MEMORIES: MY SEVENTY-TWO YEARS IN THE ROMANTIC
OF YUBA CALIFORNIA
BY W. T. Ellis
with an introduction by Richard Belcher
EUGENE: THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
PRINTED BY JOHN HENRY NASH
Copyright, 1939, by W. T. Ellis, Marysville
DEDICATED TO MY OLD HOME TOWN MARYSVILLE
Zero Reading on D Street Gauge
IN 1872 a wooden bridge was constructed across the Yuba River at the foot of D Street. The following year, some one decided that there should be a gauge erected on the down stream side of this bridge and on March 22, 1873, this gauge was placed in position and zero on the gauge was the surface of the water in the river that day. Just why this zero was not placed at the then bottom of the river as no doubt in the later summer months of that year, the river no doubt got lower and the surface of the water was presumably below the zero reading, no one seems to know. In any event, zero is without question the low water reading of that date when it was installed.
I have at various times, had this zero “tied in” with other datum planes and same are as follows:
Zero was the low water mark of the Yuba River on March 22, 1873.
Zero reads 55.00 on Western Pacific Railroad datum.
Zero reads 53.39 on Southern Pacific Railroad datum.
Zero reads 46.83 on U.S. Geological Survey datum.
Zero reads 51.67 on State Engineering Department datum.
Zero reach 51.83 on California Debris Commission datum for Yuba River.
Zero reads 50.43 on California Debris Commission datum for all other rivers.
Gauges on Marysville Levee System
OUTSIDE RIVER GAUGES
Goodyear's Bar, 4 miles from Yuba River. Downieville.
Low water reading 2.9 feet
High water reading 17.0 feet
Colgate Power House. Yuba River.
Low water reading --2.0 feet
High water reading 22.0 feet
Los Plumas Power House. Feather River.
Low water reading 455.0 feet
High water reading 481.0 feet
Oroville, on Bridge. Feather River. U.W.S.B.
Low water reading
High water reading 26.3 feet
Because the Yuba River at the D Street bridge has scoured about 13 feet since 1905, they believe that this will result in a lower flood plane, but such is not the case under the new existing conditions. For example, the flood of 1907 registered 22 feet 3 inches at D Street (when scour had just commenced) while in 1937 the flood, registered 25 feet 8 inches (when there had been a 13-foot scour).
The scouring of the river bed DOES however expedite the lowering of the flood plane peak. For example, in the 1907 flood, it took eleven days to drop to the 13-foot mark (level with D Street) while in 1937 it took only five days to drop to this 13-foot mark.
EVERY time a flood occurs, I am asked about the security of the levees; is there any danger of them breaking from the pressure of the water against them, particularly at some places where the flood waters extend for several miles against the levees, the general opinion being that the less the expanse of water against the levee, the less the pressure. This idea is of course incorrect, the pressure against the levees, say between Marysville and Yuba City, where the river is comparatively narrow, is just the same as the pressure against our north levee, where the flood waters extend a distance of several miles. The pressure of water against the levees is determined by multiplying the depth of the water by 62.5. For example; if there is say, ten feet of depth of water against a levee, the pressure against every square foot of the levee at the first top one foot of water is 62.5 pounds and at the base of the levee, where the water is ten feet deep, then the pressure against every square foot of the levee's base is 625 pounds; this is what is called the “hydrostatic paradox.”
Now let us assume we have a levee, say 15 feet high, with a crown width of eight feet, with side slopes of 3 feet to 1 foot; this would make the base of the levee 98 feet thick. If the levee is constructed of heavy clay material (such as our levees are), this material will weigh about 100 pounds to a cubic foot, so if the levee is 98 feet thick at the base, then the weight of the levee material behind every square foot at the base would be 9800 pounds and the pressure of the water, if it was ten feet deep, would be 650 pounds, pressing against the 9800 pounds of levee material. This is what is called the “factor of safety” and in the above case, then the weight of the levee material is about fifteen times greater than the water pressure against it.
In our levee system at flood times, rarely have the flood waters remained against the levees more than a few days, but in the delta region on the lower rivers, the flood waters remain against the levees for many weeks and the material is mostly “peat” soil with poor foundations for the levees. The constant pressure of the water results in the water seeping into the levee material and softening the levee, and as a result, they have to have much greater thickness to their levees than we do at Marysville, where, as previously stated, the earth used in the levees is mostly heavy clay and the levees are situated on practically hard pan ground.
Even under these conditions, seepage occurs at various places, this seepage almost invariably being through the ground and under the base of the levee; this seepage water will show up perhaps close to the levee base; if such seepage is perfectly clear water, there is no occasion for alarm, but, if discolored muddy water is observed, that is a different matter and requires immediate investigation and attention.
Agitation for New Levee Commissioners
AFTER the 1904 and 1907 floods when so much money was being expended on the City's levee system, very largely under my plans and direct supervision, some citizens contended that both John C. White and W. T. Ellis Sr., were getting too old for the job; that they had performed their duties for many years, that the actual work was devolving on me and that it would be best to have two new and younger men on the Commission, I to be retained. This agitation was started by certain parties, with whom I had “crossed swords” at various times and, to me, it was quite obvious that the intention was to place me as a “minority member” of the Commission but at the same time, letting the public believe that they were very favorable to myself.
As soon as this proposal was made public, I immediately came out in the newspapers with an announcement (generally referred to as an ultimatum), that the three incumbent Levee Commissioners would again be candidates for the office and three opponents be placed in nomination; that if, as a result of the election, I should be elected and John C. White and W. T. Ellis Sr., were defeated, that I would decline to qualify for the position to which I had been elected. (This was in February 1908.) This resulted in there being six candidates for Levee Commissioners with three to be elected.
Great interest was taken by the public, it being the first time there had ever been a “scrap” for the position of Levee Commissioner, a position which paid no salaries or expenses, it being the idea in the original Act, that no one would aspire to the position except those who had the interests of the City and the safe maintenance of its levee at heart.
The election resulted in the three incumbent members being again elected, my father and myself, by safe majorities, but John C. White was elected by the close margin of only four votes over Mr. H. H. Dunning. This resulted in a contest commenced in the Court by Mr. Dunning, he claiming that the election officers had been careless in the counting, lax in their duties, etc. Mr. Dunning no doubt confident, that if he could win out over Mr. White, I would keep my word and refuse to act, in which case, my father would do likewise with the result that there would be an entirely new Board of Commissioners.
Mr. Dunning lost his contest, Mr. White was declared elected and the old Board proceeded to carry out the plans, which had already been formulated, for more levee work. There has never been a “contest” for the position of Levee Commissioner since.
Agitation to Widen the River at the D Street Bridge and Replace with a New Bridge at Simpson Lane
AS A RESULT of the floods of 1904, 1907 and 1909 coming so close together, each succeeding flood being higher than the preceding one and the bed of the Yuba River having been constantly raising for many years past, many citizens became alarmed and came to the incorrect conclusion that the width of the Yuba River at the D Street bridge was entirely too narrow, that the levee on the south bank should be set back about a half mile to the high ground and that the bridge across the river at the D Street bridge should be abandoned and that a new bridge should be constructed between Marysville and the south side of the river. This bridge was to follow the old Simpson Lane route, the terminal of the bridge to be near the Dunning Ranch, (site of the old historic “Yuba Dam”).
Not only were there many citizens of both the City and County who seemed favorable to the proposal, but the Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors became impressed with the idea. I was convinced that it would be a mistake and a costly error to carry out any such plan and immediately commenced to protest and air my reasons for my objections. I was immediately accused of objecting for selfish reasons; that I was objecting because the abandonment of the D Street bridge and the construction of the new proposed bridge at Simpson Lane would seriously and adversely affect the value of the Ellis Block on D Street, only one half block distant from the D Street bridge. For an actual fact, my father as well as Mr. White, the other two Levee Commissioners, while they did not express themselves, were, I knew, in rather a receptive mood towards the new proposal. I soon found out that I was about the only person in Marysville making serious objections to the plan; I had no control over the bridge or the levee on the south bank of the river and for the first time, I even doubted my influence with the other two members of our Levee Commission.
The Board of Supervisors addressed a long letter to the Marysville Levee Commission, setting forth their views and requesting a reply as to our point of view. This was replied to at length and I had both letters printed in a four page circular and circulated through the mails, for the public's information. I followed this up with another four page circular giving a lot of facts and figures endeavoring to demonstrate the mistake that would be made if the proposed plan were carried out; I showed that the bridge at D Street was 2000 feet long but that if the Simpson Lane plan was carried out, it would require several bridge openings as well as high earth embankments and that the total length of these bridges and embankments would be 9365 feet long. I contended that the proposed earth embankment for an elevated road, from the City levee on A Street, for a distance of about 1500 feet, to connect with the first bridge across the first river channel, would be at right angles to our levee and the flood flow, would cause a dangerous “pocketing” of the flood waters against the levee, making necessary the raising of the City levee at Yuba Square and some distance easterly upstream. I also showed that the cost of the project would entail an additional tax rate on the City of $1.45 for its share of the expense and an additional tax rate of $1.25 on the County; that the construction of this new route into Marysville and the abandonment of the D Street bridge, would be an inconvenience, not only to the traffic passing through Marysville to Sacramento but would also be an inconvenience to all the residents, directly south of Marysville, who would have to travel several miles easterly, then about two miles westerly to get into and out of town.
For about three months, there was a great deal of discussion and then an alternate proposal was advanced by some citizens which they called the “Lose the Yuba” project, which proposed that the Yuba River be entirely diverted from its present channel, at and for several miles above and below Marysville, by diverting the river, at the base of the foothills (where Hammonton is now located) and have a new channel for the river, with new levees on both sides of this channel, the new channel to run in a southwesterly direction to Plumas Lake, thence into the Feather River. Mr. Fred H. Greely, I believe, originated this plan and soon had many advocates and followers, particularly when it was demonstrated that the distance would be about 16 miles, and the fall in that distance was about 63 feet, or approximately four feet to the mile. This plan soon afterwards was “forgotten” after I had estimates made of the cost of diverting the river, of the cost of the two parallel levees, each some sixteen miles in length, also the cost of the land which would have to be acquired and paid for, for the rights of way for this new river channel and that most of these land owners were really in favor of the plan but were raising objections to enable them to “bolster up” their asking prices for such rights of way, when condemnation proceedings were commenced. This resulted in the “Lose the Yuba” project gradually “dying out” and then the public commenced to unite on the original project. Finally, a mass meeting was called for by the Board of Supervisors. I prepared a large map, on a large sheet of linen cloth, the map being about five feet wide and sixteen feet long. This map showed Marysville and the Yuba River, for several miles upstream and including the Feather River, down stream to and including the narrow channel at Hock Farm. All levees were shown in proper locations also various well known points of interest so that the average layman, unfamiliar with the situation, could grasp the idea which we were endeavoring to convey. The room was jammed full of interested citizens and twice as many were on the outside unable to get in. As practically everyone in the room was “for” the new project, I took up most of the time at the meeting explaining my reasons for being “against” the project. I gave comparisons between the discharge of the 1907 and 1909 floods, what had occurred during those two floods and showed the places on the river channels where fills and sand bars occurred where the width between levees was too great and where there was a contrary condition where river widths were reasonable and proper; I predicted that an additional width of about one-half mile at the D Street bridge would still further encourage the filling of the river and that the present width was ample and levee locations should be maintained as they now were. There were several heated arguments and when the meeting adjourned, I felt satisfied that I had convinced very few, if any, to my way of thinking. In desperation, I took the matter up with the California Debris Commission and Captain Thomas H. Jackson came to Marysville, at my request, and together we went over the whole situation and finally, in a letter addressed to the Levee Commission, sustained the arguments I had been making and disapproved of the setting back of the levee on the south side of the river. Shortly after, the annual cross-section we had made, disclosed for the first time, that while the three previous annual cross-sections, had indicated no fill in the river, this last cross-section showed a decided scour in the river. This fact and the report of Captain Jackson, had the desired effect; the plan was abandoned; the south levee was raised and then followed, some years later, the construction of the new concrete bridge across the river, at D Street, to replace the old wooden structure.
Why Our Present High Water Mark of 24 feet at Marysville will be Exceeded at Some Future Flood
PREVIOUS to the consummation of the present flood control plan, and particularly before the reclamation of some 60,000 acres of District No. 1500, generally known as the Armour project in the Sutter Basin, the Yuba, Bear and Feather rivers discharged their flood waters through Nelson Slough and other water ways to the south, into the Sutter Basin, where these waters mingled with the excess waters of the Sacramento River into this basin, making a flood width, west of Nicolaus of about eleven miles. Then these waters would discharge, partly down the Sacramento River itself, below Vernon, the greater portion discharging over the natural south banks of the Sacramento River, for a long distance, in the vicinity of Wild Irishman, Kenney and other bends of the river into the Yolo Basin, as there were no artificial or natural obstructions to the flood waters seeking escape into the Yolo Basin, thence south to Rio Vista and the bays below. Before reclamation and the flood control plan was completed, these basins contained the following approximate areas:
Colusa Basin 93,000 acres
Butte Basin 60,000 acres
Sutter Basin 116,000 acres
American Basin 53,400 acres
Sacramento Basin 32,300 acres
Yolo Basin 164,000 acres
Total Basin overflow area 518,700 acres
Since reclamation of the basins commenced and the Flood Control Plan has been completed, the following approximate areas in those basins have been reclaimed from storage of flood waters:
Colusa Basin 93,000 acres
Butte Basin 00 acres
Sutter Basin 91,995 acres
American Basin 53,400 acres
Sacramento Basin 32,300 acres
Yolo Basin 94,000 acres
Total area reclaimed 364,695 acres
Before all this reclamation occurred, the flood waters “hesitated” at these various basins and filled each one up in turn “with a good big drink,” then continued onward to discharge into the bays, thence to the sea. These immense basins acted as “big breathing equalizing reservoirs.” Now that these basins are reclaimed, the flood waters no longer have these basins at which to “hesitate” and fill with “a good big drink,” so in place of these floods hereafter traveling by “slow freight,” they now travel by “fast express”; in other words, before reclamation of these basin areas, there were about 518,700 acres in these “equalizing storage reservoirs” with a storage capacity of over four million acre feet of water, while now, remain only some 154,005 acres for that purpose, consisting largely of the by-pass areas. Before reclamation took place, these basins would not drain dry, sometimes until late in July, large quantities of the water no doubt seeping down into the ground and so maintaining a high underground water table under the floor of a great portion of the Valley. But now, with some 364,695 acres reclaimed, the flood waters passing through by-passes, with deep borrow pits on each side, drainage is rapid and almost 100 per cent perfect and flood waters have no opportunity to seep down in the ground and, in my opinion, this has been a large contributing factor in the rather alarming lowering of the water table, necessitating deeper and deeper wells for irrigation purposes.
Finally, when reclamation took place, the flood control plan with its by-passes were established and in the meantime, the rivers had been previously filled with debris, quite naturally higher flood planes in the rivers resulted. The world war, which brought great demands for products of the soil at very high prices for such products, no doubt resulted in a great deal of reclamation being accomplished which otherwise, would have never been accomplished for many years yet to come. This reclamation which was started in the first place with no comprehensive plan for the needs of the rivers, was what made imperative the flood control plan formulated by Captain Thomas H. Jackson of the California Debris Commission. It was a good plan but in my humble opinion there were some engineering errors made later on, when it was carried out, which, I firmly believe, will be demonstrated some time when a maximum flood occurs on ALL the rivers.
However, aside from the subject of this chapter, I am dwelling on “why our present high water mark of 24 feet will be exceeded at some future flood,” and the reasons for making that statement are as follows:
1. In a previous chapter, I have explained that the floods of the Bear, Yuba, Feather and Sacramento rivers would mingle and make an overflow width, west of Nicolaus of about eleven miles; the reclamation of the Sutter Basin has now narrowed that width, just below Nicolaus, to seven thousand feet or less than one and a half miles.
2. I have also explained in that same chapter how these combined flood waters had a free and unobstructed discharge into the Yolo Basin; such is not now the case as the flood entrance to the Yolo Basin is now regulated by a solid concrete weir, known as the Fremont Weir, which is about 9200 feet long and cost about one million dollars, the crest of this Weir being three and a half feet higher than the bottom of the Sutter By-pass, twenty-four miles upstream at which latter point, the Tisdale By-pass discharges into the Sutter By-pass. Theoretically, the length and height of this Fremont Weir is such that it will not raise the flood plane over what previous flood planes have been before the Sutter By-pass and Weir were constructed; I hesitate to concur with that conclusion and as yet, there has not been a major flood on the four upper rivers at the same time, since the by-pass and this Weir were constructed and only such a flood will give the correct answer.
3. The third and major reason is, the closing off of the escape waters at Hamilton Bend, about four miles down stream on the Feather River from Oroville and where from time immemorial, such waters have been escaping at extreme flood periods, in a westerly direction in the town of Biggs area. The flood control plan, called for levees to be constructed near the westerly bank of the Feather River, for a distance of about six miles but dredgers are now working there and now have possibly seventy-five per cent of the escape waters shut off for the next good flood and in due time, levees will be constructed for the remaining distance which will probably not be dredged but leveed.
The last big flood we had on the Feather River was in 1928 (before any dredging had commenced at Hamilton Bend and the escape waters did a large amount of damage to a large territory of farming land, also to the town of Biggs, as well as to the Southern Pacific and Sacramento Northern Railroads and to the canals of the Sutter Butte Canal Company.
As soon as that flood had subsided, I made a trip of investigation and ascertained that the flood waters had covered the State highway for a distance of about four miles with varying depths from one to six feet. Being desirous to have some estimate of what amount of water escaped in that manner, I immediately engaged Mr. E. A. Bailey (former State Control Engineer) to make an examination and survey; this he did and the final conclusion reached was that approximately 35,000 second feet of water had escaped in that flood and, by the way, this was not a maximum flood on the Feather River, it having been twenty-two inches lower at Oroville than it was in the 1907 flood and also did not have a long sustained flood, as had been the 1907 flood. This is the reason why all the levees on the Feather River have been raised during the last few years with State and Federal funds in anticipation of higher water planes, than have been recorded in the past.
4. For the three reasons given above, when a repetition of the discharge of the 1907 flood occurs on the Feather and Yuba Rivers, the present high water mark of 24 feet on the D Street gauge (and 24 feet 6 inches on our Feather River gauge) will be exceeded. On the Feather River gauge it is expected the flood plane will be raised an additional twenty inches. This is the theoretical assumption; as usual, the river itself will eventually give the correct answer; personally I am inclined to believe that a duplication of the 1907 flood discharge will exceed those estimates. This matter of a higher flood plane between Marysville and Yuba City should be a subject for serious consideration to those authorities having bridges between the two towns; I have brought the matter to their attention but as yet, without any results. When these two bridges at that location are reconstructed, they should be raised and have not less than fifty foot width for spans.
Being satisfied in my own mind that the closing off of the escape waters at Hamilton Bend will result in a greater increase of the flood heights between Marysville and Yuba City of 20 inches, I have, as fast as State and Federal funds are available, been “slabbing” and raising our levees, from the Jewish cemetery to K and 9th Streets and am planning on similar work from 9th and K Streets to the west end of the 5th Street subway, also the south subway wall, also easterly to the D Street bridge.
