Charles Frederick Holder.

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use of water for increasing the pro-
ductiveness of the soil is spreading
to districts in which irrigation is re-
garded as not necessary to successful
agriculture. It is perceived that ir-
rigation may be a valuable aid, even
where the natural precipitation suf-
fices for the production of good crops
of the cereals. Such use of water
enables the farmer or the fruit-grower
to diversify his crops, or to success-
fully till lands that in their natural
condition are inferior or even worth-
less for agricultural purposes.

While the climate of California
varies greatly with latitude, altitude,
and distance from the sea, it has cer-
tain characteristics common to all
parts of the State. Everywhere the
summer is dry and warm. With but
slight exception, the summer months
are rainless. For this reason irriga-
tion may be practised with benefit in
all counties of the State, on all up-
land soils receiving no moisture by
infiltration from rivers, lakes, or other
bodies of water. Striking examples


of the value of irrigation may be seen
in the counties of Shasta and Siski-
you, where the annual rainfall ex-
ceeds thirty or forty inches, as well
as in portions of San Diego and San
Bernardino, at the opposite end of
the State, in which localities the
rainfall may be in some years as
slight as five or ten inches.

The question as to the value of
irrigation in any region is not to be
determined by the amount of its an-
nual rainfall. It is the seasonal dis-
tribution as much as the quantity of
rain that makes agriculture secure
and enables the cultivator to dispense
with irrigation. In many localities in
California the idea has prevailed that
because crops of winter wheat and
barley can be grown successfully with-
out irrigation, such use of water is not
desirable for general rural develop-
ment. But it is to be noted that in
those districts of the State in which
no irrigation is practised, and where
the lands are devoted to wheat and
barley almost exclusively, little or
no progress has been made in the
past ten or twelve years. Dry farm-
ing has tended to decrease the num-
ber of farmers and to enlarge the
area of farms through the absorp-
tion of small farms by the larger
ones. The substitution of machinery
for hand labor has helped to bring
about this unfortunate condition of
things. Small farming for wheat
has become unprofitable, and the
tendency of wheat-growing is still to
enlarge rather than to decrease the
area of ranch properties. On the
other hand, where irrigation has
been introduced upon plains formerly
devoted exclusively to the production
of grain, a remarkable improvement
has been brought about, as in the
southern part of the San Joaquin



Valley. There the construction of
irrigation canals and the boring of
artesian wells has made wonderful
changes for the better in population
and wealth. The irrigated districts
are peopled by small farmers and
fruit-growers, whose prosperity has
built up large towns and given vastly
increased traffic to railroads. South-
ern California, likewise, presents
marvellous proofs of the great advan-
tages of irrigation over dependence
upon rainfall. Similar examples of
prosperity and progress through irri-
gation are to be found in scattered
localities of Northern California, as
at Florin, Brighton, Woodland, Vina,
Oroville, Newcastle, the Santa Clara
Valley, and numerous other locali-
ties, particularly in the foot-hills on
the eastern border of the Sacramento

In the course of time irrigation
will accomplish as much for the Sac-
ramento Valley as it has for the
plains of Lombardy, whose far-famed
fertility and productiveness, are
chiefly due to the intelligent use of
water for irrigation purposes. The
natural conditions in this noted
Italian region make irrigation less
necessary than in the valley of the
Sacramento. On the Lombardy
plains the temperature rarely rises
as high as ninety degrees (Fahr.),
and the average annual rainfall is
greater than at Sacramento. Yet
half the flow of the rivers of Lom-
bardy is used for irrigation, being
distributed, through more than 4,500
miles of canals, over 1,400,000 acres.
The canals of Lombard} 7 represent
an investment of $30,000,000, and
have increased the annual rental
value of the lands watered by $4,500,-
000. Irrigation has added enor-
mously to the productiveness of the
country and made a varied agricul-
ture practicable, such as promotes
the multiplication of rural homes
and gives large employment to labor.
The great dairy interests of Lom-
bardy are supported mainly through
irrigation. In further illustration of

the fact that the amount of the annual
rainfall does not determine the ques-
tion as to the utility of irrigation, it
may be remarked that in Madras,
India, where upward of 5,000,000
acres of land are under irrigation,
the average annual rainfall is about
thirty-five inches, or about twice that
of the Sacramento Valley.

