Print version of chapter
One of the most divisive and fascinating chapters
in the history of the Modesto Irrigation District
was precipitated by the determination of the City
and County of San Francisco to tap the Tuolumne
River for its domestic water supply.
Although in later years the three entities ?
the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts and
the City of San Francisco ? were to work together
developing the Tuolumne?s resources, both districts
at first were "unalterably opposed" to San Francisco
being on the river. The bitter early fights were
to generate recall elections in the MID , split
the Modesto and Turlock districts in a manner
that for some time threatened further cooperation
in the development of the original Don Pedro Reservoir,
and generated intense emotions among the people.
Long before the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake
and fire proved that city?s water supply to be
tragically inadequate, San Francisco was looking
to the Sierra for water.
In 1882 the San Francisco and Tuolumne Water
Company of Sonora had proposed carrying Tuolumne
River water to San Francisco from Jacksonville,
a community flooded nearly a century later by
the construction of New Don Pedro Reservoir. In
1888 two years before Yosemite National Park was
created, George M. Harris stressed the value of
the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a reservoir site and
offered all his rights on the Tuolumne River,
including title to his lands in Hetch Hetchy Valley,
for $200,000. The offer was repeated in 1894.
But it was not until the turn of the century
that San Francisco?s interest was stirred by Charles
S. Grunsky, who, ironically, had made the original
surveys of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus Rivers
for the Modesto Irrigation District. Grunsky,
who subsequently was fired by the MID in a dispute
over the cost of completing the planning for the
Modesto system, was by now San Francisco?s city
Grunsky turned to an 1899-1900 United States
Geological Survey report which suggested that
a reservoir in Hetch Hetchy Valley could furnish
"the City and County of San Francisco and unfailing
supply of pure water." He called this to the attention
of San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan, who immediately
instructed Grunsky to study 13 possible municipal
water sources: Spring Valley Water Works, Lake
Tahoe, Yuba River, Feather River, American River,
Sacramento River, Eel River, Clear Lake and Cache
Creek, Stanislaus River, Mokelumne River, Tuolumne
River, Bay Shore gravels and the Bay Cities Water
Company, a scheme which looked to the American
and Cosumnes Rivers for its water supply.
There are strong indications that, even before
the study was completed, the decision was made
to move on the Tuolumne on the basis of Grunsky?s
earlier Modesto Irrigation District surveys.
Mayor Phelan, Grunsky and Marsden Manson, who
was to succeed Grunsky as city engineer and who
shared his predecessor?s enthusiasm for the Tuolumne,
quietly put up the money to finance privately
the necessary surveys and water filings. Acting
as a private citizen, Mayor Phelan filed for water
rights on July 29, 1901.
Manson later was to comment, "If we had attempted
an appropriation through the board of supervisors,
the cat would have been out of the bag ? so we
paid the expense ourselves."
Although the Stanislaus County News was
expressing concerns over the Phelan-Grunsky filings
as early as January 1902, the cat did not get
"out of the bag" until more than a year later
when the water rights were transferred by Phelan,
Grunsky and Manson to the City of San Francisco
and the city applied for a United States Department
of Interior permit to develop the upper reaches
of the Tuolumne, which by this time, had been
included in Yosemite National Park.
Concerned about the invasion of the bay city
into its watershed, the Modesto and Turlock districts
were elated in June and again in September 1903
when President Theodore Roosevelt?s interior secretary,
E. A. Hitchcock, denied San Francisco?s applications
on the ground that he had no authority to grant
such rights-of-way. This position prevailed until
the 1906 discovery of an earlier attorney general?s
Still under pressure from Phelan, Grunsky and
Manson, the city continued to pursue the goal
of tapping the Tuolumne River. Subsequent developments,
however, indicated the new San Francisco administration
of Mayor Eugene Schmitz, who had succeeded Phelan
in 1902, may not have been too dismayed at the
adverse decision. It had other ideas about which
water supply to tap.
Early in 1904 a request was made by San Francisco
to meet with the Modesto and Turlock boards to
discuss the city?s development of the Tuolumne.
The two district?s declined to meet. They flatly
opposed the proposal and held there was nothing
to talk about.
In Modesto the debate raged on, with the town?s
newspapers split on the issue. On March 31, 1904,
the Morning Herald editorialized that opposition
to allowing San Francisco to obtain water from
the Tuolumne was a "dog-in-the-manger" attitude.
That same day, the Modesto Evening News
countered with a series of "on-the-street" interviews
on whether or not the two irrigation districts
should "treat" San Francisco to reservoir sites
in the headwaters of the Tuolumne.
Reaction generally was negative.
Outspoken J. S. Wootten declared himself "unalterably
opposed to having anything to do with San Francisco
in this matter, first, last and all time."