NOTE--Since the above was written, the flood of December 1937 has occurred and my prediction of an additional flood height of the Feather River between Marysville and Yuba City of possibly twenty inches has actually occurred, the increased height, however, actually being twenty-four inches; this, notwithstanding the fact that the Feather River at this flood was twelve feet below highest water dam) at Los Plumas Power house above Oroville, and nine inches below high water mark at Oroville. This apparent inconsistency can be explained by the fact that at Los Plumas Power house, situated on the North fork of the Feather River, the Lake Almanor Dam restrained considerable of the discharge from that fork of the river, while the south and middle forks of the river (down stream, from this (dam) did not have as large or as prolonged a discharge, as in the 1907 flood, when record flood heights were established.
Early Day Suggested Plans for Flood Control and First Reclamation Board Act
AS EARLY as 1878, C. E. Grunsky, Assistant State Engineer under State Engineer William Ham Hall, commenced investigations and prepared plans for flood and debris control in order to solve the vexed problems which finally resulted in the State constructing brush and earth dams on the Yuba and Bear rivers but which subsequent floods completely destroyed.
In 1880, a plan for a by-pass system was offered by Messrs. Hall, Alexander and Mendell but nothing was done. This was followed by a similar, but amended, plan by Messrs. Mawson and Grunsky in 1894; again nothing was done.
In 1904, Major Dabney, who had at that time had great success in flood control projects in the Yazoo District, adjoining the Mississippi River in Louisiana, was engaged to come to California and plan a flood control plan for the Sacramento Valley. He also made investigations and finally presented what is known as the Dabney Report. Major Dabney made no plans for by-passes, his recommendations were to set the levees back a very considerable distance from where they were located at or near the river banks, in an effort to give more channel way at flood periods. As such a plan would necessitate the acquirement of valuable properties, not only of lands but the improvements on same at an enormous expense, along the river banks for great distances, the plan was not adopted.
It was very fortunate indeed that none of these plans were ever carried out for the reason that none of them took into consideration the volume of flood discharge of which the rivers were capable and as demonstrated later on in the flood of 1907; had they been carried out, they would have proved complete failures.
I was personally acquainted with all of these engineers and when Major Dabney was out here, I made it my business to get in touch with him and have him make an inspection of our Marysville levees and pass his judgment on same. I entertained him for a day here and upon his return to Louisiana, received a letter from him thanking me for the courtesies shown him and paying a compliment to our method of levee building, and particularly for the system of giving proper channel capacity for flood waters on both the Yuba and Feather rivers above Marysville, in marked contrast with the system prevailing on the Sacramento River, where most all levees were at, or close to, the river banks.
It was later on that large capital commenced to be interested in reclaiming large areas of the various tule basins and their proposed plans disclosed that they were not taking any heed of the requirements of the rivers' channel capacity at excessive flood periods. General Will S. Green, publisher of the Colusa Sun, had long taken an interest in flood problems and he commenced to advocate in his newspapers that all present and future reclamation districts be turned into one great reclamation district, with one central control of management and with absolute control as to where levees should be constructed in the future. Believing in “Home Rule” in reclamation districts, I commenced to oppose his plans, at the same time agreeing with him that proper consideration must be given to the needs of the rivers at flood stages. I advocated separate and distinct reclamation districts but that the location of any new levees should be under the control of some State authority for necessary approval.
It was at this same time that Captain Thomas H. Jackson of the California Debris Commission was quietly formulating his flood control plan for by-passes after the disastrous experiences of the 1907 flood. I had become well acquainted with the Captain we made a number of trips of investigation on the Yuba and Feather Rivers and I felt highly complimented one day, when at his office, he confidentially showed me the by-pass plan which he was working on. I was immensely impressed with the plan and told him of the idea I had of having some State control over new levees so that all new levees should conform with his plan and called his attention to the fact that tentative reclamation plans were already under way at various places which would interfere with his project; he agreed, but said he had no authority to stop such proposed works. Captain Jackson then finished and made public his by-pass plans for flood control in 1910. The West Sacramento Reclamation District plans were under way and their plans proposed “stealing” a long stretch, about one mile in width of the lowest portion of the trough of the Yolo Basin, just south of the Southern Pacific trestle. I then went and called on Mr. Lilenthal, President of that proposed reclamation and endeavored to dissuade him from extending his proposed reclamation west levee out so far into the Yolo Basin, but without results. I then took the matter up with Senator Boynton of Oroville and Assemblyman Hewitt of Yuba City, Speaker of the House, and Congressman Kent and urged the necessity of action and suggesting, that at the special session of the Legislature, which Governor Johnson was about to call for action on other matters, that his call include some recommendation for State control. At that same time, Congressman Kent came to Marysville for a visit and I broached the subject to him and he stated that he would go at once to Sacramento and see the Governor. He suggested that I do likewise, which I did a few days afterward, but before doing so, I called on Mr. E. A. Forbes, who was then proprietor of the Marysville Appeal and presented my ideas and on November 10, 1911 he had inserted an article embodying my views. A few days afterward, on November 18, 1911, I was in San Francisco to meet Congressman Humphreys of Washington at a banquet tendered him at the Hotel St. Francis; this was followed by a day trip up the river to Sacramento on the Steamer Navajo to make an inspection of the Sacramento River; there were many notables on board and I had an opportunity to urge my plan for some State control, with the assistance of Congressman Kent, who was one of the party.
Governor Johnson issued a call for a special session of the Legislature on November 18, 1911, and included in his call, his desire for some legislation for a reclamation control body. Under date of November 23, 1911, Mr. Forbes' local newspaper, The Appeal, had the following article; --
THANKS TO THE GOVERNOR
“In his call for a special session, the Governor has put Yuba County especially, and the valley in general, under obligations by including in the subjects which the Legislature may legislate upon, the two most important at this time for the valley and this County.
“He has adopted the idea of our W. T. Ellis, Jr., to place the reclamation districts under the control of some State body so that in the future they may not conflict with the great idea of reclaiming the whole valley. Mr. Ellis' views have already been fully set forth in these columns. His position as the greatest expert in the matter in the valley leaves no doubt of their wisdom and it is a subject of general gratification that the Governor has arranged to allow them to be enacted into law at the special session. Yuba County and Marysville is to be congratulated upon having such a valuable citizen as Mr. Ellis.”
On November 27, 1911, the Legislature convened; a Bill had been drawn up creating a State Reclamation Board; the Bill was passed and was approved by Governor Johnson on December 12, 1911.
About five months later, I received a letter from Governor Johnson to call and see him on May 18, 1912; I did so and much to my surprise he handed me his appointment of myself to be a member of the new State Reclamation Board and informed me that the other two members were to be Mr. V. S. McClatchy of Sacramento and Mr. Peter Cook of Rio Vista. Seven days later, (May 25, 1912) we met and perfected organization, Mr. McClatchy being elected President and I was elected Secretary. We were to serve without salary and pay our own expenses and pioneer a thirty-three million dollar project; I did not realize at the time what very interesting and “warm” sessions we were going to have for the next few years. In 1913, the second Reclamation Board Act was adopted, increasing the membership from three to seven, giving additional powers and, this time, making an allowance to each member for expenses. This new Act also created the Sacramento and San Joaquin Drainage District, comprising 1,726,553 acres of which about 500,000 acres were in the San Joaquin Valley.
Seasonal Weather Variations and Rainfall Records
OFT times, after a series of wet winters or dry winters or perhaps a series of hot summers or cool summers, various people will remark, “that the weather is changing,” but such is not the case; it is simply that “history is repeating itself,” changes in various cycles have occurred many times before, and actual “changes in the weather” take many centuries to account for.
It is a well established fact that there have been no material climatic changes in California for at least the past two hundred years. Since the discovery of gold in California, in 1849, much data has been kept from which rainfall curves, etc., may be constructed and which gives a complete history of weather conditions which have existed in California since that date; but prior to 1849, no known records had been kept and which could be available for a study of weather conditions in previous periods.
It is a peculiar condition that although there is a sufficient water supply in the State to meet its ultimate demands, the geographical distribution is very unequal. In the extreme northwestern part of the State, the normal rainfall is about 100 inches annually, while in the desert region, the normal in the southwestern portion there is practically no rain, while in the southwestern portion of the State, where such immense development has taken place, the rainfall and water supply is in short supply. Investigations have disclosed that 37.6 per cent of the State's waters originate in the North Pacific Coast Basin which contains only 1.9 per cent of the agricultural lands, whereas the South Pacific Coast Basin (Los Angeles area), has only 1.4 per cent of the water of the State with 10.00 per cent of the agricultural land and one-half the population of the State. In the San Joaquin Valley, with 36.3 per cent of the agricultural land, there is only 16.8 per cent of the water. We here in the Sacramento Valley area are particularly favored with more than ample water supply, in fact with a surplus when conservation plans are carried out in the future.
The great development in the southeastern portion of the State, the demand for more and more water, made necessary and possible the construction of the Boulder Dam. Previous to that, however, while rainfall records were available for that area since 1850, nothing was known of previous seasons' records except legends passed down by the Indian inhabitants of years of excessive rains and other years of severe drought, in addition to writings left by early explorers such as Fremont, Dana and others.
Then occurred, what to me is quite a remarkable thing; some one conceived the idea that some past history might be obtained from some of the old Mission buildings from records which might have been left by the Padres when, in 1834, the Mexican Government took from the Franciscan Padres control over the Indians and the Mission lands, and the Missions were sold, after having been in existence for the previous sixty-five years. Mr. H. B. Lynch, Consulting Engineer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was, I believe, the moving spirit in placing men to work who found in almost every one of the old Missions, safely stored away when the Padres departed, a mass of records which were highly instructive, enlightening and entertaining. The Padres had plenty of time, they were prolific writers and kept records of almost their daily doings and occurrences, weather conditions, etc., and from all the mass of data, a complete history of climatic conditions was obtained since 1769, when the Spanish Mission Fathers arrived in California. All this information was published in an intensely interesting booklet in 1931. A portion of the conclusions reached were that there had been no material change in the mean climatic conditions of Southern California in the past 162 years. That as to rainfall conditions, however, there had been both excess and deficiencies of greater magnitude than any which have occurred in the past forty years. That the deficiency in rainfall which lasted from about 1822 to 1832 was more severe than has been any occurring since. In a letter by Fr. Sanches of San Gabriel Mission to Fr. Lasuen, under date of April 26th, 1796, the former wrote: “In the year  preceding this, we saw ourselves compelled to send half of the neophytes for some months into the mountains to search for food after the manner of the savages, whilst we maintained those staying here on half rations and a little milk, until the time of the wheat harvest.” There are many similar records of great drought and at the same time, the contrary was also true, for in 1825, it is recorded: “The rivers were so swollen that their banks and the adjoining lands were greatly damaged.”
The season of 1840-41 was very dry and references appear in the records, for example, “During the winter prior to our arrival in California, that is during 1840-41, there had been very little rain and drought ensued. But little was raised in the Country; horses were thin and poor like most other horses in that dry season.”
The above are accounts of Southern California, but General Bidwell who entered the State in 1840, locating at Chico, wrote in his old diary, “THERE HAS BEEN NO RAIN FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS,” so apparently that year drought was State wide.
Then followed a great flood in the winter of 1841-42 and this was followed by a period of subnormal rainfall which lasted for forty-one years or until 1883.
It might be of interest to note that, on December 3rd, 1929, a San Jose newspaper printed the following: “California's unprecedented drought is not unprecedented, but comes on the one hundredth anniversary of one of twenty-two months' duration between 1828 and 1830. This is according to an old newspaper clipping in the possession of Mrs. William Chappell of San Jose. The clipping is pasted tightly in a scrapbook picked up years ago in a deserted mining cabin in a Northern California county. Dated 1864, the clipping refers to 'the great drought of twenty-two months' duration between the rains of 1828 and those of 1830, in which so little fell that every interest in the country suffered.' All the wells and springs of Monterey gave out during the drought and not only had the washing of the town to be done at the Carmelo River, three miles off, but the drinking water had also to be brought for the families.”
The year 1919 was a very dry season; the Sacramento Bee on August 25th, quoted Major P. M. Narboe, assistant State Engineer as stating that, “it was the dryest season experienced since 1877, there being an extreme scarcity of water in both the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valleys.” (I wonder if it was because that was the year the United States “went dry” with prohibition and the whole population, including myself, experienced a “drought.”)
So I repeat what I stated at the beginning of this chapter, that statements “that the weather is changing” are not correct; these cycles of a series of dry years and wet years, are simply, “history repeating itself.”
Since 1910, we have had a cycle of “below normal” rainfall and snowfall, but the last two winters would make it appear that the cycle is now broken and probably we are now entering into another cycle of wet years; that, however remains to be seen. The carrying out of the State's Water Conservation Plan is the answer to future protection against some future long cycle of dry years, which without question will surely occur.
How I Lost an Opportunity to be Sent to State Prison
IN 1913, a new Grand Jury had come into existence, and one day one of the members, Mr. Ike G. Cohn, a prominent merchant who had known me from childhood, came to my office and said he wanted to have a confidential talk with me. I suggested we talk just outside the office but he insisted that we go to the rear of the store, explaining that what he wanted to talk to me was very confidential and he had “been sworn to secrecy,” and that I must treat the information he was about to give me as strictly confidential. He certainly aroused my curiosity and I had not the slightest idea what was on his mind. He then informed me that it was in connection with the three members of the Levee Commission, particularly myself.
He said that the Grand Jury had met that day and that the Superior Judge had appeared before them and had told them it was their duty to indict all three members of the Levee Commission because during the 1907 flood, Mr. John C. White, one of the Commission had sold a lot of shovels and lanterns, etc., and that my father and myself, the other two members of the Commission had also sold a large lot of sacks to the levee for use during that flood. Also, that my father and myself had again, during the 1909 flood, sold a large number of sacks to the Commission, for use on the levee; that it was absolutely against the law for any of the three Commissioners to be interested in any way in the sale of such goods, etc., and demanded that the Grand Jury proceed to bring in indictments against us, particularly as it was a well known fact that we had done these things.
When Ike had finished his story, I told him I appreciated his coming to me and informing me “what was in the wind”; that I had heard “whisperings” in connection with this matter for some time, that it was about time to “shed the light of day” on such matters and bring the whole thing out in the open and that I wanted him to promise me, that he would tell the Grand Jury that they should bring in an indictment against me personally, because I had really been the one responsible and to use every effort to have an indictment found against me. He was rather surprised at my request, but as I told him that he would be doing me a personal favor, he promised to do so. He afterwards told me that he had done so, but the Grand Jury never took any action. Again, when the Grand Jury for 1908-09 was appointed, the matter was again brought to the attention of this new Grand Jury, and this time, without any names being used, the Appeal commented on the recommended action in a news story. But again, the Grand Jury took no action.
Later on, when I left the Commission to become a member of the State Reclamation Board, I had our Levee Commission books experted by Mr. F. E. Smith, for the full time I had been President, and Mr. Smith's report was in very great detail; I had same published in a booklet of 24 pages and issued them broadcast. From same, I give herewith an extract of part of my report, which was attached to the Smith audit, which included some letters regarding the furnishing of sacks, etc.
“You will doubtless remember the high water of March 1907, and may also remember that all telephone and telegraph communications with upper Feather River points, were all cut off and no news of river conditions was obtainable on the evening of the 18th inst. At about 11 o'clock that night it was presumed that the river had about reached its greatest height but about midnight, however, another very unexpected and rapid raise of the river occurred on the north levee. Orders were hastily issued for teams and men to immediately assemble at the Ellis Company store, hardware stores were broken into and shovels and lanterns were obtained and taken to the Ellis store, where sacks were in readiness and within an hour over 150 men with supplies were on the north levee and many more followed shortly. I did not stop to consider the matter of sending about town to see if other firms had sacks for sale; I didn't have time, in fact I never was so busy in my life as I was just then; the Ellis Company I KNEW had the sacks for just such an emergency, they were handy, they were wanted P.D.Q. and they went to the front. For many years, it had been the practice of the Ellis Company to keep on hand during each winter season, an average of ten thousand sacks (grain sacks) left over from summer season sales; they were carried by the Ellis Company on their own account, they had their own money invested in them and were only kept in stock for levee emergency purposes; if not used, they would be sold the following season. Had I been technical and wasted time trying to find sacks elsewhere and then not found them and then had refused to use the Ellis Company sacks because it was illegal to have done so, Marysville would have been flooded that night.”
In 1909, as usual, the Ellis Company had sacks on hand for emergency purposes; the Southern Pacific Company had flood troubles before high water mark was reached at Marysville; they wanted sacks and I refused to sell them, as the following letters will show and which I obtained a few days after the flood had subsided.
Marysville, Calif. Jan. 18th, 1909.
THE W. T. ELLIS CO.
This is to confirm the several conversations had with you over 'phone the last few days wherein we asked that you sell us sacks which we desired for use in protecting our embankments and note your reply each time to the effect that you felt compelled to reserve for the City levees all the sacks you had on hand and referring us to the J. R. Garrett Company and the Sperry Flour Company of this City for supplies in this line.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY
R. F. WATSON, Agent.
It then appeared that the flood might be the greatest yet experienced and that we might not have enough on hand, so I inquired about additional sacks, as the following letters will show.
Marysville, Cal. January 20, 1909.
THE W. T. ELLIS CO.
We confirm conversation had with you over 'phone yesterday to the effect that we had sold all the grain bags we had on hand to the Railroad Company with the exception of 1000 sacks and these latter bags, as per your request we will reserve for the Levee Commissioners.
J. R. GARRETT CO.
By E. B. WILCOX.
Marysville, Cal. January 20, 1909.
THE W. T. ELLIS CO.
Regarding your order for bags, beg to advise that we have none on hand, our entire stock having been sold to the railroad company.
Very truly yours,
SPERRY FLOUR CO.
By L. S. HICKS, Manager.
We happened to have less sacks on hand ourselves than usual and that was the reason we not only declined to sell any sacks to the railroad company, but attempted to purchase some additional quantity; I wanted to play safe. We did use a quantity of sacks on the levee that season, but not as many as in 1907, as our levees had been raised in the mean time. What sacks we did use on the Marysville levee we did pay for from the City levee fund. Because of the “whisperings” which had been going on after the 1907 flood, I requested the three above letters, these letters were published in the audit
which I had made in 1913 and which I had printed in booklet and issued to the public. That booklet put a stop to the “whisperings.”
The total amount of sacks which the Ellis Company sold to the Levee Commission in the three floods of 1904, 1907 and 1909, cost $974; there was possibly 10 per cent profit on these transactions; had the $974 been all profit, the services of the Levee Commissioners might have been worth that much alone for having protected the City from inundation; no doubt, some will criticize that statement. (Criticism is the art of telling other people what to do which they themselves, are unable to do.) I believe that public officials particularly should obey the law; I have always insisted upon that as a public official with other public officials, but when an emergency exists, which requires immediate action to protect the lives and property of citizens, I admit I have “cut red tape” and have violated the law on several occasions and would not hesitate to do the same thing over again, under similar circumstances. I believe that to be just plain common sense, and no one would ever find me pleading “the statute of limitations” on what violations I have been possibly guilty of in the past.