It is not, however, necessary to
look abroad to find ample evidences
of the immense value of irrigation
in promoting subdivision of lands
and giving rise to varied agricultural
industries, such as support a large
population on a relatively small area.
In the irrigated colony tracts of the
upper San Joaquin Valley and of
Southern California are hundreds of
twenty and forty acre farms, each
giving a better support to a family
than it is commonly practicable to
obtain anywhere from one hundred
and sixty acres of ordinary farming
land not irrigated. The use of water
permits of a succession of crops
throughout the year, while under
the system of summer fallowing
generally practised in this State for
wheat-growing, the land produces
but one crop in two years. By the
aid of irrigation, alfalfa, that most
valuable of hay or forage crops, may
be successfully grown on almost any
soil, and particularly on rich sandy
soils that in a state of nature lack
the moisture necessary to the plant.
In Kern and other counties of the
San Joaquin region lands once little
better than desert are now, through
irrigation, producing from eight to
ten tons of alfalfa to the acre each
year, obtained in four or five cut-
tings, sometimes also affording pas-
turage for stock for a month or two.

The present murderous system of
wheat-farming in California is gradu-
ally exhausting fertility and will
ultimately compel a general resort
to irrigation. Wheat is grown with-
out any sort of fertilizing to re-
store to the soil the elements taken
away with each successive crop, and
there is followed no system of rota-




tion to lessen the steady drain upon
fertility. The expedient of allowing
ploughed land to lie idle each alter-
nate year, called summer fallowing,
in reality restores no fertility to the
soil, merely rendering more available
for the needs of plants a portion of
its native store of the mineral ele-
ments necessary to production. If
the farmers were obliged to replace,
in the form of commercial or other
fertilizers, the potash, phosphoric
acid, and nitrogen shipped away with
each crop of wheat, the present mar-
gin of profit in wheat-farming would
be completely wiped out or converted
into a net cash loss. And these ele-
ments must ultimately be restored,
or the land will become barren. Al-
ready some of the poorer valley lands
are practically exhausted for wheat-

Fortunately in irrigation there is a
ready means of averting exhaustion of
the soil. By the use of water on the

lands now exclusively devoted to
wheat it will be practicable to grow
alfalfa, root, and other crops, so as to
provide rotation. With the use of
water, the wasteful and antiquated
practice of summer fallowing will no
longer seem necessary, and the farm-
ers will be enabled to gather two or
more crops in one year where they are
now obtaining but one crop of wheat
in two years. Alfalfa may be used to
restore fertility, for, in common with
red clover, the plant possesses this
property. Its roots penetrate to great
depths, bringing up stores of plant
food, while its leaves absorb nitrogen
from the air. By ploughing under a
growth of alfalfa, a " green manuring"
is obtained which quickly restores
productiveness to soils worn out by in-
cessant cropping with wheat. This art
of fertilizing, as yet almost unknown
in California, has been practised in
the Atlantic States and in Europe for
centuries, and with marked success.



Were the greater portion of the
wheat area of the State converted
through irrigation into small farms
producing a variety of crops, vast

aid of irrigation, another most impor-
tant source of agricultural prosperity
is unfolded to California farmers.
In all parts of the State, on plains


benefits would result. Irrigation
would enable the production of grass
crops to be indefinitely expanded
along with their attendant industries.
It may not be generally known that the
grass crops of the United States, with
their products such as butter, cheese,
and live-stock, equal the combined
value of all other crops in the coun-
try ; yet such is the fact. The estab-
lishment of a large meat-packing
house in Los Angeles has enabled
the farmers of Southern California to
learn that there is far more profit in
raising hogs and cattle on irrigated
lands or lands naturally moist than
in growing grain even under the
most favorable conditions and in the
best seasons. In the production of
sugar-beets, likewise, through the