Downtown merchant G. P. Schafer prophetically
We have a priceless heritage in
our prior water rights, why not stay with it?
We have just emerged from a dozen years of litigation.
Why enter into an alliance with San Francisco
that will surely lead to litigation more grievous
Banker and farmer J. R. Broughton, whose daughter
Esto years later was to play a key role as a state
legislator in improving the operations of the
MID , added, "No agreement with San Francisco can
be binding. A law passed by Congress giving us
all the water we want from the reservoirs is the
only way I can see out of this matter." Such a
law still was nine years away.
George T. McCabe, who nine years later took a
major part in the last-ditch battle in Washington,
D. C., against the project, flatly declared there
"is no reason to, treat, San Francisco when our
rights are established." Subsequently, McCabe
traveled throughout the San Joaquin Valley in
an effort to enlist farmers and public agencies
in support of the districts? opposition to the
invasion by San Francisco.
It was Oramil McHenry, the Modesto Irrigation
District?s largest landowner and son of the MID ?s
first board president, who had the most to say:
We are right in contending that
we have the rights to the water and that San Francisco
cannot enter into any contract guaranteeing that
to us. The claim of the La Grange Mining Ditch
(later to become the Waterford Irrigation District?s
source of supply) must also be respected as well
The Herald in its article
this morning presumes to state that we are playing
"dog in the manger" on the account of our inability
to make use of the dam sites. The fact that we
cannot use them at present is not a justification
for giving them away and allowing San Francisco
to take them without a protest on our part.
The storage of water will ultimately
be required, not only on account of the acres
in our two districts at present, but because by
surveys already made, it is very evident that
at least 400,000 acres of additional land can
be irrigated?It appears to be only a question
of time, if they share the water with us, when
complications will arise and we will be sure to
get the worst of it.
McHenry was the first to sign a petition presented
to the MID Board of Directors declaring: "We have
vested interests and see no reason to enter into
any agreement with San Francisco at this time!"
On June 14, 1904, the Modesto board instructed
Attorney L. L. Dennett to petition the U. S. Department
of the Interior not to permit any filings for
reservoir or dam sites upon the Tuolumne River
"until such time as adequate provisions can be
made for public needs."
Later that year, the City of San Francisco enlisted
the support of three Alameda County cities and
tried again to confer with the two irrigation
districts, offering to build additional storage
to capture floodwaters for late-season use by
The Turlock board was willing to meet with San
Francisco representatives, but made it clear it
was "not yielding an inch" from its opposition
to San Francisco?s invasion of the watershed.
Modesto directors flatly refused to meet on the
basis that nothing could be accomplished and it
would be a waste of time.
In the colorful newspaper style of the era, the
Stanislaus County News filled its entire front
page on August 5, 1904, with a defense of the
Modesto district?s position and called upon citizens
from throughout the San Joaquin Valley to "seize
their swords and bucklers in preparation for a
more desperate defense."
One lengthy sentence stated the case:
It is that we oppose San Francisco?s
transporting any moisture from the Tuolumne watershed
for consumption abroad, for the reason that all
such moisture as the said watershed yields is
necessary for redemption from aridity and fructification
of the lands of the San Joaquin Valley tributary
to the streams of such watershed; that obviously
nature in depriving the plains of the moisture
needful to render them tenable to man, and depositing
moisture amply adequate thereto in the mountains
immediately adjacent, had schemed it as a task
for the future men who were to inhabit the valley
that the land and water should be brought together;
the waters of the Sierras belong to the lands
of San Joaquin Valley just as completely as the
disintegrating sands of the rocks of those mountains
out of which the soil of the valley was formed
belonged and do belong to the valley.
Comes now San Francisco in the
business with the intent and design to interrupt
this beneficent and Divine plan; she would lay
hold of and carry off large quantities of this
vivifying fluid, upon which the very life of our
valley here depends, and leave us the aridity
and desolation which is our doom if needed moisture
be denied us.
Two weeks later, the News reprinted under
the headline "Chronicle Thinks We Are Farmers"
an article from that San Francisco paper, which
seemed to have a facility for stirring strong
reactions from Valley people. The report said
that directors of the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation
Districts were "said to be honest and substantial
farmers without much knowledge of the water needed
by their districts?" The Chronicle urged
the city to proceed to take water from the Tuolumne
with or without the districts? consent.
The year 1905 was an upsetting year for water
development. Los Angeles was moving on the Owens
Valley and rumors persisted that the Rockefellers
were trying to make a power grab of the Tuolumne
and other San Joaquin Valley rivers.
In early 1906 some 1,200 landowners in the Modesto
and Turlock Irrigation Districts petitioned the
San Francisco Board of Supervisors to abandon
the Hetch Hetchy scheme on the basis that the
irrigation districts? prior water rights on the
Tuolumne were threatened.