First Training Walls, Above and Below, from Daguerre Point
THE control of the flow of debris in the Yuba River was an early day problem. In 1880 the State Legislature appropriated about $200,000 for a debris dam, largely through the efforts of W. H. Parks of Marysville, who was the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
The dam was constructed of earth, brush, logs, etc., across the river, its north end being at the old Dan Shay ranch, about one and a half miles southeast of the present “Seven Mile House,” the south end being where the town of Marigold is situated. This dam was built in one season and just completed before a freshet came down the river and destroyed it. Many efforts were afterwards made to obtain both Federal and State appropriations for restraining works; many engineers and occasionally representatives of Congress would pay us visits; I would always see that they were taken up to Daguerre Point to look over the situation; at times I would take some of them down the river from Daguerre Point to Marysville by rowboats; we always furnished plenty of food and liquid refreshments; they would express their appreciation of the entertainment and be very liberal with their promises but we obtained no appropriations. On June 28, 1901 the Rivers and Harbors Committee of Congress paid us a visit, most of them brought their wives and daughters, their expenses were paid with Federal funds. Plans had formerly been formulated for dams across the river to hold back debris and we were endeavoring to obtain Federal approval of $400,000 to be matched with $400,000 from the State of California, on which latter the State had already taken favorable action.
It was a very hot day, the women in the party were entertained by local town ladies at the Rideout Home; all the men were taken in busses and buggies on the north side of the river, where the sites of the proposed dams were, then to Timbuctoo to view the old hydraulic mining pits, then back to Marysville via the south side of the river. They were all out for a good time, the only one of the delegation who attended strictly to the business in hand was Congressman Burton, who always had by his side Colonel Huer, Colonel Smith, Captain Deakyne and Engineer Vischer and those were the ones I stuck close to; the balance had all the “eats and liquid refreshments” on the trip they wanted; we spent about $1000 that day on their entertainment. We waited for results and I began to get as discouraged as a woodpecker in a petrified forest, but finally in 1902 Congress approved the project and work commenced on the first dam or “barrier” which was largely a crib dam affair, filled with large rock and which in my opinion promised to be as permanent as a woman's “permanent wave,” and so finally proved to be, as the first freshet period in the river, caused a total failure of the dam. Later on, a concrete dam, resting on piles was constructed; it was a very fine structure, but it also failed in the flood of 1907. Work also was performed on the “settling basin” near Hammonton, a large sum was expended on this project but it proved impractical and was abandoned; the actual fact was, that when this “settling basin” was first planned, the river, in addition to moving large quantities of fine sand and gravel, was also moving great quantities of fine silt “slickens,” carried in suspension and it was this latter material which it was planned to have “settle” in the artificial settling basin. Such a long time ensued, however, after the plans were made, and were finally carried out, that in the meantime, this flow of “slickens” had largely been exhausted and only sand and gravel remained to be carried down the river and these latter materials were too heavy to be carried into the settling basin through the intake gates. By that time the greater portion of the $800,000 had been expended and without any beneficial results. It was then decided to make a new artificial river through a “cut” to be made in Daguerre Point, the upper end to be protected with a concrete “lip” about 660 feet long, the crown to be about twelve feet above the old river bed and in that way reduce the slope of the river and impound debris. Gold dredging had commenced shortly before this and an arrangement was made with that company to build a dam from the south end of Daguerre Point to the river's south bank, (where Hammonton now is), this dam to consist of dredge piles. When this was accomplished, the entire river was then diverted through the artificial “cut.”
This work was performed by the dredger company without cost to the Federal Government, the dredger company obtaining its reimbursement and profit from the gold recoveries. This “cut” was and always since has been a great success.
Still later on, the river area upstream from this “cut” was mined by dredgers the work being performed so as to leave two parallel channels for a distance of about three miles upstream, where they joined, making one channel as the river became narrow. Finally it was planned for one large channel, 2000 feet in width, down stream fror Daguerre Point; the dredger company agreed to construct a dredge wall on the south side of the river for a distance of about two and a half miles, while on the north side, the California Debris Commission let a contract to A. Munson of Stockton to construct an earth levee on the north side of the river for a distance of about two miles. When this work was performed and when the first good flood occurred, the river having a fall of about nine feet to the mile, the attempt was made to reduce its gradient, by running in curves or “zigzag” and this resulted in a break in the north earthen levee. Arrangements were made for repairs, and a contract let to A. Munson in the sum of $50,000. Before he commenced this work, I had ascertained that the dredger company had plans for the construction of a new dredge so I immediately took the matter up with them and suggested that they construct this dredge about where the levee had failed and replace about one mile of the down stream portion of the earth levee with a dredge embankment; take over the contract which Mr. Munson had for the job, pay him his contemplated profit, he not do any of the work himself. Approval to the plan was obtained from the Federal Engineers, Mr. Munson turned over his contract to the dredge company for $15,000 profit and the dredge was built and reconstructed the lower portion of the training wall with a cobble embankment; this took about a year to complete. When this job was to be completed, it was then planned by the dredge company to take its dredge across the river to the south side where their main holdings were, but the job which they had performed on the north training wall looked so substantial, that before the job was finished I took the matter up with the dredge company to see if it was not possible to have the dredge continue upstream the remaining distance to the main hill and replace that portion of the earth levee with a dredge embankment also. I was told by Mr. W. P. Hammon that the values which they had recovered had been very “lean” as compared with the south side of the river and that the proposal was not attractive, but that if I would purchase the right of way for the job at no expense to them and they would be permitted to retain the gold recoveries, and if I would also raise a bonus of $45,000 in cash to be paid them for doing the work, his Company might be interested. I then contacted the California Debris Commission, dwelt on the advantages of having a dredge embankment in place of an earth embankment, as unquestionably, if the earth embankment was repaired, it would no doubt at some future time fail again and so cause the Government more expense for repairs; this resulted in the California Debris Commission agreeing to advance the $45,000 requested of them. I then proceeded to attempt to obtain a right of way for a strip of ground upon which the dredge could operate in building the rock wall. This was largely one private holding belonging to James O'Brien, Sr., of Smartsville and after considerable negotiations, was successful, but had to agree to purchase the entire large holding. The entire cost was approximately $15,000 of which $10,000 was paid to Mr. O'Brien; I “passed the hat” and obtained the money, a contract was drawn up between the dredge company and the California Debris Commission and signed, the land was paid for and the dredge continued on its way on the job; this took about another year to perform and when completed, the dredge crossed south to the opposite side of the river. Shortly afterwards, I sold the area which had been purchased for the $15,000 but not dredged, for $7,500 and refunded that amount to the original donors.
We were congratulating ourselves on having obtained a dredge levee, about two miles long and which closed off the main branch of the river known generally as the “Kupser channel.” This for many years had caused us lots of trouble and worry as it extended for a long distance, immediately at the base of our levee, for a distance of about three miles and the river had gradually built up its bed there until at one point, where the Browns Valley road leaves the base of the levee (about two miles east of the City limits), the bed of the river was thirteen feet higher than the farming land on the north or land side of the river. (This is the same situation there today, but the main river channel now is about three-quarters of a mile distant to the south and in subsequent years the river has scoured to such an extent that flood waters no longer reach our old levee at this place.)
Later on we found that we had been congratulating ourselves too soon, when a succeeding flood broke this cobble training wall, which had looked to us like a “rock of ages.” The reasons for this failure and how those difficulties were taken care of, will be explained in the next chapter.
Construction of Two Parallel 750 Foot Channels Down Stream from Daguerre Point
AFTER the failure of the cobble training wall on the north side of the Yuba River channel, it became very evident to me that these dredge built training walls, while they appeared strong enough to withstand any floods, the fact remained that if flood waters did not run parallel with them, but on the contrary, if the river current flowed in an irregular manner and the current struck the walls at a sharp angle, “they would melt away like a brick of butter on a summer day.” Therefore I came to the conclusion that the only thing to do to prevent the river running “zigzag” within the 2000 feet width between these training walls, was to have that entire area dredged, the dredge to be equipped with “side stackers” so as to construct two parallel channels, in which the flood waters would be compelled to run parallel with the banks and have no opportunity to “side swipe” the walls and endanger them, these channels to be about 750 feet in width.
I took the matter up with Colonel Rand of the California Debris Commission and he disapproved of the plan; I had him come up and look over the situation on the ground but he still declined to approve; I persisted for about two years but without results.
Colonel Rand was then transferred to some other post and Major U .S. Grant III took his place on the Commission. I then took the matter up with Major Grant; he came up and looked over the situation and immediately was “sold” on the plan but said “I thoroughly approve the idea but it will take a lot of money for such a big job and we have no money available for such a purpose”; I told him that all I wanted was his approval and no money; he replied, “You have the approval, now it is up to you to hustle up the money for rights of way and arrange to have the dredger company enter into an agreement with the Commission for necessary permits.”
Having obtained the approval of Major Grant, I then took the matter up by letter with Mr. W. P. Hammon, representing the dredger company. Under date of July 7, 1922, Mr. Hammon replied, stating in his letter that “the proposition as it has been presented to us thus far does not appeal to us very strongly”--“it will be necessary for you to obtain all necessary rights of way, in addition to long term options on some of the lands further down stream, etc., before we would care to go into this matter further”--“in other words, Mr. Ellis, when you have all necessary rights of way, options, etc., covering the tentative proposition for river improvements, etc., then and not until then, will we go into this matter fully with you.”
This put me up against rather a difficult proposition and for some months, I was carrying on negotiations between the California Debris Commission and Mr. Hammon but finally an agreement was arrived at. This agreement between the dredger company and the California Debris Commission was consummated in December 1922; in the meantime, I had obtained agreements from the several private property owners to purchase their holdings in the river channel; it was practically worthless land, being almost entirely sand and gravel but nevertheless I had to “pass the hat” and obtained the necessary money for same, amounting to about $40,000 while the California Debris Commission finally agreed to contribute some $40,000 towards the work. It took a lot of time and complicated negotiations before everything was arranged for and a dredge started on this work. In 1924 construction of these two channels was commenced taking about nine years to complete.
The first real test was in 1928 when the flood occurred; only the north channel being completed at that time, the dredge being at work on the south channel which was blocked on its upper end. This 1928 flood, which was a maximum one, discharged 140,000 second feet of water through this north 750 foot channel, doing no damage to the side walls because the flood was confined and compelled to flow parallel with the side wall cobble banks. Upon completion of the agreements for the doing of this work, just mentioned, I received the following letters:
San Francisco, Calif., December 13, 1922.
Mr. W. T. Ellis,
DEAR MR. ELLIS:
We are in receipt of your letter of the 12th instant in which you state that we are in no ways indebted to you for the work which you have done in the acquisition of deeds and options to the various property in the Yuba River bottom west of Daguerre Point. We fully realize the amount of work you have done and the time you have devoted to carrying out this project, and the attitude you take is both public spirited and generous. We, for ourselves, cannot thank you too much and we believe Major Grant not only fully appreciates all you have done, but will agree with us that the negotiations which you have so successfully carried through could not have been accomplished by any one else, and we know that Mr. Hammon will want to express to you his thanks at the first opportunity.
Very truly yours,
HAMMON ENGINEERING COMPANY,
Mines Operating Dept.
By CHAS. W. GARDNER.
San Francisco, Cal., January 30, 1923.
MR. W. T. ELLIS,
MY DEAR MR. ELLIS: Subject: Acquisition of property rights for the South Training Wall, Yuba River.
1. Your letter of January 25, 1923, seems to be the final proof that you are quite a wizard in arranging things and I am very much obliged to you for your cooperation and help in obtaining the rights of way and easements necessary for us to insure the ultimate construction of the South Training Wall in the Yuba River.
2. Immediately upon receiving your letter I tried to get into telephone communication with the Hammon Engineering Company and after some little delay, was finally assured by Mr. Gardner that the Kupser property option was being taken up yesterday, Monday. This information I included in my telegram last night.
U.S. GRANT, 3RD,
Major, Corps of Engineers,
Benefits of Dredge Mining on Yuba River
DREDGE MINING on the Yuba River commenced in 1904. The first boats mined about sixty feet deep, but they now have one which mines about one hundred and thirty feet deep. This is the largest in the world. The altitude where this boat is dredging is approximately one hundred feet above sea level, so this dredge is digging about thirty feet below sea level and from borings which have been made, the gravel is still at a greater depth. In fact, tests disclose one hundred and eighty feet of gravel, how much more is unknown. There is a probability that all the dredged area will be redredged, in fact a considerable area has and is being re-dredged, the advanced price of gold being a contributing factor.
When these dredging operations commenced and had been in progress for some time, our citizens, because of past experiences with hydraulic mining, were still “anti-mining minded” and discussions arose as to whether these dredgers would in their digging operations, loosen up a lot of material which would be brought down the river and deposited and still further raise the river bed at Marysville which had been steadily raising for many years as shown by the cross-sections which I had been having made each year. At first I had the same thought in mind but I was constantly visiting the boats, watching their operations and ascertaining what their plans were and came to the conclusion that these operations would not have the effect of assisting the river to move greater amounts of debris down the river but that, on the contrary, they would be able eventually to impound perpetually the greater portion of the three hundred millions of mining debris, which the Government reports showed was in the river overflow area between Marysville and Daguerre Point.
These murmurings on the part of many of our citizens finally culminated in a call for a mass meeting of citizens to consider the matter and at that meeting, some of the more rabid citizens demanded that a resolution be passed condemning dredge mining and that legal steps be taken by the Anti-Debris Association to stop this type of mining, etc. I was sitting in the rear of the hall, taking no part in the proceedings but was finally called on, which I had been rather expecting. There were about two hundred citizens present and my first words were, “How many in this audience have actually been up and viewed these dredge operations, those who have, please hold up their hands.” There were about ten hands raised; I then asked those who had raised their hands to get up, each in turn, and explain just what the dredgers were doing; several attempted to explain but it was quite evident they did not know exactly what was being done. I then stated that I had made many personal observations and had come to the conclusion that this mining was going to be beneficial and not detrimental and suggested, that as the large majority present evidently knew nothing of the situation, it might be well to adjourn the meeting until the next evening and that next morning, as many as could, make a trip up to the dredgers and see exactly what was going on and then form their own conclusions. Then if they thought it the proper thing to do, at next evening's meeting, pass such resolutions as they thought proper. My suggestion prevailed and the next morning a cavalcade of buggies, busses started to the scene of operations, were shown everything to be seen, were shown that the fine material which was dredged was first deposited behind the dredger and then “weighed” down with the gravel and cobbles so that it would be impossible for this material to wash down the river. It was also explained that these dredgers could operate in such a manner that the various river channels could eventually be effectively controlled, etc. That evening, the mass meeting was again held and resolutions adopted to the effect that dredge mining on the Yuba River was not harmful and could no doubt prove very beneficial. That was about thirty years ago and ever since, there have been no complaints made locally about this type of mining.
Since that time, there have been sporadic attempts made in the Legislature to curb or prevent this type of mining but never with any success.
A Sacramento newspaper, had for a number of years, from time to time, contained editorials against dredge mining and finally on December 21, 1936, instructed their local representative to call on the County Assessor to ascertain what amount of assessed valuation and taxes had been lost in Yuba County because of this mining, how many acres had been dredged and what percentage of these lands had been suitable for grain, fruit, grazing, etc., etc. The County Assessor, Mr. J. U. Pearson, called me into consultation and together we dug up all the information we could obtain which was then formulated into a letter, which Mr. Pearson addressed to this Sacramento paper as a reply.
It was shown that during the past thirty odd years of dredge mining on the Yuba River that approximately nine square miles had been dredged out of the 630 square miles in the County.
That when dredging had commenced, the greater portion of this area had been “waste” lands, covered with mining debris, the balance being “marginal” lands, fit only for grazing principally.
That previous to dredge operations, the old assessment rolls showed that the greater portion of this area had been assessed at about ten dollars per acre.
That as a result of dredge mining with the resultant concentration of the river in one main channel, that this main channel had scoured about twenty feet, and that a very large area of debris covered lands, thickly grown up with brush and timber, was kept from overflow at flood periods with the result that these large areas had been cleared of brush and trees by the owners, placed in cultivable condition, orchards, vineyards, alfalfa and other crops were now being raised on these lands and the old assessment had been raised from about $10 per acre to an average of about $80 per acre, which latter did not include further assessments on “improvements.”
That as a result, in place of there being reduced assessments and loss of taxes in Yuba County because of dredge mining, there had been an actual increase of about $400,000 in the assessment roll and a corresponding increase in taxes received.
Also, as result of these mining operations, that during the last 32 years of operations, over $10,000,000 had been expended in wages besides and expenditure of some $12,000,000 for capital investment, which also included a large proportion of labor.
This Sacramento paper then had a representative sent up from Sacramento to check up on this letter; he was shown all over the situation and returned satisfied and presumably so reported to his newspaper as nothing more has been heard from them.
The fact is, that dredge mining on the Yuba River, resulted in very efficient debris control; it also resulted in safe flood control to the levees on both banks of the Yuba River, from Hammonton westerly to Marysville, in fact, it made obsolete, about five miles of the easterly Marysville levees and a similar length of levee on the south bank of the Yuba River.
Right of Way Agent for Western Pacific Railroad
WHEN the Western Pacific ran surveys for their railroad, they had two tentative plans with two different surveys north of Marysville. One survey was for a line where the road is now constructed; the other was more to the west. Both plans, however, were with the idea of having the railroad run north and south through Marysville on F Street. This latter was objectionable to the public and I went to San Francisco to consult with the railroad official who was in full charge at that time. It was pointed out to him that the easterly survey north of town would be beneficial in reclaiming more lands north of the City, if they constructed an earth embankment (which they would in any event have to do to keep out of floods) and that it could form a back levee and that the land owners to the west would probably form a reclamation district and build up other levees to the north, west and south, enclosing some 10,000 acres; that in the past, these land owners had constructed a poor system of levees on the east bank of the Feather River but had no protection from the rear, and that, if the railroad company would co-operate, that probably the east survey for a right of way could be obtained at very reasonable prices from the respective land owners.
I also pointed out the objections of the public to having the railroad bisect the town on F Street, that I was President of the Levee Commission and could use my influence to get them a free right of way on the top of our westerly and north levees in return for a guarantee for maintenance for fifty years. This resulted in conferences in Marysville; and finally agreements were executed between the railroad company, the Mayor and Council and the Levee Commission, and franchises were given. We did not know at that time just what financial interests were behind the proposed new railroad, but later on it developed that the Gould interests were planning for a transcontinental railroad in opposition to the Southern Pacific Company, and when actual construction was about to commence, Mr. V. G. Bogue was placed in full and complete charge.
I made it my business to get acquainted with Mr. Bogue, reviewed the situation about the two surveys north of town and this resulted in an offer to appoint me right of way agent for Yuba County. I accepted the position, as I felt that I could be of assistance to them and obtain some favors for the City and the Levee Commission in return.
In answer to my question as to just how I was to proceed, Mr. Bogue stated that his engineers would give me the legal descriptions of the rights of way wanted over various private property and that I was to make my own agreements about prices to be paid to the owners of said property; and, when such agreements were made, their local attorney, W. H. Carlin, would draw up the deeds and have them properly executed; then I was to pay the owner with a draft drawn on the Treasurer of the Company in San Francisco, and it would be honored. I then asked him about what price he would expect to pay per acre plus any severances or damages. He replied, “We will expect you to get these rights of way as cheaply as you can and will leave the matter of price to your own good judgment and, if you succeed in getting all these rights of way for an average price of one hundred dollars per acre, we will be mighty well pleased.” I told him that was all I wanted to know.
I was busy with the store those days and could work on this new job only at odd times, mostly Sundays. It took me several months but, when I had finished the job, I had obtained the rights of way through Yuba County for an average of $42 per acre, and Mr. Bogue was immensely pleased. He then wanted me to buy their rights of way through the City of Sacramento, but I informed him that I could not spare the time from my private business. He had been paying me $150 per month for my services and told me I could name my own salary if I would tackle the Sacramento rights of way; but I told him that, while I had perhaps been able to make a record in Yuba County where I was personally well acquainted with the land owners, I surely could not be so successful elsewhere.
