ALL ABOUT EAST FORK IRRIGATION DISTRICT
East Fork Irrigation Canal Company
As shown in a Valley Improvement Company record book, the East Fork Irrigation Canal Company was formed from that company in the fall of 1895. Oregon Water Resources Department records reveal that the East Fork Irrigation Canal Company filed a Notice of Appropriation, recorded October 4, 1895. Two subsequent Notices were filed October 15 and November 25 of the same year for a total of 14,000 miners inches (350 CFS). On October 24, 1921 a Hood River County Circuit Court Decree described 7,581.65 acres as being irrigated at that time. The Decree also allowed an additional 4,215.42 acres an inchoate right and required that this land be fully irrigated by January 1, 1925. Since that time Applications for Permit to Appropriate Water have been filed for additional land still being placed in production for irrigation, frost control, orchard spraying and fire protection.
The East Fork Irrigating Company built ditches, wooden flumes and pipelines to distribute water. Many of the farmers worked out their charges by building ditches with teams of horses, slip scrapers and hand tools. Some of the first pipe was made of logs bored out at a sawmill owned by the Company along Neal Creek. The mill was powered by a Pelton water wheel.
East Fork Irrigation District
The East Fork Irrigation Canal Company became financially in trouble in 1913 with $52,182 indebtedness and no money to operate on. The East Fork Irrigation District was then formed authorizing bonds to be issued for $150,000, asked for a one year option to purchase the Company and took over the operation of the system for that year. In February 1914, the Company was dissolved and the District took over completely by paying off the debts owned by the Company.
The East Fork Irrigation District was organized, in 1913 under the laws of the State of Oregon. The District was organized as a taxing body for the purpose of delivering irrigation water to properties within its territory. It is administered by a Board of Directors elected by registered voters of the district. Currently water is delivered to about 1000 turnouts managed by 970 water users. Revenues are derived from user fees on land within the District. Expenditures are made for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the irrigation system and retirement of assumed bonded debt.
In March 1915 an extensive program of enlarging the distribution system was undertaken. Many contracts were let between 1915 and 1917 to accomplish this work. Much of the enlarging of canals and ditches was done by teams of horses and by hand labor. A single moldboard plow furrow was used to guide a “crowder board” pulled by a team of horses. Repeated passes resulted in a narrow roadbed in which a trench was excavated by hand. Horses were used to string out the pipe along the trench. Sometimes horses were used to pull the wooden pipe out. Many wooden flumes were built across draws and over rocky terrain, because lumber was cheap and faster to install than to dig a ditch. Other flumes were used to replace ditches that proved to be too steep and were eroding the land. The usual life for a flume was about 20 years. In the 1920’s the District started a program of digging ditches around the draws in the Pine Grove area to eliminate as many flumes as possible. This was accomplished with horses and manpower. It provided good winter work, especially in the depression days.
Pipelines placed in 1914 – 1915 were wire bound untreated wood. The wood being vertical grain Douglas fir, free of knots. The wood started rotting with resulting pipe failure about 1932 and was replaced by larger sized, creosote-dipped wood stave pipe or steel pipe where pressure was involved. The last original untreated wood pipeline was replaced in 1961.
Between 1934 and 1940 most of the larger sizes of pipe in mainlines was replaced. Twenty foot lengths of creosote dipped wood stave pipe would be shipped to Hood River by railroad in boxcars or on flat cars. It was a challenge to unload the pipe onto trucks and get laid out along the ditches. Trucks used at that time were of short wheel-base and in order to get a good amount of pipe on, were loaded much too long. Sometimes 4 or 5 men would ride the front bumper of the truck to hold the front end down for steering until the truck reached the top of the steep hill from the railroad yard.
In 1923, concrete pipe was introduced as a means to enclose open ditches or to replace wood pipelines and flumes. Many miles of concrete pipe have been used by the District and also by farmers to install non-pressure “permanent irrigation systems”. Many sections are still serviceable, but some have been abandoned, being replaced with steel, asbestos cement or PVC plastic pipelines to provide gravity pressure for operating sprinkler and micro irrigation systems.
Original on-farm irrigation systems used mostly rills (small furrows) and sometimes narrow borders to flood the gentle (4%) to steeply sloping (30%) land. Fruit orchards, pasture and hay land were the primary crops irrigated. Head ditches or wooden flumes with holes bored in the sides were used to supply water to rills and borders. Later concrete pipelines with standpipes were used. When tractor drawn speed sprayers came into use, rills were more than a nuisance. Following the development of impact type sprinklers in the early 1940’s and the end of World War II in 1945, when pipeline again became available, converting from flood to hand-move sprinkler irrigation systems became a reality. Irrigation application efficiencies increased from 25 –50% to over 90%. Today most on-farm systems are solid-set sprinklers with a few micro (drip, trickle, minispray/sprinkler, etc.) some with varying degrees of automatic controls.
In 1929, 1930, and 1931 large amounts of sand and glacial flour (rock flakes to colloidal clay sized rock particles) filled the upper section of the main canal. The volume was such an extent that in the middle of the summer water was shut off and farmers with some hired help were called to shovel out enough sediment to allow water to flow. The following winter sand had to be cleaned out the full length of the main canal and also some laterals. That prompted the design of a sand trap to be located immediately below the East Fork of Hood River diversion head gate. A sand trap was built during the 1931-1932 winter at a cost of slightly over $6,000. For many of the following years the sand trap had to be flushed every two weeks during midsummer. There have been a few years when required flushing was only once or twice the entire year. During the 2002 irrigation season daily flushing of at least one bay was required during heavy sediment yield periods. Due to major flood damage in the spring of 1996 a new sand trap and fish screen was constructed in 1996 –1997.
The East Fork of Hood River water supply is generally adequate. However, there have been severe water supply shortages during several years, when there was just barely enough water to meet September and October needs. One of these shortages prompted a study for a storage reservoir. The area containing the Hanel Mill and surrounding property on Neal Creek was chosen as the most suitable location. After an engineering firm conducted a study and prepared a report, the District Board because of high cost and limited benefits rejected the idea. In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, Permits for additional water for about 1000 acres was applied for through ORWD.
The District has continued to make changes and upgrade or replace delivery systems. EFID manages the water rights allocated to the District so as not to lose water rights to forfeiture. The District is constantly striving to provide pressurized, less turbid irrigation water to on-farm deliveries. By delivering cleaner irrigation water, the farmers will be able to use smaller sized nozzles in sprinkler systems which will lead to conserving water.