In February the San Francisco board, dominated
by Mayor Schmitz, promptly concurred and formally
adopted a resolution abandoning the project.
Victory once again seemed at hand, although events
later proved the San Francisco mayor was not as
concerned about the threat to the Valley farmers?
water as he was interested in promoting another
scheme; buying out the Bay Cities Water Company
for $10.5 million.
Had it not been for the disastrous April 18,
1906 earthquake and fire two months later, the
decision might have prevailed. The woeful inadequacy
of San Francisco?s water system in fighting the
disastrous fires raised a hue and cry for action.
Mayor Schmitz appointed a panel of engineers to
investigate 11 new sources for water, but the
panel failed to make a recommendation, reportedly
because it could not accept the Bay Cities Company
proposal wanted by Schmitz.
In the absence of any recommendation, the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors favored Mayor Schmitz?
Neither Schmitz nor the irrigationists had counted
upon the persistence of San Franciscans Phelan,
Grunsky, Manson and friends who, following the
Bay Cities Water Company decision, pressed for
an investigation into corruption in the Schmitz
administration. This resulted in indictments and
convictions on graft and other charges. While
Schmitz?s conviction was overturned in the appellate
court, he and 16 members of the San Francisco
Board of Supervisors resigned. Their successors
were more receptive to the Hetch Hetchy plan.
(As a personal sidelight to the relations between
Modesto and San Francisco, it might be noted that
William H. Langdon, who as San Francisco?s district
attorney prosecuted Schmitz, subsequently met
and married the widow of the Modesto area?s largest
and most progressive farmer who opposed San Francisco?s
being on the river, Oramil McHenry. Langdon, a
great friend of Governor Hiram Johnson, later
became a California Supreme Court justice.)
Meanwhile, as President Teddy Roosevelt started
his second term, the Hetch Hetchy advocates spent
much time between 1903 and 1906 convincing the
President of the project?s merits. They had considerable
assistance from conservationist Gifford Pinchot,
who founded the U. S. Forest Service and later
was to become governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot
forecast that Lake Eleanor alone would serve the
domestic water needs of San Francisco for 50 years
or more, urging that damming the Hetch Hetchy
Valley be delayed to "preserve it in its original
beauty" as long as possible.
Roosevelt?s new secretary of interior, James
R. Garfield, held a hearing in July 1907 and in
May 1908 approved San Francisco?s Tuolumne River
With this approval, the City of San Francisco
in November 1909 votes 6-to-1 support of $600,000
in bonds for the purchase of privately owned land
within Yosemite Park around Lake Eleanor and Hetch
Hetchy. A $45 million construction bond issue
was voted by a 20-to-1 margin in 1910.
The year 1910 marked the start of the administration
of President William Howard Taft. Secretary of
Interior Richard A. Ballinger, ordered the city
to show cause why the Hetch Hetchy Valley permit
should not be revoked. President Taft and Ballinger
were reported to oppose the Hetch Hetchy Project
primarily due to the efforts of the Sierra Club
and fellow preservationists. A hearing on the
issue concluded with Interior Secretary Ballinger
requesting the Army Engineers to investigate San
Francisco?s Hetch Hetchy proposal both as to feasibility
and alternate sources of water.
The engineers? report, not submitted until February
19, 1913, recommended in favor of San Francisco,
a decision which apparently relied heavily upon
a comprehensive 401-page report which had been
filed by the City of San Francisco.
San Francisco had hired John R. Freeman, a world
renowned hydraulics engineering specialist later
to be president of the American Society of Engineers,
to prepare its case for submission to the Army
Engineers. In so doing, Freeman designed down
to the last detail the system which ultimately
was constructed ? reservoirs at Hetch Hetchy,
Lake Eleanor and Cherry Valley, power plants at
Early Intake and Moccasin Creek, aqueducts and
roads ? and provided detailed engineering and
cost breakdowns for all aspects of the extensive
In Freeman?s own words, the report was prepared
over a two-year period with the assistance of
"a staff of skilled engineers." Yet, the two organizations
which were to submit the primary rebuttals to
the report ? the combined Modesto and Turlock
Irrigation Districts and the Sierra Club ? were
given but two months to respond.
Freeman and his associates, often chiding the
Sierra Club for being "solitude lovers," contended
that construction of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir would
offer outstanding recreation benefits to the state.
He even suggested that a grand hotel could be
built to provide for the many visitors to the
new reservoir. Freeman showed scenes of the recreation
advantages of other municipal reservoirs from
Boston to Norway, from New York to Scotland and
Wales. Furthermore, he contended that building
a high Hetch Hetchy Dam would prevent the later
need for flooding Tuolumne Meadows for reservoir
"It will make Hetch Hetchy Valley more beautiful
and a far more useful instrument of pleasure than
it is today," declared the report, adding that
it would eliminate a major mosquito problem. The
mosquito issue later was raised by the House of
Representatives Committee on Public Lands in endorsing
the Hetch Hetchy Project, claiming that in the
spring there were too many mosquitoes in the canyon
to make camping pleasurable and later in the summer
it was too hot to camp.