or hills, irrigation makes practicable
the production of fruit from soils
naturally too dry for the successful
establishment of orchards or vine-
yards. While thousands of carloads
of choice deciduous fruits are grown
on unwatered lands, yet but a small
percentage of the tillable area of the
State is suitable for fruit-growing
without irrigation. The notion once
prevailed that fruits from watered
orchards or vineyards must be in-
ferior in quality, but the testimony
of the most expert horticulturists,
shippers, and packers is positively to
the contrary. There are no finer de-
ciduous fruits than those shipped
from the irrigated foot-hill orchards
of Placer County; no better grapes
than those grown in the irrigated



vineyards of Sacramento or Fresno.
The production of some 2,000 car-
loads of superior raisins in the Fresno
district in a year, all as the result of
irrigation, is unanswerable evidence
that the judicious use of water in-
volves no impairment of the quality
of fruit. As to the 6,000 carloads of
oranges produced in Southern Cali-
fornia in the season of 1892-93, it
is scarcely necessary to say that all
were from irrigated orchards. With-
out irrigation the immensely valua-
ble citrus industry of this section of
the State would have no existence.
Through this one channel millions
of dollars flow into Southern Califor-
nia from the East, as the result of
the intelligent application of water
to lands once regarded as worthless
for agricultural or horticultural pur-
poses. The very finest of this fruit
is grown on high and dry soils that

were in connection with the mis-
sions about 700 miles of canals or
ditches for purposes of irrigation or
general water-supply. Most of these
old ditches have disappeared, but
some still remain, examples of supe-
rior workmanship in primitive ma-
sonry. Following the mission era
and during the early years of the
American occupation, little attention
was paid to irrigation. Nearly all
of the great irrigation development
in California has been accomplished
in the twenty years since 1873, and
most of it within a decade. Less
than twenty years ago the upper San
Joaquin Valley, inclusive of Kern,
Tulare, Fresno, and Merced, was
thought to be unfit for any better
purpose than range for cattle and
sheep during a part of the year.
The township in which the city of
Fresno stands was valued seventeen


without irrigation would be practi-
cally worthless for horticulture.

Irrigation in California had its first
beginning in the establishment of
missions by Spanish priests, from
1770 to 1783. Sixty years ago there

years ago at only $23,000, while now,
because of irrigation, its value h
more than $10,000,000. Irrigation
in Fresno County has created not
less than $20,000,000 of substantial

8 4 6


Little over a score of years ago the
Riverside tract in San Bernardino
County was assessed at about sev-
enty-five cents an acre, and complaint
was made of this by the owner as an
over-valuation. Now the realty em-
braced in the same tract is worth
upward of $5,000,000, including a
thriving town of about 6,000 inhabi-
tants — all the direct result of irriga-
tion. Four thousand acres of irri-
gated Riverside lands have produced
in one year 1,000 carloads of oranges
and 225,000 boxes of raisins, worth,
collectively, upward of $1,000,000.
The orange shipments from River-
side in 1893 have amounted to 2,300
carloads. More than 7,000 persons
are living on the irrigated Riverside
tract, which in 1870 was a treeless,
barren, uninhabited plain. Now the
San Bernardino Valley is dotted with
prosperous and beautiful horticul-
tural settlements or colonies, created
through irrigation. Some of these
vie in loveliness with Riverside,
whose miles of shady avenues and
orange groves have made it famous
as one of the most charming places
in the world. Ontario, Redlands,
Pomona, Pasadena, and many other
noted centres of horticultural beauty
in Southern California owe their
prosperity and fame to water. But
for irrigation in Southern California
Los Angeles would to-day be little
more than a sleepy Mexican town,
instead of a bustling, ambitious
city of 70,000 inhabitants, of world-
renown for her attractions. It was
the unexampled prosperity result-
ing from irrigation that gave rise to
the great Southern California boom,
which collapsed about five years ago,
and it was irrigation that enabled this
division of the State to pass safely
through the ordeal of readjustment.
Values had been largely inflated, but
there was no mistake regarding the
Certainty of continued growth and
development through irrigation.
Many of the best ancfmost costly im-
provements in Los Angeles and in
other parts of Southern California

have been created since the boom,
and capital continues by investment
to demonstrate its faith in the future
of the chief city and the surrounding

