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The Modesto Irrigation District came alive again
on February 2, 1901.
On that day the control of the district’s
board of directors was wrested from anti-irrigationists
in an election brought on by the irrigationists’
refusal to act. Modesto Irrigation District residents,
comparing their disintegrating canals barren of
water with the irrigation which had started the
year before in the Turlock district, declared:
After a five-year hiatus, things began to happen.
The first problem, of course, was money. No tax
assessments had been levied for four years and
efforts had failed five years earlier to see bonds
voted in 1895. The district indebtedness amounted
to $800,000 in outstanding bonds plus $275,000
in interest due on these bonds. There were some
$50,000 in unredeemed warrants outstanding.
Voluntary subscriptions totaling $1,433, amounts
ranging from $2.50 to a $500 donation by Oramil
McHenry, enabled the immediate hiring of Engineer
R. H. Goodwin to determine what was needed to
complete the system and bring water to the land.
By October of that year Engineer Goodwin had
prepared a comprehensive plan for completing all
the necessary works, including laterals to make
the system fully operative.
One of the first things the new board had done
was to set in motion procedures for reaching a
compromise with holders of the 1887 bonds. As
construction plans proceeded, negotiations went
on between the bondholders and district officials,
concluding on November 5, 1901, shortly after
Goodwin had presented plans, specifications and
cost estimates for the works.
The compromise included an assurance by the district
that it would complete the construction expeditiously,
with the district putting up $71,000 toward its
cost and the bondholders contributing the balance,
approximately $231,000. The district would exchange
new bonds, voted under 1897 legislation which
made irrigation bonds more secure, for the old
1887 bonds on a $1-for-$1 basis. The bondholders’
contributions to construction were to come from
interest coupons on the new bonds. Bondholders
withdrew all suits against the district in which
payment on the old bonds had been demanded.
As soon as the compromise was announced, a majority
of the landowners in the district petitioned the
MID board to call the election required for approval
of a $1,056,511 refinancing bond issue.
The back of the opposition was so badly broken
that the bond election was approved 433 to 24.
In the two larger divisions, Nos. 2 and 3, the
vote was 205-15 and 188-9, respectively. The vote
was unanimous in Divisions 1, 4, and 5 as farmers
in former strongholds of opposition either stayed
home on election day, January 13, 1902, or decided,
"If you can’t beat them, join them."
The latter certainly appears to be the philosophy
of the two "anti-irrigationists" remaining
on the board, C. C. Baker and L. A. Finney. They
continued to serve for several more years without
dissension, supporting the moves to refinance
the indebtedness and getting construction under
With the refinancing bonds approved, the district
board set about to raise its $71,000 share of
the construction money. The bonds approved in
1895 but never sold were purchased by Oramil McHenry,
president of the First National Bank of Modesto
and owner of the 6,000-acre Bald Eagle Ranch.
Throughout subsequent months during which construction
proceeded, McHenry provided the financial backing
for many contractors and farmers in developing
laterals and ditches.
Once funds were available, contracts were awarded
for rehabilitating the main canal which had suffered
serious deterioration during years of disuse,
completing unfinished portions of the canal and
constructing a steel flume across Dry Creek and
a number of lateral canals.
Through contracts and by working for contractors,
many farmers used their own teams and equipment
to work off unpaid assessments during the year
The main canal was operative to the district’s
boundary when water from La Grange Dam first flowed
into Dry Creek at 7 AM on April 3, 1903.
A few days later, the steel flume crossing of
Dry Creek, built by Pacific Construction Company,
was ready for testing and a flow of 200 cubic
feet per second was sent down the canal from La
Grange Dam for the first time April 10th. During
May and June, the main canal portions below Dry
Creek and several laterals were completed.
On June 27, 1903, the water that had been promised
more than 16 years earlier when the Wright Act
was signed into law finally arrived. Farmers along
the main canal soon were helping themselves to
water and by September some laterals were delivering
The spirit of the community was summed up by
the Stanislaus County News in reporting the initial
flow of the Tuolumne River water across the Dry
Creek flume in the simple declaration: "The
water is here!"
It was truly a cause for celebration.