In the fall of 1907 State Engineer D.W. Ross and other officials suddenly took note of the fact that the Southside pumping project was in danger of losing its water right. Idaho law stated that a person or organization holding a water right had to show “beneficial use” of that water within five years of filing.
The Reclamation Service had filed for water rights for the Minidoka Project June 23, 1903. Unless the southside settlers were putting the water to “beneficial use” by June 23, 1908, the water right would be lost.
The southside gravity canal had been built so farming could begin in the Jackson area of Cassia County. But the generators that would provide the electricity for the pumps had not been ordered, and there was no money to pay for them. Construction on the canals had not even begun.
Engineer Camp “had been impressed with the hardiness and sincerity of the settlers and homesteaders of the project,” remembered C.C. Baker, one of the directors of the hastily organized Southside Water Users Association, “and frankly told them what had to be done to preserve their rights. This was to build ninety miles of canals, including the first, second, and third lifts, within ninety days—a mile a day. . . . If these canals were not built, the whole project was to be abandoned, work would cease, and settlers who had staked their all on the coming of water would be out of luck.”
Since the government had no funds to pay for canal construction, Camp and the directors decided to build it by issuing scrip—printed certificates promising payment later. “We ordered the $276,000 worth of scrip,” Baker remembered.
“The scrip had no value other than what we established,” remembered Baker. “Frankly, we, ourselves, were skeptical; if a man didn’t want to work for ten dollars a day it was an easy matter to pay him twenty dollars—it was no good anyway. Our first push on the work brought out that fact.”
Settlers from both sides of the river worked on the canals. The southside farmers knew that if the canals were not completed in time, their homesteads would be lost. The northside settlers needed the scrip to pay their water charges.
“With baled hay imported at twenty-five dollars per ton and no water supply nearer than the Snake River, it is hard to believe that those workers built the main southside canals and accepted payment in scrip that, at the start, was practically worthless,” wrote W. D. Kenyon in 1925. “How it was managed I don’t know.
“Needless to say, the canals were completed, and then President Theodore Roosevelt sent Secretary of the Interior Garfield to Burley to see if it was possible that the South Side Minidoka Project was actually operating—and it was!
The authorization to continue with the southside pumping project was approved June 22, 1908, one day before the water right would have expired.
Excerpted from “Cassia County Idaho The Foundation Years” by Kathleen Hedberg and used by permission of its owners.
Kathleen Hedberg is the author of “Cassia County the Foundation Years” and “A Flood Can’t Happen Here”, and she’d love to hear from you. Drop her a note at [email protected].
Copies are available at: Cassia County Museum Corner of Hiland and Main, Burley, ID 83318, 208-678-7172 and Mini-Cassia Chamber of Commerce, 1177 7th Street, Heyburn, ID 83336 at 208-679-4793