Print version of chapter
Growing up is a learning experience and a period
of adjustment for institutions as well as individuals,
and in its formative years the Modesto Irrigation
District had more than its share of growing pains.
A short supply of water and imprudent use of
it created unanticipated problems once water
flowed down the canals for distribution to farms
in 1904. There simply wasn’t enough water to
go around and the demand for it increased faster
than the system could be expanded and improved.
The first three decades of the a 20th
Century produced great interest and personal involvement
in irrigation matters, much more so than at present.
This was due partly to the uniqueness of the venture
and the trials of growing up and partly to the
importance of irrigation in a changing agricultural
economy. But just as important, according to Mathew
Fiscalini, who retired at the end of 1985 after
serving nearly 29 years as a second-generation
MID director, is the fact that people then took
more interest in the operations of the district.
"There were no other attractions, TV and things
like that to keep the people?s interest," Fiscalini
comments. "They devoted more time to talking and
thinking about the irrigation district and its
directors, which might have created more turmoil."
Turmoil there was!
Early-day irrigators were a vocal bunch, occasionally
talking with their fists, but more frequently
with their ballots. Late in 1911 a state constitutional
amendment allowed the recall of public officials
From 1912 until the mid-30s, attempts were made
to recall 19 MID directors. Eleven attempts were
successful and in some instances directors chosen
on a recall vote were themselves recalled within
a year or two. Mass meetings on the issues drew
hundreds of people to debate and protest. On occasion,
opponents slugged it out.
Some disputes involved San Francisco?s move onto
the Tuolumne River watershed and the director?s
reaction or lack of reaction thereto. Most involved
local issues, however. These varied greatly. Some
were major, such as the storage and distribution
of water, sale or distribution of power, allocation
of limited finances for improvement of the main
canal or laterals. Others involved lesser problems
such as a director taking water out of turn, general
management of the district, or just general dissatisfaction
with the way in which a director represented his
Robert Durbrow, who for years was executive secretary
of the Irrigation Districts Association (now the
Association of California Water Agencies), explains
that until the 1960s no formal reason had to be
stated on recall election petitions, commenting:
"You could try to recall a director just because
you didn?t like the type of tobacco he was smoking
in his pipe."
Internal disputes among board members were frequent.
It seemed that every board had one or two dissenters
and none was timid about speaking out. As early
as 1913 the Modesto Morning Herald gave
special attention to a letter from an unidentified
reader who cited "petty spies" and "sectional
feelings" among board members as having "wrought
incalculable damage to the district as a whole
and retarded its progress."
The writer went on to say that other districts
found it almost impossible to do business with
the MID , adding: "We have had no definite policy,
our dirty linen has been aired to the edification
of the whole state and our prosperity hurt accordingly."
Throughout the early years, regardless of who
was serving on the board, the directors generally
set policy and then appointed one of their own
to administer that policy. This practice came
under frequent attack and resulted in some recall
Water, its delivery, its use and its misuse were
the main causes of growing pains, however.
The 1904 irrigating season lasted until September
2nd and by late summer the need for
additional water became obvious. The following
year was gone by August 4th, causing
even stronger agitation for storage facilities.
Early in October a large group of irrigators
petitioned the board to build storage reservoirs.
The districts immediately filed for an additional
50,000 miner?s inches of water to supplement its
initial appropriation of 225,000 miner?s inches
obtained in 1890, but no plans were made to store
In 1905 the district showed a fleeting interest
in Lake Eleanor and Benson Lake, both on tributaries
of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.
In November Directors T. K. Beard and W. R. High
reported that federal agencies had withdrawn all
reservoir sites in Yosemite and in the surrounding
forest reserve, which seemed to end any discussion
of that possibility. Eight years later following
a monumental struggle, the City of San Francisco
won the right to develop reservoir sites not only
at Lake Eleanor but also in Hetch Hetchy and Cherry
Although the irrigating season never lasted beyond
September 4th and usually was over
by early August, little was done about storage
until 1908, when the Modesto and Turlock directors
met jointly to discuss possible solutions.
Separate engineering surveys led to the decision
that each district should provide its own storage
along its own main canal below La Grange Dam,
over which large volumes of water spilled during
spring and early summer. The diversion and storage
of this excess water were expected to meet late
Recommended for Modesto was a series of low earthen
dams to enlarge into a single reservoir the existing
natural Dallas and Warner Lake near Waterford.