In 1907 the City of San Francisco had told then-Secretary
of Interior Garfield that it wanted only Lake
Eleanor and Cherry Creek for dam sites. By the
time Freeman filed his report, San Francisco had
spent $1 million acquiring land in those areas.
Freeman?s plan was a whole new proposal centered
on Hetch Hetchy, ignoring the needs of the irrigation
districts. San Francisco City Engineer M. M. O?Shaugnessy
said the districts had "all the water they want
and have no kick coming."
A 300-page irrigation supplement to the basic
Freeman report charged, among other things, that
Modesto and Turlock farmers were "water-logging"
the land by over-irrigating. It was summarized
These investigations make it plain
that the (Modesto and Turlock) districts now comprise
all of the arable land lying between the shores
of the Stanislaus River on the north and the Merced
River on the south, the rough foothill country
on the east and the swamp lands of the San Joaquin
River on the west, and thus contain broad areas
that naturally should have looked to the Stanislaus
River and the Merced River for their irrigation
supply and there is no important area of irrigable
land remaining which should naturally look to
the upper Tuolumne River.
In effect, it was proposed that the irrigation
districts redesign their systems to accommodate
the City of San Francisco if additional water
were needed. At the same time, the engineers contended
there was more than enough water in the watershed
for all three entities.
Throughout the report, the influence of engineer
Grunsky, who made the original surveys for the
Modesto district, was apparent. He had leaned
toward the Stanislaus River as the MID ?s best
source of water and wrote San Francisco?s evaluation
of the Stanislaus River for irrigation vs. domestic
Modesto Chief Engineer H. S. Crowe and Turlock
Chief Engineer Burton Smith in an extremely limited
time compiled a comprehensive reply. They pointed
out that from 1901 until 1912 the number of property
owners in the two districts had increased from
1,211 to 6,317 and the assessed valuation of the
land had increased fivefold. Yet, only half the
total area of the districts had been brought under
They further contended that the estimated needs
of San Francisco were being expanded at a great
In 1902 Grunsky had said the city would take
only 60 million gallons a day from the river.
Ten years later, Freeman said the city should
have 500 million gallons per day ? 57 percent
of all the water available in dry years. At the
same time, Freeman recommended that all reservoir
sites upstream from Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor
and Cherry Valley should be reserved for the city
because ultimately the storage would be required
to meet the city?s needs.
The Modesto and Turlock engineers challenged
Freeman?s basic assumptions, including the use
of Montana and Colorado irrigation statistics
to determine the San Joaquin Valley?s needs. The
former have growing seasons not exceeding 100
days per year, while in this Valley the season
extends for as many as 250 days per year. The
MID and TID engineers declared:
We believe that we have comprehensively
and conclusively shown that there is not a sufficient
amount of water in the watersheds of the Tuolumne
River for the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts
and the City of San Francisco and its neighboring
cities?San Francisco acknowledges the prior rights
of the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts
to the waters of the Tuolumne River, but desires
in its brief to limit the quantity of water to
be used by these districts.
We are entitled to the water to
the amount of our original appropriations, provided
that we can make beneficial use of the same and
in that event, we contend that there will not
be water for San Francisco and its neighboring
cities sufficient to meet with the least of their
Stating that ultimately the districts will require
additional storage to meet their needs, the irrigation
engineers pointed out this must be found on the
Tuolumne River and its tributaries and "San Francisco
is attempting to secure the three choicest sites
in the entire watershed and also desires that
all permits for reservoir building on the public
lands upstream from Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor
and Cherry reservoir sites be reserved in favor
of the municipalities of the Greater San Francisco."
Urging that San Francisco look to the Sacramento
Valley watershed for its water, the Modesto and
Turlock districts concluded their plea by declaring:
There is no Sierra stream north
of Sacramento that can possibly be so complicated
with adverse rights, both moral and legal, as
the Tuolumne River. Adverse claims on these streams
can be purchased at a reasonable cost for no land
is dependent on it or is shown to be of value.
Before water can be taken from the Tuolumne for
use outside the San Joaquin Valley, there is certain
to be long and bitter litigation.
But it all boiled down to a question of economics
and Freeman?s basic question:
Should the Cities of Greater San
Francisco be compelled to spend some $10 million
or $20 million extra for another, less desirable
source of domestic water supply in order that
10 or 20 solitude lovers have this beautiful valley
mostly to themselves?
The 1913 Army Engineers? report which was to
influence Congress concluded that the answer to
this question was an emphatic "No!"
