Criminal Annals, Part 96 – Water

Setting aside serious crime for a moment, there is a lengthy article in the April 15, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union” that concerns something about which more battles have been fought and laws been written than any other subject: It is not land; it is not gold; it is water.
Without water and a proper storage and distribution system California’s agricultural lands would be worthless, many of its minerals could not be mined, its industry would fail and its cities would cease existing. Thus early in the history of California groups got together to solve this problem.
At first the projects were designed to aid in the mining of gold, the most important issue at hand.

By 1852 the easy gold near the rivers and creeks, where water was abundant, was gone. But much gold was still in the ground where it had been deposited by ancient creeks, streams and rivers.
For instance, most of the gold in Placerville was in the dirt on the hillsides, where it had been left centuries before as what is now known as Hangtown Creek slowly cut its way into the earth, depositing flakes and nuggets of gold at the same time. It had to be dug out and brought to the creek for washing. For that reason, Placerville was first known as “Dry Diggings.”And what of the deposits in old streambeds at places like Big Cut, where massive amounts of water would be needed to free it from the other gravel?
These were the problems that brought about the development of water systems – systems that would later be used to provide water for agriculture, people and other purposes.

“Important Water Project.

“We invite most earnestly the attention of Sacramentans to the following organization of a Water Company in El Dorado, the company, as temporarily formed, consists of –
“President – T. Butler King; Vice-President – A. P. Read; Secretary – George White; Treasurer – Henry Robinson; Board of Directors – J. R. Hardenbergh, Mayor Harris, S. F. Judge Barbour, Dr. Kean [B. F. Keene], Dr. Harvey, Mr. [Bruce] Herrick, Caleb Finch, Dr. Dodson, Mr. Phillips.

“The objects of this organization are to convey the South Fork of the American River over and immense area of mining and agricultural land, which cannot now be used for either purpose, except for a couple of months in the year, when mining may be prosecuted, during the prevalence of heavy rains.

“The length of the canal, as it is proposed to construct it, from its source to Placerville, is about forty miles, ten feet in width, and from two to three feet in depth. The quantity of water to be carried through the canal will be sufficient for all mining operations, for the complete irrigation of the mountain valleys through which it passes, and for the most extensive manufacturing purposes. A mining region of thirty-five miles in length, and twenty miles in width can be entirely embraced within the compass of the projected work. An informal survey was first made of the course which it was proposed to adopt for the canal. From this survey, it was believed to be a practicable scheme; and immediately afterwards steps were taken to have a complete and accurate working survey made of the canal route. Mr. [A. J.] Binney, engineer of this city [Sacramento], was appointed as the Chief Surveyor in the enterprise, and is now executing the work with great dispatch.”

Note: Andrew J. Binney was an engineer of importance in California, having built the levees that protected Sacramento from flooding, plus numerous other projects in Marysville and southern California. He and his brother Charles came across the plains to California in 1849.

The article continues: “The estimated cost of the entire improvement is from $500,000 to $800,000 – an amount which, when considered without the benefit of knowing the uses to which it is to be applied, and the demand for it, would make it appear somewhat too ponderous an enterprise. But when it is considered that a small ditch from Weber Creek to Coon Hollow, which was built by company of twenty-one men, is now netting from $300 to $600 per diem – when it is known that a ditch commenced on the 7th of January last, and completed on first day of April by a Capt. Smith, running a distance of only seven miles, is now awarding to its owners the sum of $320 a day – when it is borne in mind also that there are many other small ditches doing similar business, but which do not begin to afford an adequate supply of water for mining purposes – and which, from the nature of the sources from whence the ditches receive their supply, do not afford any guarantee of water but for a few months – then it may be understood why such and immense work has been begun, and why it will be carried on to completion.
“In the mining district over which this canal passes, there are thousands and thousands of acres in which the lowest yield of gold deposits is at the rate of two cents a bucketful. And from this small yield, we know parties who have been washing it since the 1st of January, when they could obtain water, who have realized an ounce each per day for their labor.

“We give this subject a prominence in our columns, not because we have a penny’s interest in any joint stock company in California, but because we believe that Sacramento ought to manifest a deep and liberal interest in the prosecution of the work which is so essentially concerned in developing the gold resources of counties which are the immediate tributaries and principal supporters of our city.
“Let this water company succeed, and it will give profitable employment to fifty thousand persons. It will open a line of lucrative business enterprises, including mining, agricultural and manufacturing interests, throughout an area of at least seventy-five miles in width. Is it not, therefore, a matter about which Sacramento should inquire? Is she not vastly and unlimitedly concerned in a project that promises such a resource for trade, for all the interests that are involved in the progress of our city? Just in proportion as such schemes as the foregoing, and the Bear River and Auburn Water Company, succeed in developing the mineral and agricultural wealth of El Dorado and Placer counties, just in such a proportion will Sacramento advance in the line of a most brilliant and important destiny.

“We do therefore most sincerely hope that our monied citizens will lend this project such aid and support as will carry it into a full and speedy execution.”

Note: The South Fork Canal, by which this project was initially known, would pass through several hands until being purchased by the El Dorado Water and Deep Gravel Mining Co. Much of it is now owned by El Dorado Irrigation District.

For additional information on this and other water projects in El Dorado County, see: “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted by the El Dorado County Friends of the Library (1998).



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.