“A Condensed and Systematic Review”: Local Conditions in State Engineer William Hammond Hall’s “Irrigation in Southern California,” 1888, Part Five

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Having covered some of the very interesting and informative history of irrigation ditches with the zanja system, dating back to the 1781 founding, of Los Angeles in State Engineer William Hammond Hall’s important 1888 report, Irrigation in Southern California, we now look at a sampling of works and projects in other areas of Los Angeles County.

The southeastern section of the county would, the following year, split off into Orange County and Hall covered areas primarily connected to the Santa Ana River, which “after leaving San Bernardino valley, on its course to the sea, breaks through the Coast Range [Chino Hills and the Santa Ana Mountains range] by open cañon,” with the narrowest space between the two then just 300 hundred yards, a far cry from how the 91 Freeway cuts through the area today.


The river then hugged closer to the Chino Hills side on the north and then moved towards what we now know as the Anaheim Hills area of the city of Anaheim on the south before getting to “Burruel point” at today’s Olive community at the north end of the city of Orange “and then turns sharply towards the southwest.

The oldest irrigation there was the Yorba ditch, built in 1835 by the owner of Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana, Bernardo Yorba. The channel,about a mile west of the canyon’s mouth, was on the north side of the river and extended some 3 1/2 miles. Hall noted “it is a primitive work” with about five feet width and a foot of depth and, being “in a sandy, permeable bottom-land . . . thus loses a large part of its waters.” It was utilized “by a community of twenty five to thirty irrigators, almost all of whom are native Californians and Mexican descent” and”first took its waters at Bedrock cañon, and irrigated lands ofthe bottoms on the way down, and also used to furnish water-power for a mill.” There were a pair of ditches Yorba aded about that period, but “the flood of 1862 destroyed them all, and then the present ditch was [re]built, and has ever since been used.


Later was the development of three canals, the Cajon, and Old and New Anaheim, by the Anaheim Union Water Company, with the heading at the river for the older Anaheim channel abandoned, though the works were joined with the others, which could operate together or independently as circumstances warranted. The company covered twelve miles from the mouth of the canyon and provided water for those “who have acquired water-rights by purchase of the company, or who have contributed to the construction of some of the works, in days gone by.” Hall discussed the formation of the Anaheim colony by the Los Angeles Vineyard Association, comprised mainly of German immigrants who acquired 1,165 acres of the Rancho San Juan y Cajon de Santa Ana, in 1857.

The old channel, constructed that year and used only by the Anaheim Water Company for the town until 1869 when up to 800 acres outside it were irrigated by it, was about a half mile from the canyon mouth and went westward for some eight miles to Burruel point and beyond, though “no headgate was ever constructed for this work, because of the very unstable character of the river, which here spreads out in a broad bed of quicksand, over a thousand feet wide, and with no defined backs whatever to guide it.”


Bank protection was provided with willow trees, the rots of which created a matting on the bottom and sides, though there was still a “very great loss of water by percolation, and, of course, the willows themselves appropriated no inconsiderable part of the supply.” Moreover, silting was a constant problem, even when sand gates were added to wash the sand to the river, but “the relief was quite insufficient.”

With the drought conditions of the late 1870s, “matters were in a desperate strait for the Anaheim people,” whose water company acquired half of the ditch of the Cajon Irrigation Company”, which was built by a predecesor enterprise in 1874 and was further up the canyon and had a better supply. The two companies were engaged in a bitter lawsuit over water rights before the acquisition. Just prior, in 1878, the Cajon firm bought the North Anaheim Canal Company, launched in 1872 to irrigate lands north and west of Anaheim. In spring 1879, flume connection was made some 7,000 feet long “into the old ditch over a mile and a half below its former heading” and sent water fivea and a half miles to Anaheim.


