. J. Coffee, farmer and son of one of the county's pioneers, J. W. Guyler, an old-time printer and newspaper publisher, and member of the Board of Education of Modesto, J. R. Broughton, president of the Modesto Bank, irrigation pioneer and collaborator in the writing of the original Wright irrigation act, C. A. Hilton, farmer, and E. L. Routh, farmer.


pg. 141


The two latter are recent additions to the community, coming hither after the completion of the Modesto District's irrigation system, and representing the new blood that irrigation and its opportunities brought to this empire of fertility with the advent of the water on the plains of Paradise Valley. It was under the direction of this board that the Don Pedro Dam was completed. This structure will stand as a monument to their integrity and business capacity. The engineers in charge of the construction of the massive Don Pedro dam were A. J. Wiley of Boise, Idaho, consulting engineer; R. V. Meikle, Turlock, Cal., chief engineer; Percy F. Jones, Modesto, associate engineer; and Ross White, resident engineer at the dam during its construction.


The present officers of the district are: Directors, J. R. Broughton, N. L. Rose, H. H. Sturgill, J. C. Garrison, and O. E. Lambert; Assessor, Collector and Secretary, C. S. Abbott; Treasurer, G. R. Stoddard; Chief Engineer, H. A. Storrs; Electrical Engineer, R. J. O'Connell.






Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County.  Modesto, CA. 1924.

© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.



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