HistoryView – 100 Years of Water

History in Your Backyard
100th Anniversary of Woodward/Oakdale Reservoir
by Lloyd G. Ploutz, Historian

Congratulations to the South San Joaquin Irrigation District for its 100 years of service to the public of this area.

Our lakes, reservoirs, canals and dams all began in 1866 when C. C. Wright was elected to our State Assembly from the community of La Grange. He was a visionary from Iowa. In 1887 the “Wright Act” was passed in Sacramento to legalize public ownership of irrigation projects throughout California. This allowed the Modesto Irrigation, Oakdale Irrigation and the Turlock Irrigation Districts to be formed and then sell bonds to finance their projects It was not an easy sell as not all farmers and ranchers were not in complete agreement with cost and the benefits of organized water projects in the valley and the state.

The “Wheaton Dam” in La Grange was the first dam in Stanislaus County in 1852. It was privately financed to provide water for the town of La Grange and to meet the local demands of the gold miners for water and power. In 1891 the “La Grange Dam” was built right over the top of the Wheaton Dam. This was a joint venture of the Modesto Irrigation and the Turlock Irrigation Districts. This dam was completed in 1893. As stated above, thanks to the Wright Act of 1887 the districts were able to fund the projects with bond money. The La Grange Dam when completed was the tallest over the top flowing dam in the “WORLD” and it still stands to this day.


Water as always was a very political subject that lead to many people fighting over its use and its rights of ownership. Stanislaus County has Lake Don Pedro (the third largest lake in California), Lake Dawson, Lake Floto, Turlock and Modesto reservoirs. There are thousand of miles of developed canals in Stanislaus County which is why it is the number one reason for our success, growth and recognition as the major provider of food to the world.

This is a beautiful and breath-taking time of the year to go visit the lakes, reservoirs and dams in the Stanislaus area. Take your favorite food basket with you and be sure have some great wine and cheese for a tremendous day.
“Explore the area and have fun”



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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.