I really had an interesting time buying these rights of way through Yuba County. The automobile was then a new thing, there were only about a half dozen in Marysville and many people had never seen one. There was only one in town for hire. This was a small Oldsmobile, with one seat, a dashboard in front and a small open box in the rear; it was guided with a long stick as a handle; I believe it had one cylinder, and it sneezed and coughed like a consumptive, but could travel at the high speed of twenty-five miles per hour. The owner did the driving and charged me $20 per day. It saved me time, however, over a horse and buggy and was of material assistance in getting rights of way. When I called on some ranch owner with this machine to talk right of way with him, I soon found out that, to first take the family out for a ride of one or two miles or so and give them a “thrill” by having their first ride and going so fast, permitted me to come to agreements quickly and satisfactorily. If there was some hesitation about signing up deeds, which there was in a couple of cases, I promised to come back soon and give them a ten mile ride. That settled the deal and I afterwards kept my promise.
A few years afterwards, I was calling on the Western Pacific office in San Francisco and one of the officials reminded me of my expense accounts with the charge of $20 a day for an automobile and said that when several of these charges had come through, an auditor had complained of my extravagance, that I could have hired a horse and buggy for $5 a day, that he had mentioned the matter to Mr. Bogue who had remarked, “Hell! Leave him alone. See what he is getting those rights of way for us for.”
North of town, by making promises that the railroad would be on a high earth embankment, which could act as a back levee, I obtained several miles of right of way for only the nominal sum of $10 per deed. This back levee being furnished, induced the land owners to form what is now known as Reclamation District No. 10.
After the railroad company had obtained their franchise on the levee, they planned to follow on top of the Yuba River levee to the foot of about B Street and then have a bridge across the Yuba River, quite close to the Southern Pacific bridge, the passenger station to be on top of the levee at the foot of E Street, and franchise was granted them under that plan. We soon realized that we had made a mistake, that this passenger and freight depot, being so close to the D Street bridge, the bridge would at times be blocked by standing trains to the great inconvenience of traveling public. In the meantime, the freight building had been constructed (now occupied by the Marysville Fuel Co.), so we had meetings with the Mayor and Council and the suggestion was made that a passenger and freight depot be erected on top of the levee at 5th and K Streets, so that it would be convenient to both Yuba City and Marysville. The company's officials were not in a very receptive mood but they finally agreed when I suggested that the City give them, free of charge, quite a large area on the south side of Third Street, between Orange and J Streets, which could be used for future side tracks, etc. This area I had purchased when I was Mayor from Chas. Covillaud, Jr., for the sum of $200 and had then resold it to the City for the same amount; but when I sold it to the City, I had placed a reservation in the deed to the effect that it was to be used for the sole purpose of furnishing material to the citizens free of charge so that they could obtain material for filling in their slough lots, which work was then under way, and, if the area was used for any other purpose, it would revert back to me. This difficulty was overcome, however, by the City deeding the area back to me and I, in turn, deeding same to the Western Pacific without any consideration. This area is now where the Ball Grounds are situated with the permission of the railroad company. My employment with the Western Pacific Co. lasted about twelve months.
State Reclamation Board
THE FIRST two years on the Reclamation Board were rather hectic; many complicated problems came before the Board for solution, and decisions, after hearings held before the Board, had to be rendered. The Board's powers were limited, being confined in effect to passing upon reclamation plans with the purpose of preventing construction of levees which would interfere with the flood control project. Many applications for reclamation were received, hearings held and in almost every case, there was a division of ideas on the part of the interested land owners; each side would be represented by lawyers and engineers and these hearings became quite animated at times and very considerable feelings manifested. The Board would take such applications under consideration and when so considered by the Board members, at times there was also a divergence of opinion between the Board members themselves which resulted in very animated arguments and final decisions were not always unanimous.
One of the problems which came to the Board at that time was the location of the Sutter By-pass in the application of the Armour interests for the reclamation of about 40,000 acres of the Sutter Basin. The original plans for the by-pass provided that this by-pass follow the trough of the basin, extending southerly through the center of the proposed reclaimed area, making for two reclamation districts, on the east and west sides of the proposed by-pass; application was made before the Board under this plan and was taken under consideration and was being considered favorably but when the Board was ready to take favorable action at the following meeting, the application was withdrawn and was followed by a new application, which called for a shift of the by-pass from the original central location, to a new easterly location so as to permit of there being one large reclamation district in place of two divided reclamation districts.
When finally a hearing was held on this new plan, the land owners in Reclamation District No. 1, of Sutter County, an old established reclamation district, immediately made strenuous objections to the plan and “the war was on” in earnest. The three Board members, feeling that they were more or less a judicial body, listened to both sides, expressing no opinions but endeavoring to bring out full information, in fact, the three Board members themselves did not commit themselves as between each other. When the matter finally came up before the Board to make a decision, the vote disclosed that Mr. McClatchy and Mr. Cook were in favor of the change while I voted against the change in the by-pass location. I had previously prepared a long written argument, giving my reasons for my opposition to the application, which was afterwards printed in a booklet and circulated quite extensively.
As a result of the Board's action, suits were commenced to prevent the newly adopted plan by the interested land owners of Sutter County; the matter was also brought up before the Legislature and for about five years the contest raged before two legislatures and in the Courts before the matter came to a final decision by the Supreme Court of the State, which upheld the decision of the majority members of the Reclamation Board.
It was a mighty interesting fight; at joint meetings of the two houses of the Legislature, to listen to the arguments from both sides, the Assembly Chamber would be crowded with spectators, but each time, it was quite apparent that the legislators, after listening to the arguments, pro and con, were “all at sea” and did not understand the problem any better after these hearings than they did before they were held.
Mr. William Kent of Marin County was Congressman from this District at that time; he had been elected to Congress an “Independent” and could afford to be independent as he was very wealthy. He became interested in the controversy and came to Marysville to see me and get information, bringing with him a prominent engineer, Mr. Dockweiler. We met in Mr. Kent's room in the hotel here in July 1916 and he had employed a young lady stenographer to take full notes of the proceedings. Several hours were taken up, both Mr. Kent and Mr. Dockweiler asking me questions and I giving the answers. When the meeting was over, Mr. Kent instructed the young lady to type up her stenographic notes and send same to him. A few days afterwards, I received a letter from Mr. Kent stating that the stenographer had written him, stating that she could not comply with his request because she was unable to decipher all of her own stenographic notes and expressing his disappointment. I wrote him in reply, stating that I was quite certain that I could remember all the questions which both he and Mr. Dockweiler had asked me and if he was agreeable to me doing so, that I would write up a record of the meeting, showing the questions which both he and Mr. Dockweiler had asked and the answers which I had given. This was agreeable to Mr. Kent and I proceeded to do this work for him and sent copies both to him and Mr. Dockweiler. In a few days I received letters from both of them; Mr. Dockweiler was immensely amused; he said that the questions which I showed he had asked me, would indicate that he had a knowledge of the problem which he knew he did not possess; as for Mr. Kent, he stated that for the first time, he had a real understanding of the problem and was going to be on “our side” and do what he could to render assistance; that he had ordered several hundred copies printed in booklet form and would have them distributed quite generally where they would do the most good. He had copies placed on the desks of each member of the Legislature for their information. When this was done, Mr. McClatchy in an effort to counteract the effect the booklets might have, instructed Mr. E. A. Bailey, State Flood Control Engineer to get up a counter report in reply and this was also printed and circulated.
I doubt if there ever was a controversy before the Legislature which was so confusing to the average layman as this Sutter By-pass fight; at the same time it attracted State-wide attention with divided opinions but in Yuba and Sutter Counties, the people were practically unanimous for the originally planned, central location for the by-pass. It was a long-drawn and hard fight and our side lost by a Supreme Court decision, and which, “boiled down” to plain words, was to the effect that while the proposed central location of the by-pass followed the natural and well established drainage alignment, still, the diversion of this drainage, if conducted on the proposed eastern location of the by-pass, on higher ground was “equally as good drainage,” notwithstanding the fact, that it would result in a higher flood water plane, a longer by-pass, the discharge of about five-sixths of the Sacramento River flood water into the Feather River, in place of directly into the upper end of the Yolo Basin,” etc., etc. It always appeared to me to have been an illogical and “far fetched” decision and from an engineering point of view, an unfortunate one and I still hold to that idea and that it will be so demonstrated some day when a “super flood” occurs, which it surely will some day. When that time arrives, I firmly believe that my views are correct, particularly that since then, the Fremont Weir at the intake of the Yolo Basin By-pass has been constructed; that weir is about 9000 feet long, is built of solid concrete, the greater portion of the Bear, Yuba, Feather and Sacramento rivers have to escape over its crest into the Yolo By-pass and the crest of that weir is three and a half feet higher than the bottom of the Sutter By-Pass, 24 miles upstream. I objected to this planned height when it came before the Reclamation Board for approval, but again I was on the losing side. Time will tell who is right and some day we will get the answer, but it is a remarkable fact, that since the Flood Control Plan in the Sacramento Valley has been practically completed, at an expense of over fifty million dollars, there has not been during that time a maximum flood occurring on all the rivers at the same time, so the plan has yet to be given a test for its efficiency.
When a general heavy storm occurs on all the watersheds of all those rivers, it takes about ten hours for the American River to reach its crest at Sacramento and that City is within the tidal prism; again, the Sacramento River under the M Street bridge has a capacity of only some 110,000 second feet, while the American River has a discharge of about 140,000 second feet, and to care for this anomalous situation, the Reclamation Board had constructed, about four miles upstream from Sacramento, at Bryte's Bend, the Sacramento By-pass, with weir and gates, so that the excess waters from the American could “run upstream” four miles and then be discharged into the Yolo Basin and relieve the pressure against the levees at Sacramento. In 1928, the American was in full flood, the apex reached Sacramento in about ten hours and touched highest water mark; they got excited and opened the gates at the Bryte's Bend weir, but the river did not fall, it simply “slowed up” the rise in the river and, remember, that it took another two days about for the waters of the Bear, Yuba and Feather rivers to reach that point and still another additional two days for the Sacramento River waters also to reach there. Had there been a second storm, say six or seven days after the first storm, on the American River and the second flood flow on the American River had met the arriving waters from the other rivers above, then with the Yolo Basin By-pass having been filled with water from the excess waters of the first storm on the American in the meantime, and with possibly a full moon, with resultant high tide and with a 50 mile south wind, which is not unusual, this combination of circumstances (which partly happened in 1904), would, I predict, cause the loss of proper functioning of the Bryte's Bend By-pass, with what results--well it's any one's guess.
During the ten years I was on the Reclamation Board, we had many very animated arguments over many complicated problems which came before the Board to be solved; these arguments were generally between McClatchy, Cook, Atherton and myself as the others had but little first-hand practical knowledge of conditions generally, but they “held the balance of power,” when it came to voting.
They made several engineering errors of judgment, which I failed to prevent but which some future flood will demonstrate; at least, that is my firm opinion.
Congressman Kent's Public Hearing at Marysville, November 9th, 1915
CONGRESSMAN KENT being considerably confused by the reports he received, pro and con on the proper location of the Sutter By-Pass controversy, he arranged for a meeting to obtain information. The following is a copy of the “corrected” stenographic notes taken at this meeting, all of which was afterward published in pamphlet form and distributed by Mr. Kent:
MR. KENT: On request of persons interested, I came to Marysville to look into the question of the changing of the location of the Sutter By-Pass project. I requested Mr. Dockweiler, a resident of San Francisco, and another engineer, Mr. O'Shaughnessy, to come with me; the latter found it impossible to be on hand. I wish to introduce Mr. Dockweiler. Mr. Dockweiler, kindly state your name, occupation, etc.
MR. DOCKWEILER: My name is J. H. Dockweiler; I am a resident of San Francisco and have been for the past 12 years serving as engineer to the City Attorney, Mr. Percy E. Long, of the City of San Francisco, on matters of water supply, and for 9 years I have been Consulting Engineer to the City Council of Oakland on water supply and matters connected therewith. For several years, in the capacity of Civil Engineer, I have been connected with various water supply and irrigation projects of the City of Los Angeles and vicinity.
MR. KENT: I think that the best way that we could get into this matter would be for Mr. W. T. Ellis, who is a member of the State Reclamation Board, to make a general statement regarding the by-pass situation and then, after Mr. Ellis has finished, I should like to have Mr. Dockweiler ask questions. I would also like to hear from any other persons who are interested in the matter under investigation and discussion.
MR. ELLIS: You are, of course, all familiar with the general plan of flood control formulated by Captain Jackson of the California Debris Commission, which plan was officially adopted by the State of California, and a State Reclamation Board was created to carry same to actual completion. It will not be necessary, therefore, to dwell upon this general plan and which, by the way, every member of the State Reclamation Board is heartily in favor of, and is doing their utmost to carry out; in other words, there is no division among the members as regards the general flood control plan; the only division has been regarding a change in the detail of the plan, in the Sutter Basin and which involves the location of the by-pass which is necessary there for flood control. The original plan of flood control formulated by Captain Jackson contemplated that this by-pass be located in the natural trough of that basin and on what is generally known as the “Central location.” Afterwards, this location of the by-pass was abandoned by the majority members of the State Reclamation Board (which at that time consisted of V. S. McClatchy, Peter Cook and myself), and the by-pass located on what is generally known as the “Eastern location.” This abandonment of the Central for the Eastern location was without my approval; mainly, for the reason that it was a radical departure from the basic principle laid down in the original plan of Captain Jackson and which was, that all by-passes should follow the “natural troughs” of all the great basin areas. For confirmation of this one has only to refer to Document 81, 62nd Congress, 1st Session; particularly to pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 37; on the latter mentioned page Mr. H. H. Wadsworth (the engineer who performed the larger portion of the detail work on this plan) states: (see line 1 of page 37) that “by-passes should occupy the troughs of the basins,” etc., etc. This recommendation is only in line with good common sense, and good engineering is only the application of good common sense to a problem. To oppose the natural laws and the habits of the flow of a large volume of water (in this case estimated to be, at flood stage, 220,000 sec. ft.) is a most serious problem and experience should teach us that in deciding upon plans for the control of flood waters, that the factor of safety must well be considered; and when any doubt exists, the decision should be on the side of “Safety First” and with the ideas of increasing, not decreasing the factor of safety. This shift in the by-pass was recommended by the State Engineering Department of the State of California, but the report attached herewith of the Federal Engineer, Major S. A. Cheney, representing the California Debris Commission (Federal Engineers), was to the effect that either the Central or Eastern location was satisfactory to the Government, as the Government was not interested in reclamation but was only interested in the navigation features; at the same time, however, Major Cheney called attention to the greater flood heights which would ensue in the Eastern location over what could be expected in the Central location. While Major Cheney did not deem it his duty to go further than give this latter warning, and looking at it from the Government's point of view, reported that either location was satisfactory to the Government, still, for an actual fact, he was really favorable (from the point of view of a practical engineer) to the Central location. For proof of this statement see attached letters from Mr. V. S. McClatchy and W. T. Ellis to Major Cheney, and also, Major Cheney's reply to Mr. McClatchy.
MR. KENT: Mr. Ellis, did you ever make any reports and arguments which would sustain your position as favoring the Central location of the by-pass in the Sutter Basin?
MR. ELLIS: I did, and they were published in pamphlet form, with a report of Engineers J. C. Boyd and Otto Von Geldern, also favoring the location of the by-pass in the Central location. These pamphlets (there are three of them) I have with me and am now pleased to give them to you. These reports give, in detail the many reasons why the “Central location” is preferable to the “Eastern location” and they will speak for themselves.
MR. KENT: I would like to ask, was there ever an application for reclamation of the Sutter Basin, based on the Central location of the by-pass as originally planned?
MR. ELLIS: Yes sir, there was. This application was made on September 4, 1912, to the Reclamation Board by J. P. Snook and Granville Moore for a Reclamation District of 35,000 acres lying between the Central location of the by-pass and the Feather River, with a request to ensmall the Feather River overflow channel to 1250 feet. Further hearing of this application was had on September 24, 1912, at which time Mr. W. E. Gerber and others were also present and were favoring the application. At another hearing before the Reclamation Board on September 29, 1912, on this same application, Major S. A. Cheney, of the California Debris Commission, made a report under date of October 2, 1912, and therein called attention to the fact that the proposed reclamation encroached upon the Central by-pass location, some 300 yards; so, adding about 1300 acres to the reclamation. Major Cheney's comments in his report are as follows: “The lines as laid down in the flood control project are better for the following reasons: 1st, they follow more closely the trough of the basin. 2nd, they will cause no choke at the crossing of the S.P. Co.'s tracks. 3rd, they divide the acreage of the Sutter Basin more equally, etc. It is considered that the flood plane elevations of the flood control project are as high as should be permitted here, and to insure their not being exceeded, the levee alignment given in the flood control project should be followed.”
From this you will see that Major Cheney also favored following the line of policy originally laid down by Captain Jackson when he formulated the by-pass plan and which contemplated the by-passes following the natural troughs of the various basins.
MR. KENT: At the time this application was being made for permission to reclaim on the lines of the Central location of the by-pass, was it understood that these lands on the Eastern side of the by-pass had been purchased and were owned by the applicants?
MR. ELLIS: No, not at the time the first application for reclamation was asked for, but on November 19, 1912, the Reclamation Board was advised that a large acreage of lands on the West side of the Central location of the by-pass, as well as the lands on the Eastern side of that by-pass had been purchased by Mr. Armour and his associates, and that an application would be made for a bigger district to comprise in all about 60,000 acres of land, and on December 10, 1912, Mr. Geo. E. Randle, Engineer for the Gerber-Armour Syndicate, made a report to them on levee plans for the enlarged District, based on Central location of by-pass.
I call attention to these matters so that you may know that the Gerber-Armour interests were investing their money in these lands with the idea that the Central location of the by-pass would be followed; and while this location has since been shifted to the Eastern location and some work has been done by them along this latter line, still, if a decision of the suits now in the Courts should be to the effect that the Eastern location would have to be abandoned and the Central location again adopted, then the parties owning these lands would only be carrying out plans which they originally expected and desired to do.
MR. DOCKWEILER: Is it not a fact, however, Mr. Ellis, that already a very large amount of levee work has been performed on the Eastern location of the by-pass idea and that a very expensive pumping plant has been constructed on Sacramento slough near the southerly end of this district and in the center of what would have been the Central location of the by-pass, and that if the present adopted plans should again be changed and the Eastern location abandoned and the Central location be again adopted, this expensive pumping plant would have to be abandoned and also, the greater portion of the levee now constructed on the easterly or Feather River side of District 1500?
MR. ELLIS: Such arguments have been made by those interested, but for a fact the financial loss would be quite small, as the present pumping plant could be made use of; also the greater portion of the present partially constructed levees. Right here I desire to call attention to the fact that this pumping plant was built at large expense, directly in the middle of what would have been the Central location of the by-pass and certainly several years prior to the time when any possible use could have been made of it. One can form his own conclusions as to their reasons for having done this. This pumping plant and practically the greater portion of No. 1500's levee system was built, however, after it was a well known fact that legal proceedings had been and were to be commenced by the people living northerly of District No. 1500, against the construction of a by-pass on the Eastern location.