It would be a mistake to infer
that Southern California as a whole
is unproductive without irrigation.
The county of Los Angeles alone
produces each year wheat and barley
to the value of more than $1,000,000,
without irrigation ; also large quan-
tities of corn, deciduous fruits, alfalfa,
and root crops on soil needing no
irrigation. In fact, save that the
soils of Los Angeles and Orange
counties are in general of a more
open or friable character than those
of the Sacramento Valley, there is
no more need of irrigation in these
southern counties than in the county
of Sacramento, there being no great
difference in the average rainfall of
the two districts compared, and Los
Angeles having the advantage of
proximity to the sea. But what may
not be necessary is often highly de-
sirable, and the farmers and horti-
culturists of the country about Los
Angeles have learned how to use
water to the best advantage in in-
creasing productiveness of the soil
and for the growth of the most prof-
itable crops and more of them than
could be had without irrigation. In
some localities irrigation enables the
farmers to get in rotation during a
single year a crop of barley hay,
another of potatoes, and another of
corn, while six cuttings of alfalfa
during twelve months are by no
means uncommon. The production
of early potatoes and other vegetables
on irrigated lands fills thousands of
cars each year for shipment to the
Eastern markets. With lower rates
of transportation, this production of
early vegetables for Eastern shipment
promises to become as great a source
of income to this part of the State as
the citrus fruits now are.

Irrigation works in California con-
sist of storage reservoirs, canals, ar-
tesian wells, submerged or bed-rock



dams, tunnels, and pumping systems.
The storage-reservoir system is em-
ployed in Southern California to a
much greater extent than in other
parts of the State, while the greatest
development of the canal system,
taking water directly from river
channels, is seen in the southern part

mountains. They are fed by streams
and the storms of winter, and in
summer receive large volumes of
water from the melting of snow on
the peaks and ridges above them.
The Arrowhead system, in course of
construction, will consist of three
reservoirs, to contain sufficient water


of the San Joaquin Valley, in the
counties of Fresno, Kern, Tulare, and
Merced. Among the chief storage
works are those of the Bear Valley,
Hemet Lake, Arrowhead, Sweet-
water, and Cuyamaca S3'stems, in San
Bernardino and San Diego counties.
These reservoirs are all of large ca-
pacity and are situated in the high

for the irrigation of 80,000 or 90,000
acres, and will cost $1,000,000. The
Bear Valley works constitute the
largest storage system of irrigation
in the United States Its distribut-
ing system is regarded as the best
and most economical in use, consist-
ing of pipe lines. This system sup-
plies water to the town and colony of




Redlands, where upward of 4,000
people are occupying a tract of land
that had but one house nine years
ago. In this locality unimproved
land commands, through irrigation,
from $300 to $500 an acre, while
bearing citrus orchards at this place
and Riverside bring upward of $1,000
an acre. Some orange orchards at
Riverside have brought as much as
$2,000 an acre.

The water used for irrigation at
Riverside is derived partly from
canals heading in the Santa Ana
River and partly from artesian wells
whose flow is conducted to the colony
tract. In the neighborhood water is
likewise developed by means of tun-
nels or "horizontal wells" bored into
the hills or mountains to tap hidden
sources of supply. A num ber of such
tunnels have been successfully driven
in other localities of Southern Cali-
fornia. In a region where the right
to a constant flow of water is
valued at $1,000 a miner's inch,
such costly work is well rewarded
when a good flow is obtained.
When economically used, from ce-
ment pipes and ditches, an inch of

water may be made to suffice, as at
Ontario, in San Bernardino County,
for the irrigation of ten acres of
orange orchard. This flow of water
is equal to about 13,000 gallons in
twenty-four hours, enough to cover
one acre half an inch deep or to
cover ten acres eighteen inches deep
in one year. And it is to be observed
that the control of water-supply, en-
abling the cultivator to apply the
water only when needed and in pre-
cisely such quantity as may be de-
sired, makes this one miner's inch
fully equivalent to thirty-six inches
of annual rainfall as usually dis-
tributed from the heavens.