The combined reservoir would cover 2,800 acres
and have a capacity of 27,700-acre feet. The cost,
later claimed by some to have been underestimated
deliberately, was set at $200,000 and a bond issue
in this amount was approved by an overwhelming
majority of voters on April 17, 1909.
Bids were called but none was received. Over
the vigorous objections of Director George C.
Covell, the board authorized Water Superintendent
A. Griffin to negotiate a contract for the work.
In August he reported that T. K. Beard, who had
served as an MID director from 1901 to 1907, would
be the contractor.
This raised a storm of protest throughout the
district, with the Salida Chamber of Commerce
formally condemning the board?s failure to readvertise
for bids. Protesters also raised the cry of "conflict
of interest" because the district?s legal counsel,
L. L. Dennett, in his private practice also represented
Beard. More than 200 petitioners demanded an explanation.
Whether or not the explanation satisfied the objectors,
Beard proceeded with the contract.
At a special meeting on the matter, it was admitted
that cost estimates were knowingly low, but the
board feared the public would not vote $250,000
in bonds. Once the work was started, however,
directors had little doubt that the taxpayers
would approve the money to complete the job. Whether
or not the people would have approved the larger
amount in the first place is unknown, but in November
1910, a year in which irrigating ended on July
23rd, a 330-to-82 vote approved bonds
for the additional funds required.
Actual cost was $271,809.
"Much difficulty was encountered in building
Dallas-Warner," comments Charles Crawford, who
served for many years as irrigation engineer for
the MID and climaxed his long career as project
coordinator for the New Don Pedro Project. "This
was due to the nature of the soil and lack of
experience in constructing earth dam. "
Earthen-dam construction was primitive in those
days. Only three of the seven dams built to create
Dallas-Warner ? now known as Modesto Reservoir
? had cores and these were of rigid concrete.
The earth was moved by railroad gondola cars,
loaded by clamshell buckets and then just dumped
over the top of the cores was common when unequal
pressure built up due to seepage and casual compacting.
Much of the land was hardpan, notorious for weak
spots which suddenly gave way, creating seemingly
bottomless holes. It took many, many years of
constant work, grouting and filling to stabilize
the dams, some of which were hardly more than
levees. Even today an occasional hole breaks through,
requiring more grouting.
It later proved much more satisfactory to use
an impervious clay core with a high degree of
compaction and carefully-graded filters on either
side of the core. This type of construction is
the heart of most earth-fill dams today, including
New Don Pedro. Mistakes made in constructing the
relatively-low dams of Dallas-Warner Reservoir
contributed greatly to the engineering knowledge
which ultimately permitted the construction of
huge earth-fill structures such as New Don Pedro
Even with the completion of Dallas-Warner Reservoir
in 1912, a year in which irrigating was ended
July 1st, it was recognized that the
additional 28,000 acre feet of storage was only
an interim solution. Irrigating still ended in
July or August for lack of the capacity to store
more of the early spring flood flows.
Thus, Modesto joined the Turlock district in
considering a partnership with the Yosemite Power
Company operating near La Grange. It was proposed
that the districts acquire all that company?s
rights and facilities in the La Grange area for
a price to be negotiated. This would allow the
development of MID -TID "Dam No.2" upstream from
the La Grange diversion dam. The districts would
contribute $2 per acre foot of storage capacity
toward the cost of additional Yosemite Power Company
reservoirs to be built upstream from the MID -TID
dams. The districts would own the water behind
the power company dams but the company could use
it for the generation of electrical energy.
Opposed by Directors Covell and J. B. Trask,
who insisted that the MID should spend its money
on upgrading its canal system before building
any additional storage on the Tuolumne, the scheme
fell through but not until after considerable
debate and a recall election or two.
The only positive move to increase its water
supply taken by the Modesto district came in 1917,
when it contracted to receive up to 50 second
feet of waste water from the Oakdale Irrigation
District. This water had been spilling into Dry
Creek and the Stanislaus River.