MR. DOCKWEILER: You have just stated that if the Central location for the by-pass was again adopted, that the pumping plant and also the greater portion of the present partially constructed levees could be made use of; now how could this be done?
MR. ELLIS: I have here a small map of that portion of Sutter County showing District No. 1500 and adjacent sections. I have marked thereon two heavy black lines showing a location for the Central by-pass, and which location follows closely the original lines for that by-pass except on its southerly end and where, for a distance of about 10 miles, there is a gradual shift to the East, making the extreme mouth of this by-pass about one-half mile easterly of its original tentative position. This shift is made so that the present constructed pumping plant could be made use of in the reclaimed area which would lie West of that Central by-pass location. Of course, with a by-pass in the center it would make two reclaimed areas in place of one area, as in the case of the Eastern location. As practically all this land is, however, controlled by one syndicate they would have their “eggs in two baskets” with the by-pass in the middle in place of in “one basket” with the Eastern by-pass. In case of a break in the levees in one of these reclaimed areas it would probably mean that the other area would be saved from inundation.
MR. DOCKWEILER: You have suggested a possible solution to save the present pumping plant, but how about the levee work which has been thus far performed on the line of the Eastern by-pass location?
MR. ELLIS: Every foot of these levees could be made use of except that portion which has been constructed in what would be the mouth of the location which I have suggested for the Central location of the by-pass. You will note from the small map that the Eastern levee of the by-pass on that location would intercept the present constructed levee (which starts at about Wild Irishman Bend and extends northeasterly), at about the East side of Section 20, while the easterly levee of the suggested by-pass location would intercept the present constructed levee at or near the center of Section 5. Between these two points there would be about three miles of levee which would have to be abandoned; and I have been informed that this stretch of levee is now about 15 feet high and with the natural slopes and crown which are usual with this type of partially constructed “clam shell” built embankment. The probable cost of constructing this stretch of levee (construction overhead, etc.) may have been say, 15c per cubic yard. From this you may form a rough idea of what the cost of this strip of levee might be.
On the northerly side of the District, on the line of the Tisdale By-pass, some small amount of work was performed across the area which would lie within the suggested Central by-pass location; but this was insignificant, as this would lie in the natural trough of the basin, and this is where Sutter County asked for and obtained an injunction in the Courts against any levee work being done.
As for that portion of the levee commencing at about Section 5 (at the South end of the Eastern levee of the suggested by-pass), and which follows parallel to and about 6000 feet distant from Feather River to Nelson Slough, this stretch of levee would be necessary under either the Central or Eastern locations of the by-pass; the only difference being, that if the former location had been adopted, then this levee could have been constructed about 2500 feet nearer the Feather River and so saved that extra strip for reclamation, and reduced the unit cost per acre; but all of this present 6000-foot strip of overflow channel will be available for cultivation for late crops, such as beans, corn, potatoes, etc., when the entire flood control plan is carried to completion, so that this land will not be “wasted.”
I understand that all the area in this 6000 width of overflow channel belongs to the Sutter Basin Company (owners of the greater portion of District No. 1500), and that the greater portion of this land cost them about $30 per acre. This land being required for overflow channel by the Flood Control plan, will have to be acquired by the Reclamation Board; that is, flowage rights will have to be secured and the Board will, without doubt, be willing to pay the sum of $20 per acre for such flowage rights. In this connection I might state that the Board now has an option for flowage rights at this figure for the greater portion of the land in the Eastern location of the by-pass area (extending from Nelson Slough to the South levee of District No.1), from the Sutter Basin Company, provided the by-pass be eventually constructed on that location; and provided further, that no higher price be voluntarily paid by the Board to other parties for land in that section, similarly situated, etc.
So much for the levee as far as Nelson Slough. As for the levee from that point to its present constructed limit at District No. 1, in case the Central location of the by-pass is adopted as suggested above, then District No. 1500 would have two ways to finish its East side reclamation. One way would be to cross the mouth of the Eastern location of the by-pass at Nelson Slough (with a continuation of the stretch of the levee on the West side of the Feather River), and connect with the present constructed levee which extends from the Southwest corner of District No. 803 northerly, following the westerly side of Feather River, up to and beyond Yuba City. In this case, then the reclamation on the East side of the Central by-pass would have to depend upon the stability of all the levees on the Feather River north of Nelson Bend for protection, but would have no supervision over those levees, and would have to depend upon the general supervision of the Reclamation Board to see that proper heights, care and attention were given these levees by the various District Managers. I might state here, that District No. 1 has been raising and strengthening all of its Feather River levees to conform with the standard required by the Reclamation Board.
Assuming that District No. 1500 did complete its plans on this line, then the present incomplete levee and borrow pit could be used to divert the drainage waters of Yuba City (sometimes called Gilsizer Slough), to the Feather River by gravity, through a discharge pipe which could be constructed under the levee; which, as previously described, would cross at Nelson Slough to connect with the Southwest corner of District No. 803. Such diversion of drainage could be accomplished at such times as there were no flood waters in the Feather River and so save pumping, which would have to be done when the Feather was in flood; and then the drainage from Yuba City slough would have to flow (as it always has in the past) into the basin area. In this way the present work of partial levee construction from Nelson Slough to District No. 1 would not be wasted, if the Central location of the by-pass be adopted in the near future. On the other hand, if District No. 1500 should not care to have its safety depend upon the levee systems of other Districts on the westerly side of Feather River from Nelson Bend up to and beyond Yuba City, then in that case, the present partially constructed levee which they have constructed from Nelson Slough to District No. 1 could be completed to its necessary standard dimensions and be extended up to, and connect with the East levee of the Central by-pass location and through this levee, at proper locations, drainage pipes could be constructed so that the drainage from the East would not be interfered with.
MR. DOCKWEILER: In that case then, this drainage from the southerly end of District No. 1, and in fact up to, and beyond Yuba City, would discharge into the reclamation area which lies East of the suggested Central location of the by-pass when the rivers were at flood stages and this would have to be pumped from that area, would it not?
MR. ELLIS: There would be two ways to handle this drainage: one would be by the construction of another pumping plant at the Southwest corner of this reclaimed area and where the drainage would naturally collect, or, this drainage could be diverted by means of a pipe under and across the by-pass area, and be discharged into the reclaimed area of the West side of the Central by-pass; and from there, be diverted southerly to the present pumping plant, which would then be on that side of the by-pass. I am informed that this pumping plant was designed to have sufficient capacity to take care of the drainage of the entire area of District No. 1500, and, if so, then it could care for the drainage of both reclamations on opposite sides of the Central by-pass. No matter whether the by-pass is constructed on either the Central or the Eastern location, this drainage will, at certain seasons, always have to be pumped; but the handling of this drainage under the Central location will be less complicated and require a less number of pumping plants than it would if the Eastern location be adopted.
MR. DOCKWEILER: I have here a copy of Flood Control Report No. 22, of the State Reclamation Board, and on page 4 of this report, it states that there were eight reasons advanced for fixing the by-pass on the Eastern location. The first reason advanced is as follows: “First, lessening the length and height of levees by following the margin of the basin and joining with the Feather River overflow channel at Nelson Bend; from which point on, one levee takes the place of three levees instead of making separate channels and running the by-pass through the entire length of the lowest part of the basin, the bottom of which is more than 10 feet lower than its outlet over Fremont Weir.” What have you to say to that?
MR. ELLIS: There is no doubt but what there is more length of levees in the Central than in the Eastern location, for the by-pass, as stated in that report. In planning for flood control, however, a thorough study is, of course, required, and possibly more than one plan can be advanced for consideration; then should come into consideration, the question, which of the various plans is the safest and most likely to successfully meet the test which it some day must be subject to? The syndicate which now controls the greater portion of the land in District No. 1500 does not, of course, expect to always hold this immense area; there is no doubt but what it is their intention to eventually subdivide and sell off these lands to actual settlers, and when the State approves a plan for reclamation such as that of District No. 1500, where a large acreage is as much as 25 feet below the crown of the lowest portion of the levee system, the lives and property of future innocent investors must be given serious consideration. In view of the fact that even the Government Engineers admit, that while the original flood control plan is expected to care for the average flood which may be expected, it is not designed to care for the flood which may come every 75 to 100 years; and when that flood arrives (and unfortunately we never know when it may arrive), the present accepted plan is expected to fail in part at least. This should also make those who are responsible for approval of plans for reclamation on behalf of the State give very serious consideration to the slogan of “Safety First” and not be influenced too largely by the fact that one plan has less length of levee but at the same time admitted higher water planes.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The second reason given for change in location of by-pass in Flood Control report No. 22 was, “lessening the danger from breaks from saturation of levees caused by water standing at considerable depth for a long time, as would be the case in the Central location.”
MR. ELLIS: In view of the fact that flood waters in the Sutter Basin rise and fall quite speedily, this is not as important as it might appear. Again, I would refer you to page 5, line 23, of the Flood Control report No. 22, which you have, and you will note the following: “Average depth of water against West levee of Sutter By-pass on Eastern location will be 18.5 ft. as against 20.0 ft. on the Central location.” This would be a difference of only 18 inches in favor of the Eastern location, and which would be inconsiderable as regards saturation. You will note that either of these two mentioned levees would be the levees of District No. 1500, whether the Eastern or the Central location of the by-pass were adopted. If you will refer to the pamphlet which I have given you and relative to the deposit of silt in the Sutter Basin of recent years (see page 11), you will note that the disposal of silt is going to be quite a problem in the flood control plan. In the Eastern location of the by-pass there is not a single inch of fall in ground level from the mouth of the Tisdale By-pass to Fremont Weir, a distance of about 20 miles; all the ground level in that entire area being approximately 30. In the Central location of the by-pass, and between these same points, almost the entire length is below the 30-foot contour, and there is a stretch of several miles which does not exceed the 20-foot contour elevation. Here, then, is a settling basin for the silt to deposit in and all those engineers who have had any practical experience in that section agree that with the subsidence of each flood there will be deposit of silt.
The Eastern location of the by-pass has no such similar depression to take care of for a time at least, of such silt deposit. Assuming that such deposit will occur in the Central location, it will be but a short time before this difference in elevation in ground surface, mentioned in Flood Control Report No. 22, would cease to exist.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The third reason given in Flood Control Report is as follows: “The conservation of lands by placing the by-pass on higher ground which will drain early enough to secure summer cropping.”
MR. ELLIS: This is a very frank acknowledgment that the by-pass was shifted from the natural trough of the basin to “higher ground,” thereby raising the flood plane and violating the basic principle of the flood control plan. The answer to this reason, however, would be, that for the reasons just advanced regarding silt deposit, the land in the Central location will probably be equally as high in a short time as the land is now in the Eastern location. Until this time arrives, however, the entire area in the Central location of the by-pass can be cropped to as good advantage as the land in the Eastern location.
MR. KENT: How do you come to that conclusion when you have just stated that the land in the Central location is, for a considerable distance, about 10 feet lower than the Eastern location area?
MR. ELLIS: Here is a table taken from Flood Control Report No. 10 giving elevations of water surface at mouth of Feather River, the data having been calculated from U.S. Weather Bureau gauge readings at Knight's Landing; (U.S.E.D. datum with “0” on that gauge being elevation 19.68 U.S.E.D. or 16.08 USGS datum; the water surface at mouth of Feather River being 4 feet lower than at Knight's Landing):
YEAR MAY 1ST JUNE 1ST JULY 1ST
1907 31.4 29.3 26.3
1908 25.8 24.1 19.6
1909 29.9 27.1 23.2
1910 27.5 21.0 17.8
1911 30.6 28.9 24.1
1912 22.5 26.5 17.1
The northerly bank of the Sacramento River, in the line of what would be the southerly end of the Central location of the by-pass, is practically elevation 30; which means that all this bank is above the water surface of the river, and the water standing in the basin to the North has, in the past, practically kept level with the river through its natural drainage channel known as Sacramento Slough. If the levees on the Central location are constructed on the lines which I have suggested, then Sacramento Slough would be cut off a short distance from the present constructed pumping plant by the West levee of the by-pass. Where this occurs a large and substantial pipe with controlling gates, should be installed under the levee to permit of drainage of the low portion of the by-pass area, the borrow pit of the West levee making an excellent drainage canal to that point. When the surface of the water in the Sacramento River (say between May and June) is below the natural banks and it is desired to crop the by-pass area, the pumping plant could then easily and quickly remove all water in that area and sufficient time be had to permit the ground to dry soon enough so that it might be cultivated and made ready for late crops, such as beans, corn, potatoes, etc., the same as is now done on what is the northerly end of this by-pass.
This area described above as being at about the 20-ft. contour, consists of what is called in the Government Soil reports “Sacramento clay,” and an overflow each season in this by-pass, with the resulting deposit of sediment from the Sacramento River overflow, will greatly increase the value and productiveness of this area. There is no doubt but what the deposits of silt in this location of the by-pass will eventually be had by gravity in place of by pumping after the months of May or June of each year.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The fourth reason given is, that “A more uniform velocity to prevent destruction of the cultivability of the land by scouring, which we believe would take place in the upper portion of the Central location and which would cause a deposit in the lower portion of the by-pass which would necessitate a raise in the already excessively high levees.”
MR. ELLIS: If “a more uniform velocity” is to be obtained at the expense of a higher water plane of about three feet at the latitude of Tisdale Weir, thereby decreasing the efficiency of the discharge of the Tisdale By-pass and also increasing the dangers in many ways from the added increase in height of the theoretical water plane, and which Major Cheney, in his report I have given you, states, is already sufficiently high, then I would prefer a less “uniform velocity,” particularly in view of the fact that any silt which may come down from either scour in the by-pass lines above, or still further North from the river itself, there is a “silting basin” already provided for in the Central location, while there is none in the Eastern location. Again, this “silting basin” in the Central location will take care of the silt for several years, and there will be no necessity for raising the “excessively high levees” (they average only 18 inches higher than the West levee of the Eastern location, as I have previously shown you) until such time as this “silting basin” is entirely filled to the 30-foot contour. If, on the other hand, there should be a silt deposit the first flood season, of say 6 inches in the Eastern by-pass area, then, theoretically, the following season these levees would have to be raised 6 inches. At the latitude of Tisdale Weir the levees in the Eastern location of the by-pass will have to be approximately 3 feet higher than in the Central location (on account of the higher water plane), so there are unnecessarily “excessively high” levees in the Eastern location of the by-pass also.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The fifth reason given for change in by-pass location is “the placing of the by-pass upon poorer quality of soil.”
MR. ELLIS: In my opinion this statement would be correct for that portion of the Eastern by-pass which lies north of the latitude of Tisdale By-pass, but it is largely incorrect for the greater portion of the by-pass which lies south of the latitude of Tisdale By-pass. What would you say to that statement, Mr. Von Geldern?
MR. VON GELDERN: I think your statement is quite correct. The soil in the Central location of the by-pass above Tisdale By-pass has several feet of rich alluvial deposit on it from the overflow from the Sacramento River, and this deposit never reached as far east as the Eastern location of the by-pass. South of Tisdale By-pass, however, the situation is practically reversed, the greater portion of the area in the Central location being “Sacramento clay,” while the lower portion of the Eastern by-pass and its extension, the Feather River overflow channel, is silt deposit from the latter river.
MR. DOCKWEILER: How about the cost of construction of the two by-passes, the sixth reason for the change of location being “less cost of construction?”
MR. ELLIS: The original estimate of the cost of constructing levees by the Engineers was seven cents per cubic yard for the Central location, and eight and one-half cents for the Eastern location. My estimate on this work at that time, for the Eastern location, was 11 cents (see page 7 in pamphlet containing Argument against change of by-pass location). Mr. George Randle, Engineer for District No. 1500, has advised me recently that the work which they have been doing on the Eastern by-pass levee thus far has been costing, including overhead expenses, 15 cents per cubic yard or more than twice the original estimate. On the other hand, he has also advised me that the drainage ditch, which they have about completed in the trough of the basin, and which you inspected on the trip we took there by automobile today, is costing ten cents per cubic yard, without any overhead expense. The machine which is doing this latter work is a small floating steam shovel. Probably a clam shell dredge of large capacity (such as they are working on the East by-pass levee) would handle this material considerably cheaper. It might be possible that “shooting” the underlying hardpan might be necessary, same as they have had to do almost everywhere on the Eastern by-pass levee, as you saw today; and if so, it would be an added expense. From what has been accomplished thus far in this work, am disposed to think that the material could be handled much cheaper and easier on the Central than on the Eastern location. The original plan of the engineers called for a levee with 10-foot crown, with slopes of 2 to 1 on land and 3 to 1 on water side. At my suggestion the slopes were reversed and plans changed to call for revetment on the water side, on portions of the levee.
MR. DOCKWEILER: What portions?
MR. ELLIS: The Flood Control Engineer found, upon investigation, that when storms are prevailing and floods occur, the prevailing wind is almost invariably from the Southeast in that section. He therefore provided, in his amended plans, that all portions of the East levee of the Eastern location of the by-pass, which ran parallel with the usual direction of the wind, be not protected with revetment but that all other portions, where the levee would be “angling” with the southeasterly winds, same be protected with cobble or or artificial concrete block construction, or some other suitable protection, to be approved by the State Reclamation Board. If you will look at page 12 of Flood Control Report No. 22 you will note that this estimate for revetment amounts to $446,978.70 for the East levee of the East location of the by-pass, and $656,965.06 for all the West levees, making a total (after adding 10 per cent for engineering and incidentals) of $1,213,348.14. Now, if the reason given by the engineer for not reveting those stretches of the levee which run parallel with the direction of the prevailing winds is a good one, then he should estimate the estimated cost of revetment on the two levees of the by-pass in the Central location (and which, on page 17, he estimates will amount to $1,434,858.60), because the entire length of the Central location of the by-pass is also parallel with the direction of the prevailing winds and exactly parallel with the section of the East levee of the East location of the by-pass upon which he proposes to eliminate revetments. In addition to this, a less unit cost per cubic yard should be made for constructing the levees of the Central location than in the Eastern location. With these changes the cost of constructing the Central location levees will be less and not more than the Eastern location. There are other items in the estimate which could be questioned but which I could not go into detail with at this time.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The seventh reason given is that there will be “less seepage, due to less depth of water pressure.”
MR. ELLIS: I think I have answered this in previous statements wherein I called attention to the fact that the difference in average height of the levees on either location, and which would act as levees of District No. 1500, is only 18 inches and that a good portion of this will probably be eliminated when the silt has filled the low basin area in the Central location. I might, however, call attention to the fact that the depth of water against the present South levee of District No. 1 is now about 10 feet; but that if the Eastern location of the by-pass is adopted, the depth of water against what will then be their South levee will be about 20 feet.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The eighth and last reason given in Flood Control Report No. 22 for the change in the by-pass is as follows: “Less area flooded in case of break of East levee of by-pass.”
MR. ELLIS: This depends entirely upon certain conditions which may prevail when the flood control plan is completed. In case the Eastern location of the by-pass is completed, if the area between the East levee of that by-pass and the Feather River should depend upon that levee and the Feather River West levee for protection, and assuming that the union of these two levees be at the Southwest corner of District No. 803 (a short distance below Chandler Station), then in case of a break in the levees on the West bank of the Feather River, say a short distance below Yuba City, the water would flow to the South and fill this pocket. Assuming the levees held and that the water would escape in a thin sheet over the crown of the levee, then the area which would be flooded would depend upon the height of the levee. Major Cheney's height of flood plane at Nelson Bend is 45.7; and if the levees should be built there with a height of 5 feet above this assumed flood plane, then the water would be expected to back up to the 50.7 contour.