Arguing in support of the use of Hetch Hetchy
by San Francisco, the Army Engineers expressed
graphically the argument later to be used by San
Joaquin Valley water users who fought the export
of any water from the basin.
"On account of the fertility of the lands under
irrigation and their aridness without water, the
necessity of preserving all available water in
the Valley of California will sooner or later
make the demand for the use of Hetch Hetchy as
a reservoir practically irresistible," declared
the Army?s report in justifying its recommendation
that San Francisco not be required to delay building
a dam across Hetch Hetchy Valley.
Long before the Army Engineers? report was filed,
Interior Secretary Ballinger had resigned and
his assistant, Walter A. Fisher, succeeded him.
Following a personal inspection of Hetch Hetchy
Valley, Fisher was believed by the Sierra Club
representatives to be on their side. An additional
hearing on the issue was not held, however, until
mid-November 1912, by which time President Taft
had been defeated by Woodrow Wilson.
It was at these hearings that the Turlock and
Modesto districts first indicated they might accept
the suggestion made some eight years earlier by
San Francisco and withdraw their opposition if
they were assured an adequate supply of water.
MID attorney E. R. Jones, who participated in
the hearings, reported to his board that his TID
counterpart, P. H. Griffin, "made a proposition,
which was ratified by me, to the effect that if
the city would agree to turn loose during the
months of July, August, September and October
the amount of water necessary to irrigate the
two districts ? such water to be paid for by the
districts at the actual cost of storage ? all
opposition on the part of the districts would
be withdrawn. Jones? report continued:
This proposition was made immediately
after a statement was made by Mr. Freeman that
there was water enough to give San Francisco all
she wanted, supply all the needs of the two districts
and still allow a large quantity to run to the
ocean. It put the city up against a peculiar condition
? either they had to agree to accept our proposition
or admit they had not enough water for all parties.
Before the local San Francisco
representatives had time to discuss the matter.
Mr. Freeman jumped up and very emphatically declined
to do anything of the sort.
The Secretary (Interior Secretary
Fisher) then asked why not, saying that the proposition
seemed a very fair one, and they had just stated
that there was water enough for everyone. Freeman
attempted to explain, but his statements were
very feeble in the opinion of all disinterested,
and he was told by the Secretary that he was not
satisfied with the explanation made.
Jones added that, while Secretary Fisher gave
no indication of what his decision would be, the
Modestan was satisfied that Fisher "will see the
districts are fully protected in all respects
in case he grants the city the right to Hetch
In his report to the board, MID Engineer H. S.
Crowe backed up Jones? statement that "the eminent
engineers had paid very little attention to any
other source of supply. Their bias was very evident
and called for some sharp comments from the Secretary,"
stressing that some sources "had been condemned
without any examination whatever."
Secretary Fisher ordered Freeman and his San
Francisco employers to prove more adequately that
the Tuolumne River was the only reasonable source
and also to submit new cost estimates using comparable
labor figures. On the Tuolumne River project,
labor had been computed at the then-minimum wage
of $2.25 per 9-hour day while costs on all other
competing projects were figured on San Francisco?s
charter requirements of $3. Per 8-hour day minimum.
This demand on San Francisco for additional information
caused what may have been a fatal delay for the
opponents. The city was given until December 23,
1912, to comply with the request. The Army Engineers
would not file their final report until after
receiving and studying San Francisco?s supplemental
While admitting there were other suitable sources
for San Francisco, the Army Engineers recommended
granting the Hetch Hetchy Project permits strictly
on engineering and economic grounds. This came
two months before Wilson?s March 13th
There were no federal environmental impact requirements
in those days.
Three days before leaving office, Secretary Fisher
concluded that a restrictive permit probably should
be issued, but he questioned his authority to
do so without further congressional action. Time
had run out so he left in force his predecessor?s
President Wilson?s secretary of interior was
Franklin L. Lane, who had been San Francisco?s
city attorney in the days when Mayor Phelan had
initiated the Hetch Hetchy Project and made the
first filings. Within a week of assuming office,
Lane made it clear that, while congressional action
would be required, the Department of Interior
would support the city?s position fully.
Well aware that a permit would be subject to
the comings and goings of secretaries of the interior,
San Francisco concurred and approached Manteca
Congressman John Raker, whose district included
Yosemite National Park. In 1911 during the previous
session of Congress, Raker, a firm supporter of
the San Francisco position, had introduced legislation
to authorize the Hetch Hetchy Project. No action
had been taken on the measure when the 62nd
Within a month after Lane took office, Raker
introduced a new bill. Four revisions subsequently
were introduced in the 63rd Congress
as negotiations among all interested parties,
except for the Sierra Club, progressed. The fifth
and final version which ultimately became law
was presented August 1, 1913. Hearings were held
two days later by the House of Representatives
Committee on Public lands.