Even though there was too little water for late
irrigations, a major problem arose because farmers
were using too much water. During the first four
years, irrigators averaged 10 acre feet of water
on their crops. Today it is known that, at the
most, only three-and-a-half acre feet of water
is needed to irrigate most crops. In drought periods,
farmers have survived with less. Whereas normal
irrigation practices would raise water tables,
its excessive use caused ground-water levels to
In 1905 U. S. Department of Agriculture engineers
estimated that the water table was rising an average
of four feet per year. In the winter of 1906,
the water table had risen so that ponds were standing
in swales on lower lands of the Modesto and Turlock
Irrigation Districts. By 1907 vast acreages had
been made untillable.
The damage was not confined alone to the submerged
land. In many areas the water was so close to
the surface that it injured the roots of trees
and vines and rendered cultivation impossible.
U. S. D. A. Experiment Station scientists blamed
much of the problem on over-watering, citing instances
where as much as 16 acre feet of water had been
used on some farms. Even though Modesto irrigators
were forced to practice greater economy in the
use of water, the federal scientists warned, "It
is the experience of past irrigation the world
over that drainage and irrigation go hand in hand,
and the best use of water will not make drainage
unnecessary in such land, but only minimize it."
At first, irrigators and directors alike failed
to realize the seriousness of the problem. Those
who did, however, disagreed violently as to the
best method of correcting the situation and how
much it would cost. Owners of higher-elevation
land fought spending money for the drainage of
lowlands, failing to accept that the drainage
problems in the lowlands were caused in a great
measure by irrigating highlands.
Following water table surveys made early in 1907
by Modesto Water Superintendent Griffin, opposition
to drainage weakened and in August 1907 a $20,000
bond issue was approved to develop drainage systems.
An initial attempt at pumping groundwater failed.
A drainage ditch seemed the only solution. Since
the ditch could not be dug by horse-drawn scrapers
because the horses bogged down in the ditch bottom,
a $5,000 dry-land or skid dredge was purchased
and put in operation February 1, 1908. The awkward
dredge was mounted on an 18-by-30-foot skid platform
secured to wooden rollers which ran on planks
placed on the ground. A 40-foot boom carried a
2,800-pound, one-cubic-yard bucket. The dredge
moved 747 yards of dirt per 10-hour shift at a
cost of 3.5 cents per yard.
Although weeds made the maintenance of drainage
canals and ditches difficult, the drainage network
was successful and has been expanded.
Even though the water table on more than 11,000
acres of Modesto Irrigation District land was
less than 4 feet below the surface in 1918, disagreement
over the importance of solving drainage problems
continued. A $75,000 assessment for drains was
defeated by voters in June that year. A $50,000
special tax was approved in October, however,
and a massive attack on the ground-water situation
By 1920 the Modesto district truly had a handle
on the drainage problem. By then, pumping and
drainage canals were proving effective and the
total acreage in which the water table was less
than 4 feet was cut in half. The drainage problem
was well under control by 1925 as the district,
using its own Don Pedro generated power, expanded
its pumping system.
Today the MID has 80 miles of drainage canals
and 64 drainage pumps in operation. Each drainage
well can control groundwater levels for a distance
of half a mile or more and 20 percent of the water
used each year for crops comes from this source:
The pumped water is recycled by discharging it
into irrigation canals.
Throughout its early days the Modesto district
faced a constant need to improve and upgrade its
canal and lateral systems, not only because of
the demand for more water ? the number of acres
irrigated increased from 6,895 in 1904 to 28,197
by 1910 ? but also because some of the original
structures proved inadequate.
As early as 1905 it was reported that much of
the 2,950-foot wooden flume extending from La
Grange Dam was being replaced by a concrete structure.
By November 1, 650 feet were under construction
as the work was speeded to completion before the
start of the 1906 irrigation season.
In the 10-mile section of the main canal between
La Grange Dam and Dallas-Warner Reservoir, flumes
crossed 11 draws and canyons on wooden trestles
500 to 900 feet long, 14 feet wide and 50 to 90
feet above the ground. A major effort was undertaken
in 1912 to replace these wooden trestles and flumes
with hydraulic fills and 20-foot wide concrete
Again, by current standards, work was primitive
but effective. Electric pumps forced water under
pressure through large monitors (or nozzles) similar
to the "Long Toms" used earlier in hydraulic mining.
These literally washed the hills above the flumes
down around them, filling the gullies with mud,
building higher and higher until the trestles
and flumes, still in place, were covered completely.