If the Central location of the by-pass was adopted, and if District No. 1500 should make use of its present partially constructed levee which runs parallel with and 6000 feet distant from the bank of the river, and extend this levee across the overflow channel at Nelson Slough and connect with the main Feather River levee which extends up that river, then the southerly end of the pocket which would be formed would be at the extreme South end of the reclaimed area which District No. 1500 would have on the East side of the Central by-pass location. This point would be about one mile North of the S. P. Co.'s trestle at or near the center of Section 5. The contemplated flood plane there will be very close to elevation 42 (I have not the California Debris Commission's exact data at this point with me), and if we should add 5 feet for construction of levee above this flood plane, then this would bring the top of the levee there to elevation 47. This would be a difference of 3.7 feet in favor of the Eastern location as claimed in the report. This, of course, does not take into consideration the prevailing South winds at flood times, and when they are sometimes exceeding strong gales; and from actual observation I know that they have a wonderful effect in pushing water “up hill” in that territory, and the greater the area covered by water, the greater the effect of the wind; so that under some conditions this difference of 3.7 might be entirely eliminated and the 50.7 actually reached under the Central location under these conditions. This difference just mentioned, of 3.7 feet, would represent the entire general slope of about two miles in that section; and wind action on water there during periods of flood, which have occurred there in past years, has actually affected the scope of flood area to about that extent.
MR. DOCKWEILER: What would be the area flooded by a break in the West levee of the by-pass, assuming that the Eastern location was followed?
MR. ELLIS: That would depend, of course, upon where the break occurred. If the break occurred on the southerly end of the by-pass proper, say at about Nelson Slough, the water would flow southerly into District 1500; and I assume that the District managers would immediately take steps to cut the levee on the southerly end of the District so that the water on the land side of the levee would not get any higher than the water was in the Sacramento River, at say Fremont Weir. Assuming the water in the river to be at the contemplated water plane of 40 feet, this would mean that (without any wind action) every acre in District 1500 would be flooded except a small narrow strip, approximately one-half mile in width on an average and extending from about Collins' Eddy to Tisdale Weir on the Sacramento River side. The wind action would no doubt, however, cause this strip to be flooded also. If, in place of a break occurring near Nelson Slough, the break should occur on the extreme South end of the District and so have the least possible flood height within the District, exactly similar results would occur as in the first case; the water in the heart of the District being 20 feet deep. Let us assume, however, that the break in the West levee of the by-pass should occur at its extreme Northern end; say a mile or two below the Northern Electric Co.'s bridge crossing the by-pass near the Sutter Buttes; in that case the water would promptly flood the area westerly to the Sacramento River and North of Tisdale By-pass, and consisting of Districts No. 70 and No. 1660. When this pocket was filled (which would no doubt take but a few hours), the water would, without doubt, break the levee on the East bank of the Sacramento (it is an unprotected sand levee); this would then gorge the Sacramento River beyond its capacity (which is only 30,000 sec. feet below the Tisdale Weir); the levees on the West bank would then undoubtedly fail and the entire Colusa Basin be inundated. If these breaks should not open quickly and not afford prompt relief to the river and the District North of Tisdale Weir, then the levee of District 1500 on the bank of the Sacramento would also fail and that District be also inundated.
MR. DOCKWEILER: How about the Central location of the by-pass?
MR. ELLIS: In case of a break occurring on the extreme northerly end of the West levee of the by-pass, exactly the same flood conditions would probably occur as I have last described, except that all that area lying between the East levee of the Central by-pass and the West levee of the Eastern by-pass (a length of approximately 20 miles or more), would not be inundated as it would be if the break occurred on the West levee of the Eastern location of the by-pass at its northerly end as previously described.
MR. KENT: Have you any further data which you desire to submit?
MR. ELLIS: None, except to impress upon you some figures relative to contemplated flood planes which are interesting.
MR. KENT: What are they? I want to get all the information I can.
MR. ELLIS: The contemplated flood plane in the Feather River at Nelson Bend, where the Eastern by-pass will discharge is 45.7
The present ground level in the Eastern by-pass from Nelson Bend up to the latitude of Tisdale By-pass, is 30.0
The ground level in the Eastern by-pass from the latitude of Tisdale By-pass gradually raises as you go northerly until it reaches an elevation at the Northern Electric Co.'s bridge, a short distance below the Sutter Buttes 42.0
(From this latter point northerly the ground raises much more rapidly.)
The present crest of Tisdale Weir on the East bank of the Feather river is 44.25
(It is contemplated that this crest may be raised to 50.)
When storms occur and floods result, the rivers discharge their flood in the order of their length, etc. The Bear River discharges first and then the Yuba; then the Feather, and at this same time the American is also discharging; also, all small streams, such as Honcut Creek, etc., etc. The discharge of all these rivers and creeks pretty well fills all the channels from Sacramento northerly to its junction with the Feather River and up the Feather to Marysville and to Oroville. You will see, therefore, that with the Eastern by-pass constructed, that this by-pass and also the Tisdale By-pass will be considerably gorged with back water from the Feather River's flood before any great discharge of water will begin to escape into the Eastern by-pass from the Sacramento over the Tisdale and Moulton Weirs.
When this Sacramento River water does commence to discharge into the by-pass (the contemplated discharge is 220,000 sec. ft.) it will be against a “water cushion” of a very considerable depth and in a channel way, which, as I have mentioned before, is “dead level” for about 20 miles; the ground surface at the latitude of Tisdale Weir being 30 and the crest of the Fremont Weir, where it will largely discharge, being at altitude 30. Along this level stretch of some 20 miles this flood water is expected to flow safely with surface fall of about 6 inches to the mile, the contemplated flood height at Fremont Weir being estimated to be elevation 40, while at the mouth of Tisdale By-pass the contemplated flood height is estimated at 50.5.
Again, I would call your attention to the small capacity of the Sacramento River below Tisdale Weir. The present capacity is 27,000 sec. ft., and the present flood control plan contemplates that with the raising of levees its capacity will be increased to 30,000 sec. ft. Above Tisdale Weir the contemplated capacity is expected to be 65,000 sec. ft. It will be seen from this that it is absolutely necessary that 35,000 sec. ft. be discharged over the Tisdale Weir, through the Tisdale By-pass to the Sutter By-pass. With the Central location of the by-pass, the contemplated flood plane at the mouth of Tisdale By-pass will be at elevation 47.8 or 6.2 ft. lower than the contemplated flood plane in the Sacramento River at Tisdale Weir. In the Eastern by-pass, however (and you will note that this is further to the East and so reduces the slope per mile), the contemplated flood plane is expected to be 50.5 or a fall of only 3.5 ft. in the greater distance.
Now remember that these figures are all estimates, based on certain assumptions. If the assumption is correct when the figures indicate that 220,000 sec. ft. can be discharged in the Eastern by-pass location with a perfect ground level for 20 miles and a surface slope of about 6 inches to the mile, then well and good; but if it should be wrong and this discharge should require a water surface slope of an additional 2 inches per mile for that distance, then the fall of 3.5 in the Tisdale By-pass will have disappeared; and if the river is unable to discharge the necessary 35,000 sec. ft. over the Tisdale Weir, the result will be breaks on the levees below the weir, probably on both sides of the river, and that will mean the inundation of all of District No. 1500 and the entire Colusa Basin. It therefore appears to me that the factor of safety is none too great for a proper discharge of the Tisdale By-pass into the Central location of the by-pass without going still further to the East and having the discharge made in the Eastern location, and at a higher water plane.
MR. DOCKWEILER: The various figures which you have been giving today relative to estimated flood heights, etc., are they the figures of the California Debris Commission?
MR. ELLIS: Yes sir. I might state for your information, that the State's Flood Control Engineer is making calculations for even a greater flood discharge than has the California Debris Commission and, in consequence, his assumed water planes are considerably higher than are those of the California Debris Commission. For example, I have stated that the assumed flood plane of the California Debris Commission at Nelson Bend on the Feather is 45.7; but the assumed flood plane for this same place by the Flood Control Engineer, for his greater assumed flood discharge, is 49.9 or 4.2 higher.
MR. KENT: Have you any other reasons to offer why the Eastern location of the by-pass is not the proper one?
MR. ELLIS: I am going to voice one more objection, and that is, that the construction of the by-pass in the Sutter Basin is going to be a direct menace to the City of Sacramento, which is already in an admittedly dangerous situation on account of the delay in constructing the Bryte's Bend By-pass, and which will have no unnecessary margin of safety even after that by-pass is constructed.
MR. DOCKWEILER: Will you please explain how the construction of the Sutter By-pass will prove to be a menace to the City of Sacramento?
MR. ELLIS: You may possibly be familiar with the history of the results of a break which occurred on the East bank of the Sacramento River a few years ago, at a place which is generally known as the “Edwards Break.” When this break occurred the flood waters backed northerly and menaced the South levee of the City of Sacramento, and also ran southerly, filling one reclamation District after another until the flood had inundated practically every levee district on the East side of the Sacramento River, clear down to and including some of the reclamation districts in the San Joaquin Delta region. This was one of the most disastrous breaks which has ever occurred in the valley.
In the Central location of the Sutter By-pass, the discharge will be directly opposite the Fremont Weir into the Yolo Basin. In the Eastern location of the by-pass the discharge will be directed at the levees of District No. 1001, which is the North Reclamation of the American Basin; and the lower end of this district is below the mouth of the Feather River. If the levee of District No. 1001 should fail, say just below Nelson Bend, the flood waters would rush to the southerly end of this district, and even if the levees on the river should break below the mouth of the Feather River, the capacity of the Sacramento River would be entirely inadequate to take but a very small amount of the flood water which would be precipitated from above into the District. The result would be, that the levees of the small canal (which lies between District No. 1001 and District No. 1000) would be broken and this would then give free outlet for the flood waters to the South end of the latter District; and from here they would escape into the rivers at Sacramento City, either over or through the District levees. This additional discharge, added to what is normally to be expected there, will be far in excess of the capacity of the Sacramento River below the Southern Pacific bridge, and then will become a test of strength between the levees on the East and West side of the river; and unfortunately, the levees of Sacramento City are lower than the levees on the opposite bank of the river. If Sacramento City, under these conditions, should fail to stand the test to her levee system it would then be a repetition of the Edwards break from there on to the San Joaquin Delta. The whole idea of the Eastern location is, I firmly believe, radically wrong. With the Central location, the Feather River was expected to carry a load of 240,000 sec. ft. below Nelson Bend; and it is unfair to that river to give it an additional load at Nelson Bend of 220,000 sec. ft. to care for to its mouth. It is also unfair to every district on the East bank of the Feather and Sacramento Rivers, from Nelson Bend on the Feather River on the North, to the San Joaquin Delta on the South, to so plan the Sutter By-pass that it will be a constant menace to that immense and highly developed area, and which may, at some future time, be made a by-pass by reason of a break in the West levee of District No. 1001, due to the construction of the Sutter By-pass on the Eastern location. I do not desire to pose as an alarmist, but I believe that if the people living on the easterly side of the Sacramento River, from Sacramento City southerly, realized the possible dangers which they may be subjected to if the Sutter By-pass is constructed on the Eastern location, and when future floods occur as they have occurred in past years, such as in 1861-2, 1881, 1904, 1907 and 1909, that there would be many more objectors to the consummation of this adopted plan than there are at present.
MR. KENT: Have you anything further to offer?
MR. ELLIS: No Sir, I am afraid I have tired your patience too much already.
After the above testimony was given by myself in answers to questions propounded by Mr. Kent and Mr. Dockweiler, some testimony was asked for and given by Mr. Edward Von Geldern and Mr. Samuel Gray of Sutter County.
Mr. Kent then brought up the matter of rumors which had been circulated that improper influences had been indulged in, when the vote had been taken by the members of the Reclamation Board and when the shift had been made from the Central to the Western location by the votes of Mr. McClatchy and Mr. Cook, I opposing the change.
I informed Mr. Kent that I had heard of these rumors, which in my opinion were both unfortunate and, I firmly believe, absolutely untrue. That Senator Chandler of Fresno had invited me to his room one day at Sacramento, when the Legislature was in session and had for about two hours endeavored to “worm” some information from me on the subject, evidently being under the impression that there was some truth to these rumors, but that I had assured Senator Chandler that such stories were absolutely untrue; that it was purely and simply a difference of opinion between McClatchy, Cook and myself; that they were entitled to their opinions, the same as I was; that I believed that when these two gentlemen disagreed with my decision, that it was an honest difference of opinion; that they had not had the long years of close observation and experience as I had had with flood conditions, as they had existed in many past years in the area, north of the mouth of the Feather River and as a result, they were guided very largely by the reports and recommendations of the State Engineering Department and unfortunately, none of those engineers, had ever to my knowledge, had any opportunity to observe actual flood conditions in that area and because of that fact, did not have “proper respect” for the rivers and their requirements during times of maximum flood. Again, unfortunately, both Mr. McClatchy and Mr. Cook, did not seem to realize the difference between the State's interests and the Federal Government's interest in the project. That when I had left Senator Chandler, I felt that I had not entirely disabused his mind of this idea which he had of improper influences.
I then placed on record with Mr. Kent, certain letters written by Major S. A. Cheney under date of October 2nd, 1912, March 24th, 1913 and March 18th, 1915, all addressed to me as Secretary of the Reclamation Board; also a copy of a letter written by Mr. McClatchy, addressed to Major Cheney, under date of March 17th, 1915, all disclosing the fact (which I had always contended), that while the Federal Engineers had “assented” to the change in the location of the Sutter By-pass, they did so because the change did not affect the Federal Government's interest, which was mainly navigation, while the State's interest, was mainly safe reclamation. That the original plan, drawn up by the Federal Engineers was for the by-pass in the central location was for good and sufficient reasons, in which I agreed and that these letters, which I was filing with Mr. Kent disclosed the fact, that one day, when we were having a rather “warm” argument as to the proper location of the by-pass, that Major Rand, of the California Debris Commission had stated that “there were no records in his office that they were in any way enthusiastic for the Eastern location.” These letters also disclosed the fact, that Major S. A. Cheney, of the California Debris Commission had told me in a conversation which I had with him one day in San Francisco, that “he had from the first been favorably inclined to the central location and was still so favorably inclined.” That one day, when the Board was holding a meeting, in the “heat of argument,” I had so quoted Major Cheney; that apparently Mr. McClatchy questioned the correctness of my statement and had proceeded (on March 17, 1915) to write Major Cheney (who then was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas), to ascertain whether I had quoted him correctly and that Major Cheney, under date of March 27th, had replied to Mr. McClatchy, confirming the statement he had made to me and bringing to Mr. McClatchy's attention the fact “that the duty and interests of the Reclamation Board were different from the duty and interests of the California Debris Commission, and so would require the Board to take cognizance of matters that the Commission did not”--“The distinction may be briefly expressed by saying that the Commission was essentially concerned with the preservation of the necessary flood channels to enable the general plan to be carried out, while it was the duty of the Board to encourage and further reclamation work, under the general plan”--“In other words, the primary interest of the Commission was flood control, reclamation being incidentally permitted; the primary interest of the Board was reclamation, this to be carried out in accordance with the general plan.”
When Congressman Kent had completed his hearing here, he told me that he was completely in accord with our side of the controversy. Shortly after, he had all the testimony, which had been obtained in the hearing, printed in booklet form and hundreds of them circulated generally and one copy also placed on the desk of each member of the Legislature.
This booklet, placing new light on the matter to the legislators, Mr. McClatchy then had the State Control Engineer, Mr. E. A. Bailey, get out a printed statement, taking the opposite point of view and these were also widely distributed, with the result, that the majority members of the Legislature were still further confused and “did not know what it was all about.”
Quite some time afterwards, I received a letter from Congressman Kent, asking me to meet him at Sacramento, which I did. He then confided to me that he had decided not to run for Congress again and suggested that I be a candidate for that office. I told Mr. Kent that I could not do so for two reasons; first, I was in business and could not neglect that business; second, that necessary publicity and other expenses, I really could not afford. “Don't let the expense worry you, Mr. Ellis,” said Mr. Kent, “I will pay all expenses and if necessary spend $5000 for necessary publicity in newspapers, etc., for you.” As Mr. Kent was rated a millionaire, this expenditure meant but little to him, however, I declined with thanks. Mr. Clarence F. Lea then became a candidate and received the support of Mr. Kent. Mr. Lea has been Congressman ever since from this District and has made an enviable record.
How I Came to Leave the Reclamation Board
IN A PREVIOUS chapter I have explained that the first members were McClatchy, Cook and myself; McClatchy was President and I was Secretary as well as being a member; however, when the Board was enlarged to seven members, I was again Secretary but had an Assistant Secretary, Miss Edith Grove of Sacramento, who was the active Secretary in keeping the minutes, etc.; in addition, we had an attorney, also an engineer who had the title of Flood Control Engineer (E. A. Bailey), connected with the State Engineer's office; we had also a staff of draughtsmen; all received salaries except the three Board members. Later on, other areas demanded representation on the Board and the Legislature in 1913 increased the membership to seven, who were also appointed by the Governor.
To comply with the requirements that the interested land owners furnish all necessary rights of way, etc., it was necessary to divide the whole plan into projects, and levy what was called “By-pass Assessments.” These were levied according to the benefits derived, by three additional engineers expert in that line of work, and after they had completed their work of assessing, public hearings were held to enable anyone to present protests, which usually they lost no chance to do. While I believe that these assessments were fairly and equitably levied, still it was impossible to so convince many land owners and as a result, the Board was not popular with many people. As the Board met only once or twice a month, we decided that we should have someone always present in the office and we looked about for some time to obtain some man, who had a good engineering knowledge of the plan and a pleasing personality when meeting the public when they called at the office. It was difficult to find anyone who combined these qualities until one day I remembered that when the Sacramento Northern Railroad was being constructed, they had an engineer who appeared very capable in general engineering; I knew from conversations with him that he had a good grasp of the flood control problem and as for a “pleasing personality,” he had “IT.” He was employed with a salary of $5000 per annum, plus expenses and was given the title of General Manager. After we had announced the appointment, the following day two prominent citizens in Sacramento asked me how we had happened to appoint him, and then proceeded to inform me of some questionable transactions he had indulged in and which of course I had never heard of before; as I was responsible for his appointment, I felt considerably chagrined, but it placed me on my guard from then on. He continued with the Board, made himself useful, was thoroughly competent and filled the position of a “bumper” between the Board and the public in a very excellent manner and then one day, asked for a raise of salary to $7,500 per annum and expenses, which was granted him, over my objections. About that time came the job of clearing large portions of the Sutter By-pass and Feather River overflow channel; it was war time and lots of work then was being performed on a “cost plus basis” and that job was started in that way.
I soon ascertained that our General Manager had purchased a lot of rails, logging cars and engines from a closed down lumber camp in the mountains, which had been foreclosed by a Sacramento Bank and, in addition, had paid several thousand dollars for a switch and spur track, to the railroad company, having tracks near the scene of operations. At the next meeting, I demanded to know why such equipment had been purchased, at apparently excessive prices but received no satisfactory explanation. Later on, he asked permission to purchase two more engines from the same source for $6000 but his request was refused as he had not as yet demonstrated any real necessity for the equipment formerly purchased. Shortly afterwards, I ascertained that he had actually purchased these two engines and had given a note to a Sacramento Bank for the $6000 and had signed the note on behalf of the Board. I went to the Bank, demanded to see the note, was shown it, explained that the General Manager had been told not to purchase this equipment, that checks had to be signed by either the Secretary or Assistant Secretary and that I would not sign and had instructed the Assistant Secretary not to sign any such check and I doubted if the note would be paid.