Ever since the 1912 secretary of interior hearings,
Modesto and Turlock attorneys had been negotiating
with San Francisco and the Interior Department
for language which would protect the rights of
the two districts.
By early February 1913 the districts told the
secretary of interior that they did not want to
be "placed in the light or in the position of
consenting to" San Francisco?s plan. However,
they did note the need for additional irrigation
flows from July to October and laid down their
minimum requirements which might bring accord
from the irrigation districts. In the months to
follow, San Francisco acceded to the demands.
They were incorporated in Raker?s final bill.
The restrictions which remain in force today
- That the city must recognize the prior rights
of the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts
and shall Release enough stored water to maintain
a flow of 2,350 second feet measured at La Grange
Dam. From April 15th to June 15th,
the peak flood periods, this minimum flow shall
be 4,000 second feet. The House Public Lands
Committee report on Raker?s bill stated, "It
should be borne in mind that San Francisco does
not contemplate interfering with the natural
flow of the Tuolumne. The intent is to store
floodwaters which come from melting snows and
leave the normal flow of the river uninterrupted."
- The Hetch Hetchy Dam must be 200 feet high.
"This means," the committee report says, "that
the city will expend from $500,000 to $1,000,000
in excess of initial expenditures necessary
for its immediate needs. The intent is to build
the dam high enough to provide adequate storage
to meet the conditions of the grant, and is
primarily a benefit for the irrigationists."
- San Francisco is prohibited from selling or
letting to any corporation or individual except
a municipality, water or irrigation district
the water or electrical energy generated at
the project. This was to prevent any private
monopoly from obtaining control of the city?s
water supply, according t the committee report.
- The Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts,
which at that time included 257,000 acres, are
allowed to expand to 300,000 acres.
- After domestic needs of the city are satisfied,
the irrigation districts may purchase as much
surplus water as they can use beneficially.
Water to be used for the generation of electrical
energy by the city shall be released into the
Tuolumne River without charge to the districts.
According to the House of Public Lands Committee
report, these conditions were "acquiesced in"
by San Francisco and the irrigation districts
as "the result of an amicable settlement between
the two parties."
The city had held out, however, against a final
restriction that it "shall not divert beyond the
limits of the San Joaquin Valley any more of the
waters from the Tuolumne watershed than, together
with the waters which it now has or may hereafter
acquire, shall be necessary for its beneficial
use for domestic and other municipal purposes."
Freeman had suggested that surplus water could
be used for intensified farming in the San Francisco
Bay area. This restriction would prevent that.
It was incorporated into the bill, however, and
San Francisco did not fight the issue in order
to move the legislation.
At a joint meeting on August 13, 1913, MID and
TID directors adopted a formal resolution declaring
everything possible had been done to protect the
districts? rights and the bill, as amended, was
the best that could be achieved "owing to the
conditions existing in Washington." The two boards
telegraphed the House Public Lands Committee their
endorsement, but emphasized that the amendments
must be preserved. Four months later, this telegram
had a vital role in defeating a last-ditch effort
to kill the bill.
Now, according to the House Public Lands Committee,
the legislation had the support of the Departments
of Interior and Agriculture, the Army Engineers,
California?s two United States senators and 11
of the state?s representatives in congress, the
governor and Legislature of California, the landowners
of the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts,
the Commonwealth Club of California, and many
members of the Sierra Club. All opposition, except
for a "small group" of "nature lovers," had been
withdrawn, according to the committee?s report.
The Raker bill passed the House of Representatives
on September 13, 1913, with little debate and
a strong 183-to-43 margin.
There remained considerable unhappiness with
the legislation throughout the Central California
farming community, however.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Problems Association
directors adopted a resolution which declared
that "no water should be diverted from the San
Joaquin Valley for domestic or other purposes,
but should be retained in the valley for the irrigation
of the arid lands."
After the U. S. Senate Public Works Committee
endorsed the proposal unanimously on September
24, 1913, Raker?s bill was to have been heard
promptly by the full Senate. Action was delayed
until December, however, at the request of California
Senator John D. Works, whose postponement request
stated: "Ninety-nine per cent of water users in
the irrigation districts are strongly opposed
to it, and claim that they were betrayed by those
who consented to the compromise measure."
The spark that really solidified
the opposition to the act was a mid-October San
Francisco Chronicle editorial which stated,
If the Raker bill passes in its
present form and it becomes necessary for the
people of this city to accept it, we should accept
only in pro forma and under protest and especially
reserving all (water) rights under State law.
To this, the Modesto Morning Herald replied:
This reflects the sentiments of
a good proportion of San Francisco people and
of such men as Engineers Manson and Grunsky. From
a local viewpoint, it would seem that if we are
to have a fight, we might as well have it now
and get this thing settled.
