Section II: Dam the Rivers
All the Water for All
slogan of the Umatilla River Irrigation League
In some parts of the year, why you [could]
walk all over it. You know, going between here and Hermiston, I used
to walk along the rocks, along the river. It just had trickles running.
Margaret D'Estrella interview, 1999.
Three Mile Diversion
Dam near Irrigon on the Umatilla, circa 1905.
Courtesy of the Umatilla Museum and Historical Foundation
for farms along the rivers and a few communities, at the turn
of the century the region was still one of wide open spaces. Jackrabbits,
rattlesnakes, and wild game birds were as plentiful as the herds of cattle,
sheep, and horses thriving on the plentiful bunchgrass of the arid Umatilla
of the rivers determined the agricultural potential of the land. With
the Reclamation Act of 1902, irrigated farming became possible through
federal government assistance, and an
era of government irrigation projects began on the Umatilla River. Settlers
living in Umatilla City irrigated land with Columbia and Umatilla River
water. By 1926, so much water was appropriated
for irrigation that the Umatilla ran dry in the summer and early fall.
Salmon that had spawned for centuries in the pools and rocks of the eighty-mile
river became extinct.
at Three Mile Dam My
granddad told me one time that he saw salmon so thick in the Umatilla
River, you could walk across the river on their backs, but that was back
in the late 1800s. And the irrigation project changed all that. Alva
Stephens, lifelong Umatilla resident
about Furnish Dam, built in 1909- "Brown Silt Kills Dam; Old Problem"
Act of 1902
Archive * Documents Archive
Oral History Archive
Bibliography & Web Resources