Streams of Gold


Decorative Y Logo Used to Start a Sentenceou cannot cure the tenderfoot tourist from cursing the rain that disturbs his outing plans. When he has paid his hundred dollars or so for railroad and Pullman fares and rolls down the Cajon or through San Gorgonio pass into the land of his dreams, he is exceedingly wroth when the sun does not shine in winter from early morning until late at night. He has paid his money to get into Climate with the capital C and no amount of argument will convince the tenderfoot that some rain now and then is necessary to sustain the luxurious growth all about him. Just as well you might try to cure the verdant sightseer of the ancient habit of consuming luscious ripe olives straight off the tree, of the tapping the olive tree for its oil or of planting the seeds of Washington navel oranges. He does not know any better, but if he stays - and most of them do stay sooner or later - learns rapidly, and one of the first lessons hammered home into his cranium is the fact that rainwater, despised, loathed and unappreciated in the east, has astounding value in the west.

In the irrigated West four factors enter into the determination of land values of a certain district. The basic factor, of course, is the fertility of the land. In the arable portions of San Bernardino County beds of vegetable mold have been penetrated at a depth of 150 feet below the surface, an indication of the vast food supply that may be drawn upon by cultivated plants. The other three factors determining the value of the land are water, climate and marketing facilities. The 40,000 acres of orange groves, the equally large number of deciduous orchards, of olives and vineyards, of berry patches and vegetable ranches testify to the growing power of the climate. When transportation facilities are mentioned, the San Bernardino Valley proudly points to the fact that there is scarcely a square mile in its limits not reached by the main line or a branch of the three transcontinental railroads centering in the valley, with a network of modern, up-to-date trolley lines intersecting and crossing the numerous steam tracks in every direction. And when the water question is raised, the San Bernardinan leads the inquirer to a hole in the ground a thousand feet deep, out of which spout three million gallons of the precious fluid every 24 hours, perhaps the largest artesian well in the West, a well that is the property of the city of San Bernardino and can be duplicated and triplicated without trouble.

A Flowing Well on a Dairy Farm and an Artesian Spouter
There are Many Sources of Underground Water Supply. Here are Shown a Flowing Well on a Dairy Farm and An Artesian Spouter Justly The Pride of the City Water Commissioners.

Throughout the arid West development is limited by the amount of available water that can be used for irrigation purposes. Land, good fertile land, there is in plenty, but the water does not go around. Therefore the region that has the greater supply of water has the greater future, the other factors being equal. Of course, the so-called dry-farming has been practised [sic] in the San Bernardino Valley from the time Padre Dumetz guided the first plow through the virgin soil, and today many square miles of fertile land furnish good crops of barley and hay with no other moisture except the showers that fall in winter and spring, but compared with the yield of an irrigated acre the crop of the dry-farmed field is insignificant. The natural rainfall will produce a profit of not more than $8 to $10 per acre, while irrigation will boost the average yield per acre to $150 or more, rising as high as $1000 per acre in a season under especially favorable circumstances. Five acres intensively cultivated with the aid of irrigation will easily support a family in the San Bernardino Valley. If everyone of the six million fertile acres in the valley could be irrigated, a population of at least two million people would make a comfortable living in the district.

The irrigation of six million acres is, of course, not to be thought of. The available water supply falls far short of this figure. At present approximately 60,000 acres are under the ditch in San Bernardino county, most of the irrigated area lying in the San Bernardino Valley. Practically every drop of water used for irrigation comes from the mountain range to the north and east of the valley, nine permanent streams carrying the moisture from the crest to the plain below. Besides supplying the artificial rain for the San Bernardino Valley acres in the summer, these mountains also keep alive immense areas of orchards in Riverside and Orange counties.

The San Bernardino Valley, however, has not only the first whack at the water as it comes out of the hills, but the valley also owns the largest natural underground reservoir in the southern part of California, an artesian basin lying beneath thousands of acres of the valley's surface. These nine perennial streams and the artesian basin a basin with such an abundance of water that its contents burst forth out of the ground in a mighty stream and form a large brook, Warm creek, constitute the greatest asset of the San Bernardino Valley.