The Herald called for all of the San Joaquin
Valley to rally against passage of the act in
the Senate, maintaining that it was no longer
just a Modesto-Turlock battle but a Valleywide
war to keep outsiders from taking the water needed
Newspapers in Oakdale, Merced, Stockton, Bakersfield
and other Valley towns were condemned by the Modesto
Morning Herald and the Turlock Daily Journal
for being latecomers in joining the fight to preserve
the Valley?s water rights, claiming that farms
in the entire San Joaquin Valley were in peril.
By late October, the Stockton Record was
demanding that San Francisco turn to the north
coast streams for its domestic water. Identified
specifically were the South Fork of the Eel River
and Putah Creek. The Eel still is untouched and
probably never will be tapped because it since
has been classified as a wild and scenic river.
Lake Berryessa was developed on Putah Creek by
the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation in the 1950s.
The Modesto Irrigation District board, repudiating
its earlier endorsement of Raker?s bill, immediately
voted $2,500 to finance the fight to oppose its
passage. Another $1,000 was added to the battle
Leaders and members of the San Joaquin Valley
District of the Federated Women?s Club of California
exploded when they received a letter from San
Francisco Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph and the State
Women?s Club president, a San Franciscan, urging
support of the Raker Act in the U. S. Senate.
After hearing George T. McCabe, secretary of the
Stanislaus County Board of Trade, give Mayor Rolph?s
letter a "thorough scorching," the ladies voted
to contact every chapter in the state and to alert
them that Rolph?s statements were "not in accord
with the actual facts" because all of the Tuolumne
River?s water was needed in the valley.
The San Francisco Chronicle added fuel
to the fire in early November by editorializing:
Under the laws of California the
right to store and use every drop of floodwater
belongs to this city without any strings on it
whatever except that we proceed with due diligence
to put it to beneficial use.
The bureaucrats of the Federal
Government are endeavoring to make use of an alleged
power to grant or withhold a right-of-way to unlawfully,
hatefully, unjustly, and tyrannically substitute
their individual will for the laws of this state.
We deserve Congress to pass the
Raker Bill because when a robber has the drop
on you it is best to compromise for the time being.
After receiving a petition signed by 98 percent
of the water users in the Modesto Irrigation District
and approximately 60 percent of the TID irrigators,
the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors added
$2,500 to the anti-Raker bill fund started by
the MID . The Turlock district, however, refused
to make such an appropriation, holding to its
earlier commitment to support the legislation.
TID Engineer Smith considered that a reversal
of his district?s position would be an attack
on his integrity.
The bitterness in the Modesto district caused
by Turlock?s refusal to join the fight did not
dissipate for some time and may have contributed
years later to Modesto?s initial reluctance to
join Turlock in the development of Don Pedro Reservoir.
As long as the Turlock board refused to withdraw
its endorsement of the Raker bill, Stanislaus
County?s Congressman Denver Church refused to
withdraw his endorsement. He declared, after canvassing
his district, that his position was unchanged,
to which the Modesto Morning Herald editorialized:
Such a statement does not speak
very well for the intelligence of Mr. Church and
all the canvassing he did was at his ranch in
the remote Fresno County foothills where he remained
until the hour of his departure East, despite
urgent invitations to visit the Water Problems
meeting at Merced and also to visit other portions
of his district and consult with his constituents.
Poor old Denver.
As the Senate debate opened December 2nd,
Congressman Church and the Turlock board continued
to maintain their position in support of the Hetch
Hetchy legislation. Mass protest meetings were
held throughout the Turlock district. The Hickman
Board of Trade called for the recall of the entire
TID Board of Directors.
On December 3rd the U. S. Senate debate
continued and a petition containing 20,000 names
collected by the San Francisco Examiner
favoring the Hetch Hetchy Project was presented
to the Senate. Senator Works countered by submitting
the names of 2,760 Valley water users opposed.
Congressman Church still refused to budge in his
San Francisco Mayor Rolph, personally leading
the city?s fight in Washington, D. C., and anticipating
that the Turlock district would hold firm, wired
the TID for its current stand. Faced with almost
unanimous opposition to the Raker bill from the
district?s farmers, the TID wired back, "Public
sentiment has greatly changed in the irrigation
districts since the committee was in Washington?The
people of these two districts are unquestionably
against the bill or any bill permitting water
to be taken out of the Valley."
With that, the Turlock district finally released
Representative Church from his commitment and
the congressman immediately wrote Senator Works
that he now was convinced that the Raker bill
would result in "the ultimate disaster of irrigation
water," adding, "I regret to say that the men
who represented the irrigationists were deceived
and soon after their arrival home their acts were
But for most senators, the original MID -TID support
of the Raker bill was uppermost in their minds.