The new Anaheim ditch “taps the Santa Ana river, three and one tenth miles by the river above the lower end of the cañon . . . and extends to the lower canal supplying-flume at the cañon’s mouth, into which it delivers its waters to be distributed by the old system.” Some work was begun on a pair of reservoirs, with efforts in 1887 including the construction of a levee and “the company hope[s] to make it tight by driving sheep and cattle through it,’ so it was not then in use. An old ditch called the Kramer [Samuel Kraemer married into the Yorba family in the late 1860s] “diverted water from the river years before the original Anaheim canal was built and took supply by arrangement with the Anaheim Union firm.

To the north in Pomona, established in 1875, water was taken from San José Creek, in turn fed by cienegas, or springs, at the base of the San Gabriel, known commonly then as the Sierra Madre, range, as well as artesian wells and diversions from San Antonio Creek, which emerged out of the canyon of that name, where F.P.F. Temple once had a saw mill. The oldest irrigation works was known as the Pomona Old Settlement or Palomares, the latter being one of the two families that long owned the Rancho San José.


Ygnacio Palomares, who owned the northern portion of the ranch, began selling pieces not long after he and Ricardo Vejar were granted the San José in 1837 and this became known as the Old Settlement tract. The earliest settlers were the Alvarados, who built an adobe house very close to the Palomares’ Casa Primera and, in 1840, dug what was known as the Alvarado ditch. Palomares had an irrigation ditch dug in 1847 diverting from San Antonio Creek, while a brother-in-law Juan Nepomuceno Alvarado and Alvarado’s son had their own ditches until these were sold to the Palomares family in the mid-1860s. Ygnacio’s son Francisco sold 2,000 acres to C.F. Loop and Alvin Meserve, including these three irrigation ditches.

As for the Old Settlement tract, with the last sale occurring in 1872, it was just over 450 acres and was “immediately north of the town proper, and extends westerly to and close along the San José creek where the channel rounds the point of the San José hills,” likely the east end where Ganesha Park is today. The ditch drew from the northeast side of the creek a half-mile or so from the hill and then headed south and southeast for les than a mile before branching into three channels spreading southeast and southwest. As was the case with older examples, “it is a primitive earthen ditch . . . but commands only a portion of the Old Settlement lands,” with the rest supplied by the Pomona ditch of the Pomona Land and Water Company, the current developer in 1888.


The engineer added that “the owners of the Old Settlement lands hold this old ditch as a common property,” though voluntarily and without any organization, except that three commissioners were elected yearly who appointed someone who issued water tickets issued monthly for diversion by each irrigator as well as to oversee ditch maintenance. The number of irrigators was 43 with the largest working 25 acres and the smallest a half an acre, with crops including cirtus, grapes, deciduous fruit, walnuts, olives, alfalfa and summer crops.

In 1875, the Los Angeles Land Immigration and Land Cooperative Association, which earlier established Artesia, southeast of Los Angeles, and which secured loans from the Temple and Workman bank, formed Pomona and bought unsold water rights from the Palomares family from San Jos Creek, the springs and artesian lands. That year, a ditch was dug and, because another channel from the same source was used by the Palomares family, it was known as the Old Settlement, or Old Pomona, ditch.


The founders of Pomona also drained the springs and had artesian wells bored, while forming the Pomona Water Company, stock of which was included in the sale of lands with the amount of water based on the acreage acquired. Some 300 acres were sold when, in 1879, three years after the failure of Temple and Workman and the onset of a major econmomic downturn in California, the Association went bankrupt and the lands, including 300 sold as part of the initial development of Pomona, reverted back to owner Louis Phillips, who acquired the Vejar portion of San José in the 1860s.

In fall 1882, the Pomona Land and Water Company acquired the town lands from Phillips and had water-rights for some 25 square miles including diversions from San Antonio Creek after a lawsuit with a company that had claims and rights on the east side of that watercourse, so that each had half the water in the creek, with four main works (Pomona, Palomares, Del Monte and Cañon) developed. The Pomona company set up four companies to handle irrigation from each of the four works.