When the Board had its next meeting, I explained the circumstances, the General Manager received a rebuke, the bill was not paid and the Bank made no further demand for payment. It was about this time, the General Manager demanded and again received, over my objections, another raise of his salary to $10,000 per annum, plus expenses, as much salary as the Governor received.
Having heard rumors of unnecessary and very expensive work being done on the by-pass clearing, I made a trip down there one day and ascertained that in place of clearing only the small trees and underbrush, they were cutting very large trees, placing the large logs in the river, made up into rafts and from there they were floated down the river towed by a small launch. I then ascertained in Sacramento that these logs, when they arrived at Sacramento were delivered to a small mill which made boxes out of this timber and the owner of the mill was a son-in-law of the banker who had previously arranged for the sale of the logging machinery to the by-pass and which had never been used. I shortly afterwards ascertained various other matters of questionable character in which the General Manager had been a party, so wrote a letter to the President of the Reclamation Board, Mr. Fletcher (Mr. McClatchy having resigned from the Board) that at the next meeting I was going to file written charges against the General Manager. Evidently some one got very “busy,” for in a few days, I received a letter from Governor Stephens stating that he had received a letter, signed by “some of the members” of the Reclamation Board, requesting him to remove me from the Board because “I was a disturbing element”; the letter requested my resignation. I immediately wrote the Governor, giving him a detailed statement of the charges which I had written Mr. Fletcher I was going to present at the next Board Meeting; that I intended to expose this grafting which had been going on and that I declined to resign and preferred that he “remove” me, if he saw fit to do so and which he had the power to do. I received no reply from the Governor but at our next meeting, a messenger from the Governor called and presented me with a notice of my “removal” as a Board member. I immediately read to the Board members, the letter I had first received from the Governor, then my reply, then my notice of my removal. Only three members of the Board had made the request to the Governor, and signed the letter, the other members being greatly surprised. I then presented my written charges to each member of the Board, also one to the General Manager, stating that I had expected some such action from the Governor, put on my hat and walked out. I then gave a copy of my charges to the Sacramento Bee, which published same as having been presented to the Board. I got no libel suit, however, from the General Manager; he, however, I was later informed, was given a severe “calling down,” but was not discharged, but the $6000 note at the Bank was paid. Later on however, he continued to do more improper things and lost his job; still later on, when a new Governor came on the scene, the whole Board was removed, but this was largely political as I am certain none of the Board members were involved in any way with the General Manager's “activities.”
About two years or so later, I had an amusing occurrence. Governor Stephens, who had removed me, was a friend of Mr. Henry Johnson (our local druggist) and came up occasionally to visit Johnson, sometimes going duck hunting. One day I dropped in Johnson's Drug Store to purchase some article and as Johnson was busy with some customers, I strolled in his back office. Governor Stephens was sitting there, he did not recognize me; soon Johnson came in and said, “Mr. Ellis I want to introduce you to Governor Stephens”; we shook hands and then I said “Governor, it is a pleasure to meet you again, the last time I met you we had quite a seance.” The Governor said, “I do not understand what you mean Mr. Ellis”; I replied, “Why the last time I met you, you placed the toe of your boot to the bosom of my trousers”; the Governor said, “I still do not understand,” to which I replied, “Why I am the Ellis you kicked off the Reclamation Board.” The Governor got very red in the face, he started to say that “he did remember something about it but did not remember all the facts in the case,” etc., etc., when I interrupted him by saying, “Now please do not attempt any apologies Governor, I have no sore spot where your boot landed, I feel quite certain you were taken advantage of by those three members, and I really would prefer to still see you in the Governor's office today in place of that 'wild bull in a china shop' who now holds the office.” The Governor and I have been good friends ever since.
I really was not averse to leaving the Reclamation Board; for some ten years, when I had been a member, engineering and construction work were what I was particularly interested in and always have been; when I left the Board, construction work had largely ceased temporarily for lack of funds and the Board's problems were largely legal and financial with figures galore and “figures” are never particularly interesting unless they are clothed in a female bathing suit.
The Attempted Resurrection of Hydraulic Mining In 1927
AFTER the Judge Sawyer decision in 1884, the miners being very dissatisfied, conceived a plan for the resumption of hydraulic mining by having the control of that type of mining placed under the jurisdiction of Government engineers, who would decide what was necessary for a mine to do in the way of constructing restraining works to hold back debris in order to obtain a permit to operate by the hydraulic method. A bill was introduced in Congress by Congressman Caminetti of Amador County along these lines, desired by the miners, the bill became a law in 1893 and was generally known as the Caminetti Act. A commission of three Federal Engineers, known as the California Debris Commission, then took charge. Anyone desiring to operate by the hydraulic process made application for a permit and at the same time, filed surveys and plans, showing how much material was to be dislodged and how and where such debris would be stored. The California Debris Commission would then have their own engineers check up on these plans and then advertise a public hearing, at which anyone had the right to appear in opposition to the permit.
We held a meeting and discussed the attitude we should take and decided that our policy should be to make no appearances at such hearings and watch and see how the plan worked out for a while and depend upon the California Debris Commission doing the right and fair thing to all concerned. We knew full well that the members of the Commission were disinterested, and could be depended upon to look out for the Federal Government's interests, which was the navigability of the rivers and which the Federal Government had finally realized had been seriously threatened by past unrestricted hydraulic mining. The Government's interests were also our interests and time demonstrated that we had adopted the correct policy and since the adoption of the Caminetti Act, up to the present time, a total of over 1000 permits have been granted and we have never once appeared in opposition.
These permits have almost all been for minor operations as regulations laid down by the Commission, for concrete dams and other debris control structures entailed too much expense for large mines to operate at a profit.
The net result was that hydraulic mining as an industry, was a comparatively insignificant business and we of the valley considered that the hydraulic mining problem was a “past issue,” for the following 34 years until 1927, when a “resurrection” took place when the so called Cloudman Bill was introduced in the Legislature, proposing an appropriation of $300,000, for purchase of dam sites and to be followed by the construction of large dams with moneys to be obtained from State and Federal funds. A few years before, after several years of investigations and surveys and at a cost of about $1,000,000 a comprehensive water conservation plan for the entire state had been evolved, and as the proposed legislation was considered in conflict with that plan and for other reasons, it was strongly opposed and the attempted legislation defeated.
This was then followed by a series of meetings held by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, when both sides to the controversy were given hearings.
When the Legislature again met in 1929, a similar bill, known as the Seawell Bill was introduced, to carry an appropriation of $200,000 and this was also again seriously objected to by the valley interests.
Public interest in both the mountains and the valleys was very intense; joint sessions of both houses of the Legislature were held and “spellbinders” representing both sides held forth in an effort to gain votes to their respective sides. The miners succeeded in their bill before the Assembly and it then went to the Senate. On May 13th, 1929, I appeared on behalf of the Sacramento Valley Anti-Debris Association, before the Senate Finance Committee of the Legislature and made the following argument:
This bill which is before you and which is practically the same as the Cloudman Bill of two years ago has the distinct disapproval of the California Debris Commission, of General Jadwin, the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army, Washington, D. C., the great mass of the people of the Sacramento Valley, and it is distinctly opposed to and would complicate the co-ordained plan for the development of the water resources of this State as outlined in Bulletin No. 12 and reported to the Legislature in 1927. Since the defeat of the Cloudman Bill two years ago I have, on numerous occasions, discussed this proposed legislation with a great many people living in the old hydraulic mining sections where are situated such places as La Porte, Gibsonville, Downieville, Camptonville, etc., and I speak advisedly when I state that I have yet to find in any of that large area any interest whatsoever in this proposed legislation simply because of the fact that the cream of the hydraulic mining area was mined out years ago and what may be left, the people there know would not be profitable to work. The only section in the mountains which is showing the slightest interest in this bill is that on the south fork of the Yuba River where is left the only really worthwhile restricted area of good gold-bearing gravel, and which area is largely controlled by a few individuals who are making the sole effort to obtain this legislation.
After the long series of meetings held by the Commonwealth Club and where both sides of this controversy were given every opportunity to be heard and present their arguments, it was very distinctly shown that after taking Mr. Jarman's (the State's representative) estimate of the anticipated profit from the proposed hydraulic mining operations and comparing them with the estimates made by W. W. Waggoner of Nevada City, representing the mining interests, and Otto Von Geldern, representing the Valley interests, that the average net return which might be expected under these three estimates was slightly less than 2 3/4c per yard, and the conclusion which any reasonable person could arrive at was that the proposed mining under the conditions which would be imposed would be unprofitable and this was the same conclusion arrived at by the United States Government engineers. This conclusion must be right and is confirmed by the experience in the past since the year 1893 when the Caminetti Act became a law. For all those years, under the Caminetti Act, the mining interests could have, if they so desired, arranged for the construction of dams with the cooperation of the Government, but no effort was ever so made by them, undoubtedly for the reason that they did not think that it would prove profitable and they did not care to risk the investment. Now, they propose to have the State and Federal Governments assume that risk and invest the money in the dams and if the mines pay, the State and Federal Governments presumably will be reimbursed for their outlay; if, however, the mining does not pay, then the State and Federal Governments would be “holding the bag.” This proposal, the Federal engineers have emphatically turned down and the State now has the proposal under consideration and it is now here before you gentlemen for some recommendation.
Referring to the Judge Sawyer decision of 1884, that decision did not say that hydraulic mining was illegal, but that the dumping of the hydraulic by-products into the navigable rivers of the State and onto the lands of the Valley was illegal and had to be stopped. Ever since then, from time to time, efforts have been made to evade the necessary restrictions, but as yet, without results. Being dissatisfied with their own Act which was passed by Congress and previously referred to as the Caminetti Act, the mining interests in 1904 persuaded President Roosevelt to send someone from the United States Geological Survey Department to investigate and ascertain if there was some other way of solving their difficulties. President Roosevelt sent out Professor G. K. Gilbert, who spent three years on his investigations and made a very exhaustive and complete report, but his conclusion was that there was no other way to handle the problem. This report disclosed the fact that the amount of deposits of mining debris between the years 1849 and 1914 in the San Francisco Bay system amounted to 1,146,000,000 cubic yards, that on the water sheds of the Yuba, Bear and American rivers only, there had been excavated 857,670,000 cubic yards of mining material which was eight times more material than was excavated in the construction of the Panama Canal. In the concluding statements of this report appears the following: “returning to the excavation of hydraulic mining, I shall assume that, in the future as now, the work on the auriferous gravel will be permitted ONLY on the condition that the tailings, both coarse and fine, will be kept from the rivers, also that the regulations that restrain hydraulic mining should not be made less stringent,” and further, “with minor exceptions the gravels that remain in the Sierras cannot be worked properly so long as the cost of storage is added to the cost of washing.”
In the face of all these reports no further efforts were made to have the restrictions modified by the mining interests until two years ago, when, as you know, the Cloudman Bill was introduced into the Legislature. As the report of Colonel Jackson, concurred in by General Jadwin, Chief of Engineers, should carry some weight with the State's representatives, I wish to bring to your attention a few extracts from the report: “The board believes, therefore that any resumption of hydraulic mining on a large scale should be undertaken only on such a basis as would justify private investors in assuming all the risks involved. This would mean that the mine owners should provide direct or indirectly all necessary debris-retention work.” Again, “In other words, if the project is successful and mining develops at the rate expected, it will be of no advantage to the lower rivers so far as preventing the flow of sand into them is concerned.” Again, “The California Debris Commission is of the opinion that it is unwise for the United States to enter into partnership with a private company in a project of this kind.” Again, “Even though present plans may make it appear feasible to use the site for storage of debris without interference with its primary purpose of irrigation, this commission feels that the project, of which this site is an essential unit, IS SO VITAL TO THE WELFARE OF THE STATE AS TO PRECLUDE IT FROM THIS INVESTIGATION” (this refers to the Narrows Dam near Smartsville). At these same hearings, it was brought out clearly that while the mining product, gold, was worth today exactly the same as its value was some sixty years ago, still the cost of materials, labor, etc., which were necessary in the operation of these mines, had advanced 67 per cent and that there was no promise that these mines could be operated at a profit after refunding to the State and Federal Government their investment for the construction of the proposed dams.
It is a well-known fact that when the Sawyer decision was made in 1884 when materials and labor and the expense of getting water was vastly less than they are today, still many of the mines had ceased to show profits. In an article published in the Grass Valley Tidings in 1884 after the Sawyer decision had been announced, statement was made in that article that the North Bloomfield Hydraulic Mine owed for water $1,700,000 and it was time that they suspended washing by the hydraulic methods and commenced drifting the paydirt. Also that the Blue Tent Mine Company were so deeply involved financially that they had to stop operations and that the California Powder Company was endeavoring to collect a bill for $70,000 and that there was not a dollar to meet their demand, and that the mine had recently been sold for $15,000 and purchased by one of the creditors with the expectation that the Powder Company would pay the purchase price and take the mine. These mines were largely owned by foreign capitalists who lost a large amount of money in that investment. In view of these facts, the only conclusion which can be arrived at is the one that was arrived at by Colonel Jackson that it would be an unprofitable investment on the part of the State and Federal Governments to finance dams for the resumption of hydraulic mining.
Our mining friends have stated on many occasions that the Sawyer decision resulted in the confiscation of $100,000,000 worth of property in the mining district; in view of the fact that mining was proving unprofitable even at that early date, it is rather hard to believe that there was that much loss entailed to the hydraulic mining interests and no facts have ever been given to substantiate that figure. Assuming, however, for argument's sake that they did suffer that much loss, then our mining friends must remember that we in the valleys also suffered a tremendous loss and in the report of Major U.S. Grant, 3rd, Document No. 23, Sixty-ninth Congress, he states that the “expenditures by local interests both for flood control and reclamation since 1850 and up to 1925 amounted to $86,645,855.87 and in addition the State of California had advanced the sum of $4,479,463.76, making a total of $91,125,319.63. As this does not include expenditures by the United States Government itself and as it does not include irreparable damage done to large areas of farming lands, it is readily to be seen that the total expense made necessary in the Valley because of the operations of hydraulic mining amounted to at least $100,000,000, so that our losses and expenditures are equal, if they do not exceed, the amount of confiscation claimed by the hydraulic mining interests.” Morally, I presume that the Valley interests have a claim for all of these damages which have been inflicted upon them by the mining interests, but, of course, such a claim is uncollectable although we are justly entitled to damages.
Under the present Caminetti Act, hydraulic mining interests are now compelled to restrain their debris and so prevent damage to the property of others and they irk at those restrictions, but I want to call your attention to the fact that we in the Valley are also compelled to respect the rights of others even in our levee building. No levee district in the Sacramento or San Joaquin valleys can today either construct a new levee or repair an old levee without first making application before the Reclamation Board for its permission and that Board, in conjunction with the California Debris Commission, makes its investigations and ascertains whether such works of improvement are going to be made on safe and sane lines and in such a manner as will not jeopardize the properties of others. This is as it should be and we do not complain of these restrictions but welcome them in the interests of fair play, and our mining friends should do likewise.
We maintain that the future prosperity and the extreme limit of this great State's development in the future depends upon its future water supply and not upon its gold product. Hydraulic mining, according to the Jarman report, could not last, under the most favorable conditions, much over twenty years; on the other hand, it is vastly more important that the few reservoir sites in the mountains of the Sierra be retained for the storage of water for the development of power and for the irrigation of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys than it is to have those storage basins filled with mining debris and so lose that capacity for water storage for all time to come. Even if these dams are constructed for storage of water, a great deal of that capacity will be encroached upon by the partial filling of them with mining debris still left in the canyons; and I want to impress that fact upon this Committee. On page 14 of Colonel Jackson's report appears the following: “Nearly 620,000,000 cubic yards remain lodged in the river beds and mine dumps in the mountains and in the large deposits built up at the points where the mountain streams enter the valley, while nearly 96,000,000 cubic yards remain in the navigable portions of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers.”
In conclusion, we believe with the Government engineers, “that any resumption of hydraulic mining on a large scale should be undertaken only on such a basis as would justify private investors in assuming all the risks involved.” This would mean that the mine owners should provide directly or indirectly all necessary debris-retention work. After the irreparable damage wrought in the State in the past by hydraulic mining, it is inconceivable that the State would now go into partnership with this same private industry by investing its money in a plan which has no promise or guarantee that the capital so invested will ever be returned; a plan, which also is in many ways in direct conflict with the State's own proposed plan for the coordination of the water resources of California, which means vastly more to the great future of the State than any other scheme, either private or public. We trust your action on this Bill will be along the same lines as has been that of the Federal Engineers.
There is just one more subject upon which I desire to dwell briefly before I close, and that is the subject of dams. The Yuba River has, I think, had more restraining dams built on it during the last fifty years than any other river in the United States, perhaps the world. The miners, in their early efforts to make the Courts believe that they were using every effort to restrain debris, built scores of dams, mostly of logs and some rock filled; of course they all failed as everyone expected. In addition to these smaller dams, several larger dams were built, among them the English Dam, a very fine high dam which failed in June 1883 and precipitated an immense amount of debris into the lower reaches of the river and the escaping waters flooded a large area of farming lands south of Marysville, although it was in the summer time and the river was at a low state. Another dam was the North Bloomfield dam at Humbug Canyon, fifty feet in height and which soon filled to the top with debris, then more debris escaping over the top, filled the river bed below the dam until eventually the crest of the dam disappeared under the fill of debris. Another similar dam was constructed across Sucker Flat Ravine near Smartsville with similar results.
The State of California in 1880 constructed a dam across the Yuba River, about two miles in length and about eight miles east of Marysville at a cost of over $200,000. This dam failed the following winter season. Then the State and Federal Governments appropriated $800,000 for dams on the Yuba River, the Federal Engineers expending the money. They first constructed a well built dam of logs, rock filled, and that dam failed the next winter season. They then built two very fine concrete dams across the river but in a few years, these were totally destroyed. Probably over two millions of money was wasted in building dams on that river. At the present time there is only one real dam on the Yuba River and that is the Bullards Bar dam, and constructed by a power company. This dam, from original stream level to maximum high water level is 188 feet in height. Frankly, we haven't supreme confidence in this dam, which cost, I understand, about $1,250,000. I have had experienced engineers criticize it severely because it has no “key” at the base, the dam really resting on the surface of the bed-rock; the dam is only 43 feet thick at the base and only 6 feet thick at its crest. Last year the rock walls on each side of the dam were so badly eroded that the Government engineers compelled the owners to spend a huge sum of money in concreting the ends of the dam, from top to bottom and I understand that more work of a similar character will be done this year. When this dam was built, it was announced that it was primarily for restraining hydraulic mining debris and that it was expected to hold forty million yards of mining debris. It was really intended for a power dam and the forty million yards of debris will never be deposited behind that dam for the very simple reason that there are not enough paying mines on that fork of the Yuba River ever to produce that amount of debris. That is the opinion of many experienced mining men of that section. The old North Bloomfield Mine, and others like it, when they were running full blast years ago, perhaps moved more material in one week than all the present very small mines now operating behind that dam, move in an entire season.