The weight of the mud compacted the soil. Once
the flumes were covered, larger, wider but more
shallow concrete flumes were installed. While
the procedure worked satisfactorily for the time,
rotting wood under the concrete flumes caused
problems of canal stability in subsequent years.
By 1914 three of the 11 wooden trestle flumes
had been replaced and two others were under reconstruction.
The Modesto Evening News described the
progress as "piecemeal", commenting:
With the main canal widened to
20 feet for a considerable portion of the 10 miles
between La Grange Dam and the (Dallas-Warner)
Reservoir and with five out of the 11 flumes eliminated
or in process of elimination, the $300,000 raised
by special assessment and expended in making these
improvements was for the time being earning the
district nothing whatever for the reason that
so long as one 14-foot wooden flume remained,
the carrying capacity of the whole canal would
be limited to the capacity of that one flume.
In an April special "Progress Edition", the News,
however, boasted that the MID and the voters had
on March, 31, 1914, approved by a seven-to-one
majority two bond issues totaling $610,000 as
part of a "general policy of expansion of the
irrigating facilities and of superseding the more
temporary types of early construction with permanent
and practically indestructible concrete. Permanence
is the primary consideration."
Of the total, $500,000 was earmarked to cover
the construction of hydraulic fills to replace
the six remaining wooden trestle flumes, widening
the main canal where needed, raising the dam of
the upper portion of Dallas-Warner Reservoir five
feet to increase the reservoir?s storage capacity
another 10,000 acre feet, facing with concrete
the dams and levees of the foothill reservoir,
and drainage work. The proceeds of the $110,000
bond issue were spent within the district proper
for the construction of new headgates, weirs and
diversion points and for the replacement and improvement
of existing canal facilities.
These were the first bonds voted for general
improvement of the system since January 2, 1902,
when the newly revitalized district had refinanced
its 19th Century indebtedness. The
only other bonds, approved in 1909, were for the
construction of Dallas-Warner Reservoir.
From the time the district had come alive again
until 1914, canal and distribution system improvement
work had been funded through special assessments.
From the ouster of the ant-irrigationists in 1901,
the Modesto board was most mindful of the disruption
caused years before by William Tregea and his
lawsuit protesting property assessments without
a vote of the people, a position upheld by the
California Supreme Court.
Starting in 1904, assessments ? in effect property
taxes ? for routine operation, maintenance and
construction were placed before the voters for
approval. The first ballot was on a levy of $38,400,
of which $18,000 was to be used for construction
on the main canal and the balance for general
maintenance and operational costs. It was approved
September 10th by the nearly unanimous
margin of 86 to 6. Although a two-thirds majority
was required, assessments were voted by comfortable
margins each year. The affirmative 200-to-43 vote
for the 1910 assessment was typical.
But in 1909 agitation to exempt improvements
from irrigation district taxes surfaced. The exemption
was defeated by a narrow margin, 411-389, in a
special election January 8, 1910. In the City
of Modesto some property owners were paying more
taxes than large ranchers but getting no water.
City voters supported the exemption but were outvoted
by rural voters. The pressure for the exemption
continued to grow, but the only concession made
by the farmer-dominated board was to allow the
annual assessments to be paid in two installments
instead of one.
In April 1911, 250 property owners petitioned
the board for another special election. The board
refused to be pushed into an election at that
time, but a month later relented and on its own
initiative called the election. The vote was 487-405
in favor of the exemption, although rural Divisions
4 and 5 held out with overwhelming majorities
in favor of continuing to assess improvements.
Although the matter of assessing improvement
was resolved, considerable displeasure with the
district?s operation remained.
An August 1911 vote on $85,000 in assessments
- $61,000 for canal repair and improvements and
$24,000 for salaries and operation ? still exceeded
the two-thirds requirement, 529-208, but the majority
was eroding. A 300 percent increase in voter turnout
reflected the strong feelings prevalent. A supplementary
assessment was rejected in March 1912, 549 to
505 - a slim majority but a long way from the
two-thirds required. A month later, another special
election failed to receive the needed two-thirds
A 1911 amendment to the basic state irrigation
law provided that assessments could be voted by
a four-fifths majority of the board of directors.