One of the more contested areas of water rights was along the San Gabriel River as it emerged from the canyon of that name. The earliest ditch was dug in 1843 on the Rancho Azusa east of the river by its grantee Luis Arenas and, after the ranch became the property of English-born Henry Dalton, the channel was enlarged, remaining in his control from about 1853 to 1868. Dalton claimed a large acreage, but there were squatters on much of that and, when Henry Hancock drew a survey of Azusa, it left Dalton about 4,500 acres, far less than he claimed (he told the census taker in 1880 that his occupation was “Fighting for My Rights” as a result of his many battles at Azusa.)

Dalton’s cultivated and irrigated lands were left out of his confirmed grant, though relatives and friends acquired most of the tract, which wound up being sold due to his financial problems. New settlers, along with the previous squatters, squabbled with Dalton about water access from the river and diverted in the ditch that was again enlarged by the 1870s. Dalton wound up in protracted lawsuits filed against the settlers and the latter received 75% of the water and he retained the remainder.


In the early 1880s, not long before his death, Dalton lost the Rancho Azusa to Jonathan R. Slauson, a Los Angeles banker, and Henry Martz, a Michigan resident, with the latter taking Slauson’s interest. Martz battled with the settlers concerning water and a settlement was reached before a federal court ruled on the matter, with the 1884 agreement giving the settlers 17/24 of the precious fluid and Martz the rest.

To further confuse the situation, the Rancho Azusa de Duarte on the west side of the river also had irrigators diverting water, while the formation, in 1887, as a massive boom was underway in greter Los Angeles, of the railroad town Covina added to the contesting of water rights. As was the case with the older ditches in the region, the Azusa ditch “has always been a very wasteful work, and its location is not economical of grade any more than its characterand construction is economical of water.” This led to the formation in 1882 of the Azusa Water Development and Irrigation Company for the “Old Settlement” lands, but financial problems brought about thepurchase of large amounts of stock by others, including Covina founder Joseph S. Phillips (no relation to Louis Phillips of Pomona). Consequently, the old ditch became known by his name.


What followed, however, became known in Hall’s report as “The Duarte-Azusa War” as Phillips brought water from San Gabriel Canyon, via the old ditch as well as a new works involving a tunnel at the canyon, to his new town. In November 1884, however, irrigators from the west side of the river, including those involved with the Duarte Mutual and Beardslee canal (named for early settler Nehemiah Beardslee) works, served notice to the Covina irrigators that they claimed a third of all the river water up the capacity of their newly improved and expanded works and any infringement was trespassing.

By summer 1887, the matter came to a head

when a conflict arose between the Duarte and Azusa settlers, on the one side, and the managers of the Covina ditch [on the other.] The settlers turned all the water out of the new [Covina] ditch, and under arms held possession of the headworks. This led to a suit for an injunction, brought by the Azusa Water Development and Irrigation Company against all other water claimants, which is termed the “Omnibus” case.

During the irrigating season of 1887 the greatest confusion and discord prevailed. The old settlers held possession of the waters by force of arms; numberless legal processes were invoked, and repeated arrests and trials were had. Finally, at the openin gof the present season, the superior court, to prevent a recurrence of the scenes of the former year, rendered an interlocutory decree in the “Omnibus” case, and placed the waters in charge of a receiver . . .

The use of arms included dynamiting some of the tunnel bringing water to Covina, but, in 1888, Superior Court Judge Anson Brunson rendered a decision allowing for the Azusa and Duarte folks to have up to the capacity and use of their systems, while the Covina people were allowed to have the water diverted through its tunnel and to any surplus up to the capacity of that works.


Even then, however, when a new trial was ordered on an amended complaint, it was determined that existing law did not provide for the type of irrigation districts and water commissioners that were then in use. The result, in January 1889 just a few months after the publication of Hall’s report, was that Slauson, Charles Silent, owner of a large estate in Glendora, and Moses L. Wicks, also of Glendora, got the warring factions together and brokered a compromise for the distribution, handled by a commission, of river water to the parties.

We’ll return tomorrow with the final part of this post, looking at other irrigation works in the county, including those involving members of the Workman and Temple families, so be sure to check back in for that conclusion.

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