San Francisco Examiner publisher William
Randolph Hearst personally headed a team of that
paper?s newsmen in the Nation?s Capitol. As the
final vote approached, a special Washington edition
of the Examiner, datelined December 2nd,
was placed on every senator?s desk. Prominent
on the front page was the August 13, 1913, telegram
in which the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts
had endorsed the Raker bill as approved by the
House Public Lands Committee called upon their
Representatives in Congress to "use their best
efforts to pass the bill." No mention was made
of the Modesto Irrigation District?s subsequent
reversal of its support and its vigorous last-ditch
campaign nor of the overwhelming opposition by
a vast majority of San Joaquin Valley water users.
Turlock?s repudiation of the act, of course, came
two days after the special edition had been printed.
By mutual consent, a deadline of midnight December
6th had been set to end consideration
of the bill.
As the hour approached, Senator Vail Pittman
of Nevada, the chief spokesman for passage of
the bill, had the last words. He charged that
99 per cent of the bill?s opponents had never
seen the inside of California. That was an obvious
reference to the Sierra Club and national preservationist
groups who were sitting on the sidelines watching
the irrigationists fight the bill they had opposed
for so long.
While this was the first and possibly the only
time the Modesto Irrigation District and the Sierra
Club and its supporters had stood on the same
side in a major struggle, neither organization
was willing to form an alliance for a common cause.
A postmortem report by the preservationists explained
that, although their goals were the same, they
could not actively join the water users in the
battle because their reasons for opposing the
legislation were different.
How well the irrigationists would have welcomed
the preservationists? support is not known. Following
the earlier Department of Interior hearings, MID
representatives thought the preservationists?
arguments were "childish" and were surprised at
the attention they received. Whether a united
front would have been successful will never be
known, for at three minutes before midnight on
December 6th the Senate voted 43-to-25
for passage of the Raker Act.
Senators agreed, however, that had it not been
for the last ditch fight of the water users, the
bill would have passed without a dissenting vote.
Upon signing the bill, President Wilson labeled
it an excellent demonstration of "conservation
This phrase again showed the influence of Pinchot,
who had testified before the House Public Lands
Committee: "The fundamental principle of the whole
conservation policy is that of use ? to take every
part of the land and its resources and put it
to that use in which it will best serve the most
It should be noted that the U. S. Forest Service,
which was fathered by Pinchot, today follows a
multiple-use concept and refers to the national
forests as the "Land of Many Uses." The same concept
does not extend, however, to national parks.
In spite of the restrictions upon the city, irrigators
generally distrusted San Francisco.
Within less than a month after the bill became
law, the Modesto Irrigation District, joined by
the San Joaquin Valley Water Problems Association
and the Modesto-Turlock Water users Association,
brought suit to quiet title to the district?s
water rights which predated those of San Francisco.
Litigation brought by irrigators individually
and collectively continued throughout the two
decades of Hetch Hetchy Project construction.
San Francisco fought back by attempting to block
construction of the Valley districts? proposed
Don Pedro Dam. California Water Commission Chairman
E. A. Chandler reported to the MID and TID boards
in April 1919 that the city was claiming it had
priority rights to the water which would be stored
in the proposed reservoir.
That fall 152 water users successfully petitioned
the Modesto Irrigation District to appoint prominent
Modesto attorney W. C. LeHane, a frequent critic
of the MID and anti-San Francisco activist, to
prosecute suits against the city to force compliance
with the Raker Act and to induce Oakland and other
east bay cities not to join the Hetch Hetchy Project.
The water users believed that if other bay area
communities did not join the Hetch Hetchy system,
it would be "doubtful if San Francisco alone could
bear the expense of taking the Hetch Hetchy water
out of the San Joaquin Valley."
LeHane was fired in June 1920 after a majority
of the Modesto Irrigation District directors were
replaced in a recall election in which local newspapers
charged LeHane with being the "boss" of the MID
As late as January 1933 when Hetch Hetchy diversions
were about to begin, the Modesto and Turlock districts
sued San Francisco for adjudication of their water
rights in an unsuccessful attempt to block the
city from diverting any water from the Tuolumne
Several riparian water users on the Tuolumne
joined as intervenors in the action, but the case
never went to trial.
The case, in which more than 60 documents were
filed, was to prove a significant factor in the
city?s subsequent agreement to cooperate with
the Valley districts in the development of the
Tuolumne River watershed. As a condition of the
so-called "first agreement" between San Francisco
and the MID and TID reached February 29, 1940,
the case was dropped.
In the meantime, several private holders of water
rights downstream from Hetch Hetchy had brought
independent suits against San Francisco. In May
1939 the California Supreme Court found that diversions
to San Francisco had not harmed them but, in fact,
may have been beneficial.
Since the signing of the 1940 agreement, the
city and the irrigation districts have worked
together in harmony ? with little open discord
? while San Francisco built Cherry Valley Dam
and two powerhouses, and the three entities joined
in building New Don Pedro Dam in the 1970s.