Dam the Umatilla: the Hermiston Irrigation Project
If there should be, on an average, one family on each twenty acres, and as many more families in the towns which will grow up in the tract, a dense population of thrifty and prosperous poeple will soon be permanently established on the plains that are now the habitation of jack-rabbits and coyotes.
Morning Oregonian, April 9, 1906
The Hermiston Irrigation Project, the first government irrigation project in the region, was built from 1906 through 1908, converting sand and sage to farm. Cold Springs Dam on the Umatilla River brought water from north of Echo through a feed canal 26 miles to the Cold Springs Reservoir. The diversion dam formed a storage reservoir 90 feet high and 4,000 feet long to hold the Umatilla's spring flood waters for summer use.
The canal carried water south and east of the town of Umatilla, flooding the first crops of melons and fruit in the region.
Cold weather, however, harmed melon crops and orchards, and farmers relied increasingly on wheat, grains, peas, and potatoes for profit. Government irrigation projects made large-scale farming possible, and marketing crops by river and rail became the keys to Umatilla County's future.