Umatilla County, Oregon 1922


Irrigation farming consists in artificially applying water to lands to assist in the production of crops and is generally practiced in arid or semi-arid countries. The Federal government, through the United States Reclamation Service, has built one or more, irrigation projects in nearly every state west of the Mississippi River. The Umatilla Project is situated in the western part of Umatilla County, Oregon, and comprises 28,300 acres.

The irrigation plan of the Umatilla Project provides for the diversion of water from the Umatilla River, above Echo, Oregon, through a feed canal 241/2 miles long, into Cold Springs storage reservoir. Water is delivered from the reservoir through an outlet canal; also from, the feed to the outlet or "A" canal. Water is also diverted from the Umatilla River by the Maxwell Canal, heading near Butter Creek, and diverting into the distribution from the reservoir, thus watering land in the Umatilla and Columbia River valleys near, Hermiston.

Reconnaissance and preliminary surveys were begun in 1903 and construction authorized by the Secretary of the Interior in 1905. Water was first delivered for irrigation purposes in 1908. All the principal features have been completed, but additional improvements are being undertaken: the concrete lining of the main "A" canal and replacement of earth laterals in the distribution system by pipe lines and lined sections. The Federal government has an investment to date in the project of about two and one-half million dollars.

Water, the elixir of life in an arid region, converted a desert
into substantial farming communities.

The East Side unit has been organized into an irrigation district Linder the state law and comprises some 17,000 acres. The West Extension unit, 11,300 acres, is also in an irrigation district and extends partly into Morrow County. The topography is gently rolling. The soil is sandy loam, is generally free from alkali and there is little hardpan. It is well adapted to growing alfalfa, which is the principal general product. Fruit has done well and excellent apples, pears, peaches and cherries have been marketed, as well as melons and other garden products.

The climate is comparatively dry, the average rainfall being 8 1/2 inches. The temperature during the summer months is sometimes high, but owing to the dryness of the atmosphere the heat is seldom oppressive. The winters are mild, though the mercury occasionally goes below zero, and snow rarely lies long on the ground. The length of the irrigation season exceeds 210 days, this being one of the earliest districts in the Pacific Northwest. The altitude is 470 feet above sea level.

The land is farmed in small units, usually from 20 to 80 acres, the idea of the Reclamation Act being to make as many homes as possible for settlers rather than encourage large holdings. Experience has shown the wisdom of this act. Twenty to forty acres make a practical holding adapted to fruit, gardening, dairying, poultry and hog raising. About 12,000 acres were irrigated in 1920 and the gross value of the total crop production on the project was in excess of half a million dollars.

The mistake should not be made of thinking that capital is not needed to make a success of irrigation farming. Every new settler will need capital, just as he would if a well, barn, provisions for his family and feed for stock, farm machinery, tools, seed, etc. The land must be cleared and leveled and it is usually a year or two before production can be counted on. The payments for construction of the irrigation works, though distributed over a period of years, by the Extension Act of August 12, 1914, must be made, and there is an annual operation and maintenance charge assessed against each irrigable acre.

The community is well organized and in most parts settled. Banking facilities are good. The educational institutions are up-to-date and convenient, there being three grade schools and one union high school. A public library is maintained at Hermiston. Churches serve the religious needs, nearly all sects and creeds being represented. The fraternal organizations are representative of the best-known lodges. The Hermiston Herald is a weekly newspaper serving the project interests. Flowers, trees and shrubbery add greatly to the pleasing appearance of town and country. The Reclamation Service maintains its headquarters in Hermiston and all construction, operation and maintenance activities are directed from the main office. Roads have been improved and the Columbia River Highway and O.-W. R. & N. Company furnish easy access to the outside world.

The State and Federal governments have established an experiment station near Hermiston for the benefit of parties not familiar with irrigation. This station has been operated actively since 1909 and has been of great assistance to the farmers, Dot only in properly laying out the 'field laterals and ditches and in the application of water under the border system, but in suggesting proper varieties of fruits, grain and grasses to be planted. Duty of water experiments and fertilization tests have also been beneficial.

While the opportunity to secure public land by homesteading has practically ended, there are still good private tracts of land for sale at reasonable prices. Prospective settlers, however, should, whenever possible, make a visit to the project and satisfy themselves by personal inspection that the local conditions are such as they are seeking.

The future of the Umatilla Project, on account of its alfalfa production, will be closely allied with the dairy industry, and for this purpose the climate is unusually well adapted. Fruit, bees, berries and vegetables afford diversification. Some capital is needed to gain a start, but, with a willing spirit to work, being alert to take advantage of general business conditions, and with a knowledge of agriculture, which all tillers of the soil should naturally have, there are ample opportunities to succeed on the Umatilla Irrigation Project.

Adjacent to the Umatilla Project are two private irrigation projects, the Furnish and Western Lands. These projects give great promise to future irrigation development. The runoff of the, Umatilla River is abundant, but during the summer months little water is available for irrigation purposes. Records kept by the Reclamation Service indicate an annual runoff of McKay for settlers Creek exceeding 75,000 acre-feet. By building a dam about five miles from the mouth of McKay Creek storage can be secured at an estimated cost of $2,000,000. By providing storage on McKay Creek an opportunity would be afforded to develop the entire lower Umatilla valley from Echo to Boardman, and the assembling of these various units under one head has been called "The Greater Umatilla Project."

While the coming years will eventually bring the Umatilla Project into a complete state of development, the community cannot he said to be a success until the entire lower valley has been provided with an adequate water supply. The U. S. Reclamation Service is at present awaiting funds to be allotted to construct the McKay Storage Unit. With 65,000 acres, in a high state of agricultural development, supporting hundreds of pleasant homes, with the towns in this vicinity thriving upon the business which every prosperous rural section builds up, with schools and churches to take care of the educational and religious needs of the people, with stores, banks and manufactories stimulated by steady financial growth, the Umatilla Project will become indeed one of the most desirable agricultural communities to live in in the Pacific Northwest.

Alfalfa and corn, greatest of livestock feeds, are produced in
abundance at Stanfield, Hermiston, and Umapine.

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