What the Future Holds - What is past is prologue.
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In these five words of his carved in granite
at the entrance to the National Archives Building
in Washington, D.C., William Shakespeare captured
the essence of the study of any people, nation
or institution. Certainly, they apply to the Modesto
Irrigation District as it enters its second century
The experiences, the struggles and
the achievements of the past are the foundation
upon which the future will be built.
The MID , conceived in the dream of greening an
area already known as Paradise Valley and maturing
through the battles of its infancy and its formative
years, has become a strong, vital force in the
economic structure and well-being of the Modesto
community. It should continue to be so in the
This institution did not just appear suddenly.
It was born out of the dedication, courage and
faith of strong-minded men and women – not
only the McHenrys, the Beards, the Carvers, the
Woottens, the Cresseys and others mentioned specifically,
but also a great many people in all walks of life
who worked together in contributing their labors
to turn the dream into reality.
But what of the future?
Gazing into a crystal ball is an extremely speculative
thing at best.
Looking back 100 years, who among the visionary
organizers of the Modesto Irrigation District
could have dreamed that their district would become
one of the nation’s most efficiently operated
electric utilities with an annual budget in excess
of $115 million and a total capital investment
of more than $526 million?
The nation’s first electrical generating
plant was put in operation only eight years before
the Modesto district was formed. Who could have
dreamed that some day electricity would be generated
by oil, coal, nuclear, geothermal and wind power
as well as falling water and transmitted thousands
Who among the founders could have dreamed their
district would operate one of California’s
finest recreation areas around a lake which is
almost as long as the distance from Modesto to
Could any of those progressive farmers who fought
so hard to bring water to their lands have thought
that some day the MID would be serving more urban
homes, businesses and industries than farms?
And those farsighted people who dreamed of turning
Paradise Valley into a true agricultural paradise,
could they have envisioned an agricultural economy
returning two-thirds of a billion dollars to Stanislaus
County annually from dairy products, poultry,
peaches, walnuts, tomatoes, turkeys, almonds,
rice, field crops and other commodities?
Thus, it is doubtful, even with today’s
computerized technology, our professional planners
and all the data banks they can tap, that we can
forecast exactly what will happen between now
and the year 2087.
Still, it’s always fascinating to try.
In exploring the future with many persons closely
associated with the MID at present and in the
past, one common thread prevails. By 2087 the
central corridor from Turlock through Ceres and
Modesto to Salida will be one large metropolitan
area receiving its domestic and industrial water
from existing irrigation districts.
Another common thread holds that the stability
of the Modesto Irrigation District will keep it
firmly in the water and power business for another
century or more.
These forecasters do not agree, however, as to
the nature of the district.
Some say the MID will maintain its independence.
Others foresee that there will be only one public
utility district serving the entire area from
the foothills on the east to the San Joaquin River
on the west, from the Stanislaus River to the
Merced River. The Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale
Irrigation Districts, in this view, would be forced
to unite as a single entity in order to achieve
maximum efficiency, survive the pressures of centralized
state and federal governments, protect their water
rights and fend off the appetites of private utilities.
Whether it will be an enlarged district or an
independent MID serving within its current boundaries,
there is little question that this agency will
be the purveyor of all water, domestic and agricultural.
Primary consumption will be domestic water as
agriculture will be forced by urbanization to
retreat to more remote areas. Crystal ball gazers
disagree, however, on whether the district will
wholesale domestic water to distribution agencies
or will be the distributor as well as the source
Additional storage facilities will be required
to meet irrigation needs as the volume of water
used for domestic purposes exceeds that used for
The operation of the irrigation distribution
system and all domestic water services will be
automated. Water deliveries, whether domestic
or agricultural, will be metered automatically
and the price based on the actual cost of service.
Ditchtenders will be a thing of the past.
Canals and laterals throughout the system below
the Modesto Reservoir will be piped, and possibly
even the upper main canal will be placed underground.