Historical Image of Fire Fighters in San Bernardino
Fires Do Not get Much of a Start in San Bernardino


What use has the Valley of Plenty made of this asset? Has it squandered and wasted it, or has it husbanded its resources of liquid gold?

Irrigation in the United States was born in the San Bernardino Valley when the mission fathers a hundred years ago, with the aid of the docile Indians, built the first irrigation ditch or zanja in the country, conducting the water of Mill creek to the site of the settlement between what is today San Bernardino and Redlands. It was a crude affair, this first zanja, a wide and shallow ditch, a furrow that absorbed and evaporated as much water as it delivered at the fields. When the water was not needed for irrigation, it was allowed to run to waste, there being a plentiful supply and a small demand for the moisture. Today irrigation is practised [sic] in a different manner in the San Bernardino Valley. Flumes and ditches conduct the water without the loss of a drop to the fields and orchards; instead of flooding the ground, the water is distributed over the soil in deep furrows and after every irrigation the ground is thoroughly cultivated and broken up in order to prevent the evaporation of the water fed into the thirsty soil. In such a scientific, economical manner is the water spread over the ground that an acre of citrus fruit in the San Bernardino Valley producing annually ten tons of fruit requires but one-fifth of the quantity of water used in Wyoming to make an acre produce a ton and a half of grain, even though the climate in the San Bernardino Valley is drier and hotter than in Wyoming. In other words, the same quantity of water renders five times more service in the San Bernardino Valley than in Wyoming and a dozen other arid states. By this parsimony in the application of water, coupled with frequent cultivation, the area that can be irrigated with the available water supply is not only increased many times, but the results are better. By sparse application of water the soil is kept in the pink of condition all the time and the quality of the crop is improved. If the advanced irrigation methods practised in the San Bernardino Valley were applied throughout the land of the ditch in the West, the cultivated area under irrigation could be increased five times without adding a drop to the water supply as it exists.

Image of a Dam of the Bear Valley Reservoir
Dam of the Bear Valley Reservoir, Capacity 100,000,000,000 Gallons.
One of the Most Notable Water Systems in the World. Now Being Enlarged.

Though the San Bernardino Valley is the mother of irrigation in the United States, though, in this valley the application of water to the soil has become an exact science, though the half score mountain streams rushing down the precipitous south slope of the range have become veritable streams of gold, their water commanding higher prices than the water of any stream on the globe, the limit of development has by no means been reached. Two storage projects under construction will furnish water enough for at least 20,000 additional irrigated acres, and since one acre under the ditch in the San Bernardino will support one person in comfort, an additional population of at least 20,000 will find sustenance upon the completion of these two projects alone.

Less than 25 years ago the slope of the heights in the southeastern part of the valley overlooking the approach to San Gorgonio pass were inhabited solely by a handful of bleating sheep nibbling the sparse grass in the shade of the sagebrush patches and between the clumps of cactus.. Today thousands of acres of orange groves worth at ]east $1000 per acre cover the same slope. A beautiful city of 12,000 is nestling among the orchards; the white palaces of millionaires are rising out of tropical foliage, and rose-covered cottages testify to the rewards of manual work. And all this magic transformation, brought about in the short span of a quarter century, was caused by the building of a comparatively small dam across the narrow mouth of a wide valley far up in the mountains. The roots of Redlands and its far-famed orange groves lie in the Bear Valley reservoir, in the tranquil lake a mile above the city. Bear Lake is both mother and father of city and orchards. Today workers are busy building a new dam twice the height of the present structure, a dam that will more than double the capacity of the reservoir, that will store enough water not only to insure abundance of moisture for present needs in dry seasons, but also to supply many additional acres and homes. And every acre added to the irrigated area of the valley will redound directly to the benefit of the city of San Bernardino. Every additional carload of fruit shipped out, every new carload of goods shipped in to supply the wants of the new settler means more work for San Bernardino, every new dollar coming into the valley means more purchases in the valley's business center. No matter where the water goes in the valley, San Bernardino will benefit, as will every other social and business center about the nucleus.

