Early Irrigation

By Ron Marlow

The earliest Payette Valley irrigation project was started by a Denver company which soon went broke. It was named The Payette Valley Irrigation and Water Power Company.

The Security Company of New York then took over the irrigation problem. The summer of 1896 saw water running in the ditch all the time. Water shares and land were sold together. The landowners were charged water assessments, whether or not the land was under cultivation or whether the water was used.

The summer of 1897 saw many farmers dissatisfied with the amount of water they were allowed to use. In 1898 John Bartsh organized a company that bought the water rights of Mr. Noble (Noble Ditch) as no ditchers had been made and no water available. In 1900 water was running in the Noble Ditch, but none was left for the settlers above the ditch level.

C. E. Brainard heard of the conditions and made a trip to New York to interview the Securities Company. After a weeks wait for an interview, he was offered the company's land holdings on irrigation, valued at $350,000 for a total of $75,000 of which $50,000 was for the ditch and $25,000 for the land.

Upon his return to the Payette Valley, Brainard called a meeting of all the farmers above the Noble Ditch. He presented the Securities Companies proposition and offered to take over the land for $25, 000, if the farmers would pay the $50,000 for the water. No one had the available cash, so after organizing a committee, they decided to try to organize a ditch company to float a loan. A B. Moss, a committee member, went to Salt Lake City and secured the necessary loan of $50,000 for the ditch water, plus $10,000 for needed repairs.

When Moss returned, a meeting was called on January 11, 1901 and The Farmerís Cooperative Irrigation Ditch Company was organized. One of the first things the company had to do was replaced the long wooden flumes.

By December 25, 1892, all the repair work had been done and it was decided to turn the water into the canal. Some board members were against this, but the ditch company president Captain Irving insisted. One flume was 1300 feet long, another was 750 feet long and there were many other small ones. When the in-coming rush of water hit the long flume, there was a crash. Little was left of the structure or the flumes down stream. Everything was in shambles. The original Ditch Company faced bankruptcy. The farmers suffered from lack of water for their crops, so they took over the irrigation system and began reconstruction, which lasted for years. Engineers told the Ditch Company that the soil was too sandy to hold water, but they were proven wrong.

In 1905, 400 feet of the ditch was destroyed and dirt had to be hauled in to repair the break, which was completed in about a month. That summer was a wet one and the directors were afraid of another wash out. Some one suggested lining the ditch with canvas, so A. B. Moss went to Portland and returned with 400 feet of canvas. The ditch was lined, cemented at the ends and water was turned in. It held the flow.

A cloudburst occurred some time later and fill the ditch with more run-off water and sand which was washed down from the hillside for a mile. This occurred near the Wilson Ranch. Several more miles more partially filled with sand.

More money was needed, so Moss volunteered to go to Boise to try and raise it. He was refused credit, but was able to borrow $5,000 on his personal note. Farmers again pitched in to repair and clean the ditch. Not much trouble since. Cement head gates were installed to replace the wooden ones.

Had it not been for the courage of the ditch company directors, this country might still be arid sagebrush plain.

Read More Articles by Ron Marlow Learn More about Mr. Marlow

© Independent Enterprise, Payette Idaho
First Printed in The Independent-Enterprise Newspaper, Payette, Idaho, Wednesday, June 13, 2001

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