Their landscaped rights-of-ways will be accessible
to the public for jogging, bicycling and recreational
Flood irrigation undoubtedly will give way to
sprinkler, drip or other methods which use smaller
amounts of water. This transition will allow expansion
of irrigation to the foothills where lands will
be placed under more intensive cultivation. Others
forecast the switch to row crops in the Valley,
farmed in a manufacturing-type setting of hydroponic
hothouses. In any case, conservation of agricultural
water will be enforced.
Anticipating a major fight over water rights
and control of the Tuolumne River watershed, some
observers fear the district will be left only
nominal control. They see the State of California
attempting to monitor and distribute the waters
of the Tuolumne and all other watersheds in the
state. They see the State of California attempting
to monitor and distribute the waters of the Tuolumne
and all other watersheds in the state. They wonder
if 100 years from now, a statewide master plan
might control the amounts of water consumed and
the distribution of surpluses to areas more arid
than Stanislaus County.
Others, looking to the fierce independence of
the district throughout its first century, contend
it will successfully ward off future intrusions
by state and federal agencies as it has in the
Although current pressures appear to be minimizing
the value of individual water rights, some believe
these rights in the Modesto Irrigation District,
where the land owns the water, will become more
valuable than the land itself.
With the completion of transmission lines to
the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the Pacific
Southwest, electrical operations will continue
in much the same manner as today, but with great
technological refinements. Much of California’s
energy will be generated by hydroelectric plants
in Canada. Modesto’s central location in
the intertie system, will make the MID a major
force in the distribution of wholesale power throughout
The increased use of sophisticated computers
will result in innovative rate structures which
will encourage off-peak use, with peak use monitored
carefully for maximum efficiency. Meter reading
will be done by remote control. Traditional meter
readers will go the way of the ditchtenders.
Anticipating that the use of fossil fuels for
the generation of electricity will become a thing
of the past – prohibitive in cost and prohibited
to maintain air quality – new sources of
energy will be developed. Scientists today dream
of satellite power stations generating solar energy
and of power harnessed from ocean tides. Before
the MID completes its second century there will
be even more exotic sources of energy not even
mentioned in today’s wildest science-fiction
Among the innovations in the electrical field
foreseen are such "off the wall" concepts as the transmission of power without the use of wires.
It is expected, however, that the Modesto Irrigation
District will continue to keep pace, as it has
in the past and must do if it is to survive.
This possibly will be achieved through a consortium
of independent public-power agencies. Failure
to keep pace could result only in the independent
district being swallowed up by private enterprise,
to operate merely as working divisions of a great
Politically, there will be changes, according
to those looking into the future.
Coalitions of special-interest groups will seek
to elect their own representatives and gain control
of the MID Board of Directors. At the same time,
limits may be imposed on the length of tenure
on the board, possibly four terms. Women will
become more active not only as elected directors
but also will be visible as top engineering and
One forecaster says increased interest in district
activities will force the board to alternate its
meetings between afternoons and evenings to permit
greater public participation. These meetings will
be broadcast over cable television.
Such are the complexities which will face the
Modesto Irrigation District Boards of Directors
and staff during the next century.
A keen sense of identity with the pioneering
spirit of those believers and builders that nurtured
the irrigation district into existence has motivated
the district’s leaders and inspired its
family of employees over the first 100 years.
This cooperative spirit and loyalty are easily
discernable in the long service of many "MID "
people. Most top management officials have grown
up with the district, experiencing and responding
to the types of challenges that moved its early
For instance, during its first century only five
people served as secretary to the board and to
the district. W. W. Granger, appointed in 1888,
was succeeded at the turn of the century by C.
S. Abbott who held the post until his death in
1940. Larry E. Bither next was secretary. When
George R. Stoddard, who had been MID treasurer
since 1894, retired in 1943, Bither became secretary-treasurer.
He filled both posts until his retirement in 1959.