The irrigation works of Los An-
geles and Orange counties, though
numerous, are not severally of great
magnitude. In several localities
water is developed by means of
dams constructed on the bed-rock of
streams, so as to intercept the invisi-
ble flow through the cobbles and sand,
and so divert it to ditches. Tunnels
have also been successfully run under
the beds of streams with the same

About all the visible supply of


8 49

water in Southern California has
been appropriated for irrigation, but
much more may be developed by
means of storage systems or the
other works mentioned. Water
rights are commonly sold with the
land that is or is to be irrigated, so
that the buyer is in no danger of
being deprived of the use of water.
The same plan is followed in most
other parts of the State in which irri-
gation is used. Riparian rights still
exist, but the law recognizes the
right of appropriation, and most of
the difficulties formerly existing be-
tween riparian proprietors and ap-
propriators have been adjusted by
litigation or otherwise.

The principal development of arte-
sian wells in California is in Kern
County, though other counties also
have man)^ such wells. In Kern
there are many wells which have a
daily flow of from 2,000,000 to 3,000,-
000 gallons. Their average depth is
over 500 feet. Thousands of acres
in Kern Valley are irrigated by this
means. In the Sacramento Valley
borings have been made to as great a
depth as 2,000 feet for artesian water,
but no flowing wells have been de-
veloped, though an abundant supply
of water is obtained in many locali-
ties by pumping from wells sunk
from 15 to 150 feet, the water in some
places rising nearly to the surface.

In Kern County there are 35 large
canals, capable of supplying water
to half a million acres. Of these
the most important is the Calloway,
which is 120 feet wide and from 6 to
10 feet deep. The magnitude of this
canal may be better appreciated by
comparing it with the Erie Canal,
in the State of New York, which is
70 feet wide and 7 deep.

Fresno has 16 or more irrigation
companies, taking water from the
Fresno, Kings, and San Joaquin riv-
ers. These companies have upward
of 750 miles of main canals, con-
structed at a cost of $2,000,000 and
"covering" 350,000 acres. Of the
irrigated area in Fresno more than

75,000 acres are in vineyard, yielding
raisins to the value of $100 or more to
the acre annually. Under the Fresno
canals there are upward of 20,000
acres in alfalfa, credited with the pro-
duction of hay to the extent of $40 an
acre each year.

One of the most interesting and
important irrigation works in the
San Joaquin Valley is the Crocker &
Huffman canal and reservoir. Water
from the Merced River is conveyed
twenty-seven miles through a canal
100 feet wide and 10 feet deep to a
reservoir constructed five miles from
the town of Merced. This reservoir
lies in a basin between hills, the nat-
ural outlet being closed by an em-
bankment of earth and gravel 4,000
feet long, 275 feet thick at the base,
and with a maximum height of 54
feet. This reservoir covers several
hundred acres and holds 5,500,000,-
000 gallons, sufficient to irrigate 30,-
000 acres. The canal and reservoir
cost $1,000,000. Water rights under
this system have been sold at the rate
of $10 an acre.

In Tulare County is an extensive
system of canals supplying about
100,000 acres. In the new counties
of Kings and Madera irrigation is
making rapid progress, as in other
localities of the State mentioned in
this article.

One of the great helps to irrigation
development in California is an act
of the legislature known as the
Wright law. This act provides for
the organization of irrigation systems
by the owners of lands susceptible of
irrigation from a common source.
It authorizes the issue of bonds, con-
stituting a lien on such lands, to pro-
vide for the construction of water-
works or the purchase of water rights ;
also provides for a system of district
taxation to redeem the bonds and for
the payment of interest thereon.
Under this law land-owners are en-
abled to obtain irrigation at its act-
ual cost. Thirty districts organized
under this act embrace more than
2,000,000 acres, valued at $45,000,-

8 5 o


ooo. Bonds have been voted in these
districts to the extent of about $13,-
000,000, of which about $5,000,000
have been sold. The cost of devel-
oping water under the district plan
varies greatly, according to the situ-
ation of the lands to be irrigated.
The average has been estimated at
about $6 an acre. A very slight
annual tax usually suffices to main-
tain the works in proper condition
and to pay the cost of distributing
the water.

It has not been practicable within
the limits of this article to more than
touch the outlines of this great
subject of irrigation in California.
Though much has been done, it is
safe to say that irrigation is still in
its infancy in the State. Rivers of
water in Central and Northern Cali-

fornia are suffered to run idly to the
sea. These waters, if used only in

Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 113 of 120)