Efforts to utilize this provision failed when
Directors Covell and Trask refused to go along
because they were in disagreement with some of
the projects the engineers had proposed.
With the needed $20,500 still not available,
three members of the board ? W. H. Frazine, J.
S. Wootten and R. E. Gilman — threatened to impose
a toll on water delivered to farmers. This tax
could be established by a simple majority vote
of the board. Facing this threat, Covell changed
his position "so that the employees might be paid."
Director Trask refused to concede and the final
vote was 4-1.
In July that year, an assessment totaling $30,000
for salaries and operations and another $50,000
for improvements failed to achieve a two-thirds
majority and the following month the board voted
4-1 again to levy the assessment, Director Trask
still adamantly opposed.
By 1913, however, following an unsuccessful 1912
attempt to recall Covell and Trask, the problem
seemed to be behind the district, for in June
a special $75,000 assessment was approved 422-102.
Assessments were voted either by the electorate
or by the board without trouble from that point
The period of disputes over assessments ? how
much and whether they should be levied ? coincided
with a flurry of recall activity in the Modesto
The MID was on the first irrigation districts
established under the Wright Act. Throughout its
history, the MID has achieved a record of being
first in many irrigation matters. It was only
fitting, then, that Modesto was the first to experience
a recall election under the provisions of the
1911 state Constitution amendment providing for
the recall of public officials from office.
In the spring of 1912 soon after the recall provision
became effective, petitions were circulated against
a majority of the board: Directors Covell of Division
3, Trask of Division 4 and Gilman of
The issues in these first recalls were mixed.
Covell was accused of taking irrigation water
out of turn and misrepresenting the proposed MID
partnership with the Yosemite Power Company. Many
signers of the original petition against Covell
later renounced their opposition, charging that
his foes had misrepresented his position on the
power company deal.
Director Trask, frequently at odds with the majority
of the board, was accused of opposing the Yosemite
Power Company partnership and "aiding and abetting"
Covell in getting water out of turn, accusations
which caused Trask to file a libel suit against
the petition circulators. The case was thrown
out of court after the petitioners? attorney,
L. L. Dennett, who also was legal counsel for
the Modesto Irrigation District, labeled as "cowardly
and childish" the suit brought by Trask, on of
his "bosses" on the MID board.
Covell and Trask were accused of being disruptive
forces. One of Covell?s accusers, T. J. Crispin,
who until 1911 had served with Covell on the MID
board, also had a personal disagreement with Covell
over the price paid by the MID for some of Crispin?s
land. One day during the election campaign they
came face to face on 10th near I Street.
The meeting ended with Crispin arrested and fined
$25 for attacking Covell.
Covell and Trask were retained in office by comfortable
margins, Covell 470-210 and Trask 134-41.
Not so fortunate was the third recall target,
Director Gilman. The charges against him were
general, involving the way in which the district
and canal system were managed. He was recalled
by a vote of 155-to-105. Elected May 29, 1912,
to succeed him was B. F. Anderson. A few months
later, water users of his division asked Anderson
to resign. When he refused, saying he would do
so only if he won a recall election, his foes
took up his challenge, charging that he was "incompetently
inefficient." He was recalled by a vote of 90
to 71 on November 20, 1913, after serving but
a year and a half.
On the same day as the Anderson recall election,
another attack was made on Covell. He was accused
of "throwing down" his constituents, contributing
to poor administration of the district and using
his influence as president of the MID board to
win approval of an "excessive" 8 percent loan
from the Bank of Modesto, of which he was a stockholder.
This time, Covell was not so fortunate. He was
ousted, with 185 voting to recall him and only
69 for his retention. Allen Talbot succeeded Covell
and Laud C. Gates replaced Anderson.
Years later, Gates, who laughingly said his nickname
was "Loud," recalled those turbulent days, citing
even a fist fight he had with another board member
during one of the meetings. He refused to divulge
the name of the director he backed up against
the wall. The minutes do not reflect the disturbance,
Even before all the votes were counted, another
recall petition was filed, this time against Empire
Director J. S. Tully, who had been appointed to
fill the position a few months earlier when Director
Frazine retired. One of the "charges" against
Tully was that he had been appointed and not elected
and his farming operations were more involved
with the Turlock district than Modesto?s. His
detractors also contended Tully favored changing
the water distribution system to one which would
work a "great hardship" on the water users and
that he had supported the Raker Act, which gave
San Francisco the right to build on the Tuolumne
River. The entire MID board subsequently repudiated
Tully won handily, 263-to-159, a "cold finish
of a contest that has been of the warmest and
which has created interest among the voters of
this district to a fever heat," according to the
Modesto Morning Herald. The Herald
had supported Tully and blamed Modestan W. C.