When his successor, H. L. "Les" Brooks
became chief executive officer in 1980, Joan Wishon
was named district secretary, a position she holds
Brooks, retiring this year, started work with
the district 41 years ago as a surveyor’s
assistant. He soon became assistant to Secretary-Treasurer
Bither. Through their close association with the
district’s board of directors, both Bither
and Brooks played significant roles in the development
of non-engineering administrative and management
programs during the years that the senior MID
executive was the chief engineer. Brooks became
the first non-engineer named as chief executive
Among the engineers, Charles Crawford first went
to work for the district in 1928. For many years
the district’s irrigation engineer, Crawford
was New Don Pedro Project coordinator for the
MID , TID and City of San Francisco when he retired
a year ago. He still works at least one day a
week on a voluntary basis.
The late Clifford Plummer served the district
for 30 years before his 1966 retirement. He became
the district’s first chief engineer with
the consolidation of electrical and irrigation
functions under a single head in 1943. In this
capacity he guided much of the district’s
mid-century irrigation and electrical expansion.
His successors were engineers who moved up through
the electrical department. Jess Grigsby started
working for the MID in 1925 stenciling power poles
on Saturdays while he was in high school. He became
a full-time draftsman in 1930 and was chief engineer
from 1966 to 1972. Mervin N. Bennett, who became
the district’s first chief administrative
officer, had been with the district for nearly
40 years, including eight as its top executive,
before retiring in 1980. Charles S. Viss, who
retires this year as assistant general manager
for power resources, joined the MID electric meter
department in 1954.
Employees with records of 25 or more years of
service are not uncommon. Pride in service and
workmanship is a standard reflected by MID employees.
Their long service records and job dedication
strengthens the institution and benefits MID power
But what is the prospect of these foundations
of commitment to public service? If much of the
district’s strength rests upon the motivation
and stability of its employees, what will be the
impact of this highly mobile age of specialization
and high technology?
Most MID observers believe it will be minimal.
The district has survived greater risks, challenges
The great majority of the district’s more
than 300 employees will continue to be local residents
with strong loyalty to the district and the community.
Specialists brought in from other areas generally
elect to stay rather than move onto larger cities.
Furthermore, the Modesto Irrigation District
is a public agency with an elected governing board.
Directors will continue to be established farmers,
businesspeople and community leaders with strong
commitments to the region providing a continuity
of service to sustain the traditions of the Modesto
Directors holding office as the district begins
its second 100 years typify the individuals who
have led and are expected to continue to lead
Robert A. Beck, DVM, Division 1. First elected
in 1979, Dr. Beck represents the southeast area
of the district, including Empire and Waterford.
A retired veterinarian, Dr. Beck has farmed extensively
a variety of crops, including rice. Currently,
he is devoting all of his time to the irrigation
district and other community activities. He is
President of the MID Board of Directors in its
Charles Billington, Division 2. Taking office
in December 1985, Billington represents the central
Modesto area. He is the owner of a metal fabrication
and related products company specializing in food
processing, auto racing and steel supply products.
Billington is active in community, professional
and athletic associations.
Jeffrey P. Cowan, Division 3. Representing the
northeastern section of the district since 1981,
Cowan is president and general manager of a local
floor covering company. The family business was
started here in 1950 by his father. A long-time
resident of Modesto, he is active in community
and professional organizations.
William Lyons, Jr., Division 4. Taking office
in December, 1985, Lyons represents the northwest
and Salida area. A Modesto native, Lyons manages
diversified farming cattle and agribusiness investment
operations. Lyons is a leader in Stanislaus county
cattle, professional and community organizations.
John E. Kidd, Division 5. A lifelong resident
of the area, Kidd has represented the southwest
area since 1971. He has served as president of
the statewide Association of California Water
Agencies. Operator of a registered Holstein dairy,
he is active in agricultural and community affairs.
These are the men who face the decisions about
power resources and energy transmission, domestic
water delivery and other matters of concern in
the immediate future.
Through a vision and determination comparable
to that exhibited in 1887 by the MID ’s founders,
directors serving as the second century opens
are working to meet the immediate challenges of
the next 15 to 25 years while wondering what lies
ahead beyond that.
The first 100 years of the Modesto Irrigation
District were full of challenges and excitement.
The events of the next century will be just as
dynamic and demanding.