To the east, between the towering peaks of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio, the deep cleft of the Santa Ana river and its tributaries reaches far into the heart of the range, enabling the irrigators to drain the water out of the heights clear to the edge of the slope that drops into the shimmering desert. To the north of San Bernardino the crest extends in a solid wall, unbroken for many miles, sheer, precipitous from the pine-fringed summit to the base resting on the level plain, with no cleft through which to conduct the water resources of the vast north slope into the valley. Consequently only those streams. rising on the short slope were available for irrigation, while the creeks of the chains and canyons to the north emptied themselves into the sands of the Mojave desert, but a small portion of the water being put to work. The old order is changing. The entire Mojave river and its tributaries, Deep creek, Holcomb creek and Crab creek, are to change their course from north to south, their floods are to be stored in vast reservoirs and through tunnels many miles long, tunnels that pierce the heart of the range, they are to flow into the valley, calling thousands of acres into new life, a veritable torrent of wealth and abundance.

Image of the Headwaters of Lytle Creek
Headwaters of Lytle Creek, One of the Sources of the City's Water Supply, One of the Sources of the City's Water Supply

The diversion and storage works of the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company now rapidly nearing completion after nearly two decades of the most careful preliminary steps, are among the most solid and well built examples of hydraulic construction in the world. The difficulties to be overcome were immense. If water as applied to the soil of the San Bernardino Valley did not produce such wonderfully large and valuable crops, it would not have paid to undertake the work. The harnessing of the Gunnison River in Colorado, the driving of a tunnel through a mountain chain in order to divert the Gunnison water from the narrow canyon of the Gunnison into the wide and arable valley of the Uncompahgre, attracted world-wide attention. Lift your eyes to the crest of the mountains in the north, where, on a somewhat smaller scale, the Gunnison feat is being exceeded. Instead of turning the water of one river through one chain, the engineers in the San Bernardino mountains have to divert three streams, build seven miles of tunnels through two intervening ranges to force the water at right angles from its original direction into two storage reservoirs which, in turn, are separated from the valley to be irrigated by another towering chain through which a tunnel ten miles in length has to be driven in order to deliver the stream at the orchards. Besides these series of tunnels 8 and 10 miles long, respectively, a third tunnel system has been built to connect the storage reservoir in Grass Valley with the main lake in Little Bear Valley. Nothing short of a cataclysm will be able to disturb the flow of water through its tunnels in the living rock when the work is completed. Rain, snow, wind, frost, landslides, falling trees and bounding rocks, nothing will be able to stop the current flowing through the heart of the chain. A dam 200 feet high. 20 feet wide at the top and 880 feet long, with a concrete core wall clear down to bed rock, will form the main reservoir in Little Bear Valley covering 883 acres and attaining a depth of 160 feet. An amount of water equal to 61,000 acre-feet will be stored in the reservoir, and at least 20,000 dry acres will be brought to the highest state of productiveness by means of the stream that will spring from its rocky portal close to the symbol of the Arrowhead on the precipice. Besides the new ditches the stream will fill, on its descent of a mile the water will actuate the turbines in two large power plants, adding still more current to the already large supply of cheep electricity available in the San Bernardino Valley.

The name and the wealth of Jas. N. Gamble, the Cincinnati soap millionaire and president of the company building the works, is guarantee for the pushing of the construction work to an early completion, while the business and technical experiences of Victor C. Smith, the vice-president, gives a bond for the quality of the work done.

Though there are said to be persons who can get along without water year after year, the average human being needs aplenty of the life-giving moisture. Water for irrigation purposes is important, but still more important is water to drink, to wash and to cook. Los Angeles is going 250 miles and spending thirty millions to acquire a supply large enough for three times its present population. San Bernardino already has enough water for four times its number of inhabitants and can get more as soon as it is needed, without going away from land it already owns. One gusher, one artesian well 1000 feet deep, is sufficiently strong in its flow to give every man, woman and child in the city 200 gallons a day to consume, without counting the water from other city wells and from the one-twelfth portion of perennial Lytle creek owned by the city. Whenever the eternal water question comes up for discussion, San Bernardino County can boast of having the best-watered valley of Southern California in its borders, a valley that feeds the ditches of two other counties, and the city of San Bernardino can boast of having the best, amplest and most reliable system of municipal water works in the Golden State, both points deserving much cogitation on the part of the man who seeks a home in the arid West.

Return to the Table of Contents