LeHane for masterminding the bitter recall campaign.
Tully continued to serve until 1919.
LeHane, who had run against Tully as an unsuccessful
write-in candidate, played an interesting role
in the development of the Modesto Irrigation District
during its troubled maturing years.
A native of Nebraska, LeHane came to Modesto
sometime after the turn of the century. An attorney
by profession, LeHane became known as the "King
of the West Side" because of his large land holdings
on the west side of the City of Modesto. Claiming
to be an expert in the field of irrigation, LeHane
declared in his 1914 unsuccessful bid for Congress
that, prior to coming to Modesto, he had "made
an extensive investigation and personal examination
of all the larger irrigation projects in the United
Well into the 1930s, LeHane was a persistent
critic of the Modesto Irrigation District, attacking
the entry of San Francisco into the Tuolumne River
watershed until the 1930s when Hetch Hetchy water
finally flowed to the bay city. For a while, he
was special counsel to the district to carry the
legal fight against San Francisco. He was fired
when his sponsors on the board were recalled in
an election in which he was an issue.
For years he argued the district needed a general
manager instead of being operated by the directors
on individual assignments, a system which he said
caused director-administrators to "know something
about almost everything but nothing about something."
While the Herald denounced LeHane for his
comments, it concluded its report by noting that
the directors wound up the day by "doing something
about almost everything, but nothing about something."
From the first recall election in 1912, LeHane
appears to have been involved in opposition to
the board as a whole and to individual members
who did not share his views.
On September 16, 1913, the Modesto Morning
Herald, which for several years carried on
a running battle with LeHane, made the following
comment on reporting a meeting at which the successful
recall against Director Covell was organized:
"The ubiquitous Mr. LeHane who seems to be the
leading spirit in everything in the way of agitation
now under way in the Modesto District was among
It was not until 1917 that the next recall election
The target was C. A. Hilton of Division 5. The
issue involved the development of adequate capacity
in the main canal to meet the needs of the water
users, with an added dispute over the agreement
to carry the Waterford Irrigation District?s water
from La Grange to the fledging district. In a
bitter fight in which LeHane also played a major
role, Hilton survived by a two-vote margin, 185-183.
A recount widened the margin to 190-186.
The friction and dissension evidenced in this
election, in which almost every qualified voter
went to the polls, reflected the spirit of the
times. In the regular 1917 election of directors
held just a week earlier, one of the two most
bitter contests which the district ever was to
experience wound up with the narrowest result
in history. Director Trask won re-election by
a vote of 158 to 156. His opponent, J. W. Frederick,
charged that illegal votes were counted and filed
suit in the Stanislaus County Superior Court.
The case was dismissed as the court held it had
no jurisdiction in irrigation district elections.
In the second race in that hotly-contested election,
Fred Way had a more comfortable 748-613 margin
over W. F. Riemenschneider for the directorship
in Division 2. The outcome may have been decided
by an election-morning change of position by the
Modesto Morning Herald, which up until
the day of the balloting had supported Riemenschneider
In this case, a community argument over whether
to build Modesto?s new high school on the west
or east side of town was injected into the irrigation
LeHane was in the middle of the school site battle,
too. He had offered to donate the land at 1st
and H Streets on the west side for the school.
Riemenschneider supported the east side. The newspaper
learned at the last minute that candidate Riemenschneider
might have been involved in a move to seek a court
injunction against the west side site. Riemenschneider
"equivocated by declaring himself neutral," according
to the Morning Herald and by this act "proved
himself unworthy to be a public official."
The 1920s proved a heyday for recall movements.
In 1920, after the people had voted $2,000,000
in bonds as the MID ?s share of the cost for building
the original Don Pedro Dam and Reservoir, a majority
of the board was recalled for what the petitions
alleged were delays in Don Pedro due to inactions
or actions by the three recall targets. Press
reports, however, indicated the real issue was
LeHane, who the Modesto Morning Herald
labeled as "the big boss of the majority of directors"
over whom he had "complete power".
The targeted directors, A. W. Stratton, Allen
Talbot and Trask, denied they were "dragging their
feet" on building Don Pedro. Instead, they insisted,
they were refusing to be "dummies" or "rubber
stamps" to the Turlock Irrigation District by
not knuckling under to TID demands on various
points of contention about who would control the
progress of the project and TID?s insistence that
its chief engineer, Roy V. Meikle, be named project
The fact was that Modesto, in a way, was the
junior ? 31.5 percent ? partner in the Don Pedro
Project and the Turlock district board, Chief
Engineer Meikle and Attorney P. H. Griffin had
been more aggressive in pushing the project.
On June 1, 1920, the three Modesto directors
were removed from office by substantial margins:
Stratton, 380-242; Talbot, 217-148, and Trask,
who had survived a 1912 recall effort, 161-118.
J. W. Guyler succeeded Stratton. W. H. Franzine
took Talbot?s seat. Charles Swanger replaced Trask.
The first action after the new board was seated
was to fire LeHane as special MID counsel.
During the campaign, opponents skirted around
the issue of the generation and distribution of
electrical energy as part of the Don Pedro Project.
Three years later, in still another recall campaign,
the Morning Herald charged that the earlier
recall of Trask, then seeking to return to the
board through the recall of Director E. L. Routh,
had been a "frame-up" which paved the way for
a board dedicated to wholesaling Don Pedro Power
to Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
The retail distribution of power definitely was
the issue in the next series of recalls.
On December 20, 1922, Guyler and Directors H.
J. Coffee and C. A. Hilton, all of whom earlier
had voted to wholesale power to PG&E, fell
to defeat in recalls.
One week later, Director J. R. Broughton, the
fourth to support wholesaling, survived a recall
by a substantial 745-386 vote.
The following year, Director J. R. Broughton,
the only director who in 1922 had held out for
the distribution of power by the district, was
recalled. The Modesto Morning Herald, a
firm advocate of distribution, had labeled Routh
as a "wobbler", charging he was "on both sides
and on top of the fence" in the distribution issue
and demanded a board which was determined unequivocally"
to the goal of distribution. N. L. Rose succeeded
Routh on April 25, 1923, in this, the last successful
recall election to be held in the Modesto district.
Other attempts were made, however.
In December that same year Director O. E. Lambert
survived a recall attack that came from the power
distribution association, which charged that Lambert
was too close to PG&E. In 1924 Rose defeated
a recall move. In 1927 a petition to recall Division
3 Director H. H. Sturgill was filed, but no election
was held because there were insufficient signatures
on the petition.
The Modesto Irrigation District?s politics were
maturing, however, as the flurry of recall activity
was followed by only two more unsuccessful recall
In 1931 Director John B. Fiscalini was challenged
because he believed the district needed to increase
taxes to maintain its operations and had the courage
to say so. His foes charged that farmers could
not afford higher taxes while in the depths of
a depression. Fiscalini survived by a wide ? 386
to 83 ? margin.
Division 5 Director Hugo G. Jacobson was challenged
in 1934 in a dispute over district expenditures
on the main canal as opposed to the expansion
of laterals, with apparent undertones that he
was not sufficiently anti-Hetch Hetchy. Jacobson
squeaked through by a narrow 376-345 vote, only
to lose a year later to Modesto dairyman Milton
Kidd, who served on the board until his nephew,
John E. Kidd, who still represents Division 5.
During his long tenure, Milton Kidd was active
in and served as president of the statewide Association
of California Water Agencies.
Thus, the Modesto Irrigation District survived
its growing pains. Water supplies became adequate
to meet late-summer and early-fall needs, the
fiscal situation stabilized and the period of
internal strife was over, replaced by an era of
more effective management and cooperation among
The years ahead were filled with innovative growth,
but this was achieved more quietly than during
the MID ?s troubled "adolescence".
Meantime, between the MID ?s eastern boundary
and La Grange there was formed a new Waterford
Irrigation District which on January 1,1978, was
to merge with the Modesto district. In maturing,
it too had growing pains. These problems were
more financial than political, however.