Now, please do not misunderstand me--we do not claim that dams cannot be built to restrain debris--we assume that they possibly can, BUT we must remember that very costly and finely constructed concrete dams in various parts of the country have failed within the last few years, also a well constructed earth filled dam recently collapsed, even before it was filled with water, so no one can absolutely guarantee the stability of any dam; there is always that possibility of failure. The failure of a dam in the mountains, filled only with water and causing a possible inundation of some farming lands for a few days, is one thing; but the failure of a dam, largely filled with debris is a vastly different proposition. Take the case of the proposed dam at the Narrows near Smartsville and behind which it is proposed to store 117 million cubic yards of mining debris from the South and Middle Forks of the Yuba River; if such a dam should fail and that mass of material be dumped on the top of the 330 million yards of old mining debris still remaining in the bed of the Yuba River from Marysville to the foothills, it would result in a catastrophe from which the valley lands there could never recover, as we must remember that the original river there was deep and about 600 feet in width, while now, that river there is three miles in width and the top of the old sand and debris bars is at places, 13 feet higher than the farming lands on the opposite side of the levee. The evil effect would not be confined to Yuba County, but most of the other counties to the west and south. Can you blame us for looking askance at such a plan? Where can the State possibly gain from this proposal to be a partner in the business of hydraulic mining? On the other hand, does not the State stand to lose in more ways than one and particularly in the loss of storage of water for the future needs of the State?
The bill shortly after came before the senate body for final action and the very interesting occurrences which took place will be given in a subsequent chapter.
Discussions Before the Commonwealth Club
AFTER the defeat of the proposed mining legislation known as the “Cloudman Bill” in the Legislature in 1927 there were numerous meetings held before the Mines Committee of that Club in San Francisco and many arguments, pro and con, were presented by persons qualified to speak intelligently and informatively on the subject of hydraulic mining. Many persons attended these meetings, among them being Colonel Thomas H. Jackson, of the California Debris Commission, who “listened in.”
In connection with the economic aspect of the problem, three opinions by three different engineers were of great interest, as follows:
1. Mr. Arthur Jarman (who had been employed by the State to investigate the possibility of rehabilitation of hydraulic mining) had arrived at the conclusion that on the North, South and Middle forks of the Yuba River, the expected gross receipts per cubic yard was 10.9 cents while the expenses would be 7.0 cents per cubic yard, indicating a net return of 3.4 cents per cubic yard, after deducting .50 for dam payment.
2. Mr. W. W. Waggoner, a long time prominent engineer of Nevada City and representing the mining interests, made a report indicating expected gross receipts of 9.81 cents per cubic yard and the same total expense as Mr. Jarman of 7.0 cents per cubic yard so that Mr. Waggoner's anticipated net returns were 2.81 cents per cubic yard.
3. Mr. Otto Von Geldern of San Francisco, who had taken an active part in the early day hydraulic mining litigation and who was representing the Valley interests, placed his estimated gross returns at 10.00 cents per cubic yard and expenses at 8.05 cents per cubic yard, leaving an estimated net return of 1.95 cents per cubic yard, which however, included a deduction of one-half cent for dam payment.
The average of all three estimates was 2.72 cents per cubic yard for net returns. (Please remember that these estimates were on the old price of gold.) Since then, gold has been advanced to $35; on the other hand, labor and materials have also advanced; as for necessary water, that is also a debatable question.
Can hydraulic mining, under the proposed plan and under present conditions, be made profitable?
Final Action on the Seawell Bill
How James Stewart's Victory was Turned into Defeat
THE Seawell Bill came up for final action by the Senate on the evening of May 15, 1929, the day before the Legislature was going to adjourn. Both sides had been very busy “button-holing” the Senators in an endeavor to win over votes.
The voting on the bill was about 9 o'clock that evening; when the roll call was completed, we had won by one vote and were vastly pleased that the bill was defeated; our satisfaction then changed to utter astonishment, when Senator Frank M. Merriam, (now Governor) who had voted against the bill, got up and changed his vote, and we then had lost by one vote. The bill then had passed both houses of the Legislature and would then go to the Governor for some action. Our side was not only astonished but felt very sore at Senator Merriam; he had promised to vote against the bill, he had really kept his word, but when he found that only one vote controlled the final action, he “had a change of heart,” and as we looked at it, “double-crossed us” and before the evening was over, I found an opportunity to so express myself.
Later on that same evening, I ran across our chief opponent, James Stewart in the rotunda of the Capitol; he was in high spirits and very gleeful; he came up to me and said, “Well Bill, you and I have been fighting about hydraulic mining for the last forty years and at last I have you licked; now that the Seawell Bill has been passed, let you and I forget old scores and get our feet under a table and talk this matter over and agree where we are going to spend this $200,000 for a dam site.” I replied, “Well, Jim, I don't know yet if we are licked because neither of us knows what action Governor Young will take, he might veto the bill and the Legislature is going to adjourn tomorrow night.” Jim replied, “Now let me tell you Bill, what the Governor will do; he will take his time to consider the matter for the next thirty days and in the meantime, I'm telling you now, that I will have delegations wait upon him from various parts of the State, lots of telegrams will be sent to him, etc., and you just take it from me, he will not veto that bill.”
Well, that statement from Jim gave me some food for thought, so the next morning, promptly at 9 o'clock I was at the Governor's office waiting for him to arrive. He arrived promptly and I asked if I could see him for a few minutes and he invited me into his private office. I then told the Governor what had happened the night before, of Senator Merriam's switch in his vote and particularly what Jim Stewart had told me about the delegations and telegrams with which the Governor was going to be bombarded.
I then asked the Governor if he would permit me to make some suggestions, to which he answered, “Go right ahead Mr. Ellis.” I then said, “Governor, we who have been opposed to this bill, have no idea how you have felt in the matter but we have been under the impression that you were not favorable to this legislation; we have done our best to keep it away from you but as a result of Mr. Merriam's action, the bill is now in your lap and the Legislature adjourns tonight. Now if you ARE against this legislation, in my opinion there are two things which you can do; one is to take your time and finally veto the measure, if that should be your intention, and in the meantime, be harassed with delegations and telegrams and other influences brought to bear, all of which will be unpleasant, particularly if you finally veto the bill. The other thing you can do is to veto the measure at once, this morning; the bill will be immediately taken up again by the Legislature, an attempt be made to pass the bill over your veto, which, however, I am positive cannot be done, so the criticism, if any, because of failure of the bill becoming a law will fall on the Legislature, possibly more than on yourself.” The Governor said “I am inclined to act on your last suggestion and wish you would put in writing some pertinent things which I could use and bring same back to me by 11 o'clock this morning.”
I immediately went to Frank Jordan's office (Secretary of State) and fortunately he was in. I said, “Frank I want you to furnish me a stenographer and I am in a h--of a hurry”; he did so, she typed what I dictated and at 11 o'clock I was again at the Governor's office, handed him the information he had asked for. He looked it over and said, “Now take this downstairs to the office of my private attorney, Mr. Cook, and show this to him and give him answers to any questions he may ask you.” On my way down to Mr. Cook's office, I met Mr. Adrian McMullen of Yuba City and the two of us called on Mr. Cook and gave him answers to a few questions he asked.
About two hours afterwards, just as I had finished having lunch at the Sutter Club, Mr. Bert B. Meek, who at that time was the State Director of Public Works, came over to me and whispered in my ear, “Say Bill, I have just read the veto message you wrote for the Governor; he has just sent it to the Legislature.” That afternoon, the Legislature attempted to pass the bill over the Governor's veto, but could not muster enough votes to do so.
Late that afternoon, I ran across Jim Stewart, “and was he mad.” He unbosomed himself to me for a while, expressing his opinion of the Governor's action in being so hasty; I told him that he had only himself to blame, that if he had not told me the night before of the pressure he was going to put on the Governor, that I would never have thought of going to the Governor the next morning and making some suggestions to him, which he had followed. Jim said, “Well Bill, this is not the end, I am going to take this before the people of this State.” What happened next, will be disclosed in the following chapter.
James Stewart's Threatened Referendum
IN THE preceding chapter, I told of the veto of the Seawell Bill by Governor Young and that James Stewart had told me that he then proposed to take the matter before the people of the State, at the next general election. At first, we thought that Jim was just mad and would cool off before long; later on, we got word from several sources that he really meant what he had said. Well, he had us scared; we realized that if he went before the people of the State with a slogan of “Let's get the gold out of them thar hills,” that it would appeal very likely to the mass of the voters, who had no direct interests at stake and would very likely be favorably impressed by such a slogan. The hydraulic fight had been so many years in the past, the old timers had largely passed on, youngsters had grown up, new people had come to the State, and when people, living right here in Marysville, came to me and asked just what were the objections to hydraulic mining anyway, I realized that we would be up against a good stiff lot of educating and necessary propaganda, if we should win in such a fight and that it would require a lot of hard work and finances.
We presented the matter to the Boards of Supervisors of Yuba and Sutter Counties and each county put up $3,000 to the Anti-Debris Association for expenses. We decided first to disseminate information by having Mr. Adrian McMullen of Yuba City make a trip to the south, which he did, calling on various newspaper editors, Chambers of Commerce, etc., in the central and southern parts of the State. In the meantime, I got to work and compiled a history of the hydraulic mining history of the past, which consisted of numerous questions and the answers, all in an effort to make same interesting and attractive enough to engage the reader's attention and have a favorable influence; we had thousands of these booklets printed, which were entitled, “JUST WHAT IS HYDRAULIC MINING?” Mr. Stewart, however, never went through with his plan for a referendum. So that there may be some records of the contents of this pamphlet, and as it contains a rather complete history of that long contest between the valley and the mountains, it is given herewith complete.
QUESTION: JUST WHAT IS HYDRAULIC MINING?
ANSWER: In the famous decision of Judge Lorenzo Sawyer of the United States Circuit Court, in 1884, he states, “Hydraulic mining, as used in this opinion, is the process by which a bank of gold-bearing earth and rock is excavated by a jet of water, discharged through the converging nozzle of a pipe, under great pressure, the earth and debris being carried away by the same water, through sluices, and discharged on lower levels into the natural streams and water courses below. Where the gravel or other material of the bank is cemented, or where the bank is composed of masses of pipe-clay, it is shattered by blasting with powder sometimes from fifteen to twenty tons of powder being used at one blast to break up a bank. In the early periods of hydraulic mining as in 1855, the water was discharged through a rubber or canvas hose, with nozzles of not more than an inch in diameter; but later, upon the invention of the 'Little Giant' and the 'Monitor' machines, the size of the nozzle and the pressure were largely increased, till now the nozzle is from four to nine inches in diameter, discharging from 500 to 1,000 inches of water under a pressure of from three to four or five hundred feet. For example, an eight-inch nozzle at the North Bloomfield mine discharges 185,000 cubic feet of water in an hour, with a velocity of 150 feet per second. The excavating power of such a body of water, discharged with such velocity, is enormous; and, unless the gravel is very heavy or firmly cemented, it is much in excess of its transporting power.” (18 Fed. 753.)
QUESTION: WHAT QUANTITY OF MATERIAL WAS MOVED IN THIS WAY?
ANSWER: In 1904, at the request of the Hydraulic Mining interests, President Roosevelt sent out Professor G. K. Gilbert, of the U.S. Geological Survey Department to investigate and ascertain if there was some other way of solving the miner's difficulty other than by the Caminetti Act. Professor Gilbert spent three years on his investigations and made a very complete report but his conclusion was, there was no other way to handle the problem. This report disclosed the fact that the amount of deposits of mining debris between the years 1849 and 1914 in the San Francisco Bay system amounted to 1,146,000,000 cubic yards; that on the water sheds of the Yuba, Bear and American Rivers alone, there had been excavated 857,670,000 cubic yards of mining material which was eight times more material than was excavated in the construction of the Panama Canal.
QUESTION: HOW MUCH MATERIAL IS LEFT IN THE LOWER RIVERS?
ANSWER: According to Major William W. Harts of the California Debris Commission, “The low water plane of the Yuba River at Marysville was raised 15 feet between the years 1849 and 1881. Between the years 1881 and 1905 there was an additional raise of three feet, making a total raise in the low water plane of 18 feet (the actual fill in the main channel being 26 feet). The depth of fill of mining debris in the Yuba River averaged from 7 1/2 feet at Marysville to 26 feet at Daguerre Point and 84 feet at Smartsville. A short distance east from Marysville, the bed of the Yuba River was 13 feet above the level of the surrounding farms.” The quantity of material lodged in the river due to mining has been variously estimated, but it seems safe to say that there are now (1905) upwards of 333,000,000 cubic yards in the bed of the lower Yuba, this in a distance of about eight miles above Marysville.” Remember, this was only on the Yuba River; other rivers such as the Feather, Bear, American, etc., were similarly affected with mining debris deposits.
QUESTION: IS THERE ANY OF THIS MATERIAL AT THE PRESENT TIME STILL LEFT IN THE MOUNTAIN CANYONS?
ANSWER: According to Colonel T. H. Jackson of the California Debris Commission, there are “Nearly 620,000,000 cubic yards remaining lodged in the river beds and mine dumps in the mountains and in the large deposits built up at the point where the mountain streams enter the valley.” This material is gradually being washed down to the navigable rivers and bays.
QUESTION: AT THIS TIME ABOUT HOW MUCH MINING MATERIAL IS THERE IN THE LOWER RIVERS?
ANSWER: According to Colonel T. H. Jackson, “Nearly 96,000,000 cubic yards remain in the navigable channels of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers.”
QUESTION: WHAT EFFECT HAS THIS MATERIAL DUMPED IN THE RIVERS HAD ON NAVIGATION?
ANSWER: Before the advent of Hydraulic Mining, tidal effect was felt up the Feather River to Nicolaus, 19 miles below Marysville, or about 175 miles from San Francisco by river. The Feather River was navigable to Oroville, about 141 miles from the mouth of the Sacramento River and the Sacramento River itself was navigable to Red Bluff, about 250 miles from the mouth of that river. Mining debris, however, ruined navigation on the Feather River many years ago and it is not being navigated now. The Sacramento River to Colusa is now very difficult at times to navigate.
QUESTION: NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT THAT YOU STATE THAT NAVIGATION IN THE FEATHER RIVER HAS BEEN DESTROYED BY HYDRAULIC MINING, AND I UNDERSTAND ALSO THAT THE SACRAMENTO RIVER HAS BUT LITTLE NAVIGATION ABOVE COLUSA, IS THE MAIN CHANNEL STILL VALUABLE FOR NAVIGATION?
ANSWER: The Sacramento River has not only been a prime factor in the tremendous crop production in the Valley, but it is equally valuable as a channel for the transportation of products. It is said of the Sacramento River that it leads all streams in the world in its shipment of products grown along its banks. In the last eight years, the tonnage handled averaged 1,272,534 tons per year, to the value of $69,576,499 per year and at the same time an average of 85,760 passengers were transported annually. Please understand that to maintain this navigation is expensive to the Federal Government and on the navigable portion of the Sacramento River last year, it cost a total of $186,441.78 to dredge out mining debris bars and various other kind of work to permit this navigation, and this kind of expense has been going on annually for a long time and will be necessary for a long time in the future. From this it may be seen that the Sacramento River is too valuable a river to permit being damaged to any further extent by the rehabilitation of hydraulic mining behind dams which may or may not restrain such debris, and 96,000,000 cubic yards of mining debris now in the navigable river, is more than sufficient to cope with without being added to in even a minor degree.
QUESTION: ASSUMING THE POSSIBILITIES OF A DAM FAILING, IS THE ELEMENT OF DANGER GREATER IF THE DAM IS FILLED WITH DEBRIS OR FILLED WITH WATER?
ANSWER: There is always an element of danger to any dam. Engineers will claim that they can be built so they will not fail, but what guarantee can be given? We KNOW that in recent years, very finely constructed dams HAVE failed, not only here in California, but in other parts of the United States and as we in the Valley see it, there would be vastly more danger if a dam failed which was used more largely for the storage of debris than for water. For example, assuming that a dam was built at the “NARROWS” near Smartsville, about 20 miles upstream on the Yuba from Marysville, and should be restraining water alone; if the dam should fail, a huge quantity of water would be released which would overflow a large area, but in a brief time the water would have drained off and the discharge might result in an improvement in the channels of the river itself. On the other hand, if that same dam should fail filled largely with mining debris, that enormous amount of mining debris dumped into the river would undoubtedly have the effect of filling it up for quite a number of miles and cause the river to adopt an entirely new channel and results would be not only disastrous, but almost impossible to correct afterwards.
QUESTION: WHAT EFFECT HAS THE FILLING OF THE RIVERS HAD ON THE VALLEY FARMING LANDS?
ANSWER: The filling of the river channel resulted in an almost annual overflow of the farming lands, necessitating the construction of levees by the land owners at enormous expense.
QUESTION: DID THE STOPPAGE OF HYDRAULIC MINING CAUSE MATERIAL LOSS TO THE MINERS?
ANSWER: The mining interests have stated on many occasions that the Sawyer Decision resulted in the confiscation of $100,000,000 worth of property in the mining districts, but in view of the fact that hydraulic mining was commencing to prove unprofitable about the time of that decision, it is rather difficult to believe that there was that much loss entailed to the hydraulic mining interests and no facts have ever been given to substantiate that figure.
QUESTION: WHAT HAS BEEN THE COST OF LEVEES, ETC., MADE NECESSARY BY HYDRAULIC MINING?
ANSWER: In the report of Major U.S. Grant, 3rd, Document No. 3, Sixty-ninth Congress, he states that the “expenditures by local interests both for flood control and reclamation since 1850 and up to 1925 amounted to $86,645,855.87, and in addition the State of California had advanced the sum of $4,479,463.76, making a total of $91,125,319.63.” As this does not include expenditures by the United States Government itself and as it does not include irreparable damage done to large areas of farming lands, it is readily to be seen that the total damage and expense made necessary in the Valley because of the operations of hydraulic mining amounted to vastly more than the $100,000,000 “confiscation” claimed by the hydraulic mining interests.
QUESTION: WAS THERE ONLY ONE SUIT TO STOP HYDRAULIC MINING?
ANSWER: No, there were scores of suits with different mines.
QUESTION: WHO STOOD THE EXPENSE OF THESE SUITS?
ANSWER: The early suits were largely financed by voluntary subscription by the landowners whose lands were affected, and up to the year 1882 there had been contributed in this way by private subscriptions a little over $65,000 for such purposes. About that time Yuba and Sutter counties through their Boards of Supervisors jointly financed these suits and between the years 1882 and 1907 inclusive, the two counties had jointly expended $394,983.62 in this way; then Sacramento County joined in and took charge of the litigation. Please understand that this is for legal expense alone. In addition to this, Yuba and Sutter counties in the meantime, up to 1901, had expended $5,747,329.59 for construction of levees. Since that time many million dollars additional have been expended under the State Flood Plan by these two counties.
QUESTION: DO YOU MEAN TO SAY THAT THE BURDEN OF THE EXPENSE FOR LITIGATION TO STOP HYDRAULIC MINING WAS ALL UPON A FEW COUNTIES AND THAT WHILE THOSE COUNTIES WERE ENDEAVORING TO SAVE THEMSELVES FROM DESTRUCTION FROM HYDRAULIC MINING, THEY WERE AT THE SAME TIME PRACTICALLY MAKING THE FIGHT TO PREVENT THE DESTRUCTION OF THE NAVIGABLE RIVERS AND BAYS, AND THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ITSELF HAD NOT, AND DID NOT, MAKE ANY EFFORT ITSELF TO PROTECT ITS RIVERS AND BAYS?
ANSWER: Yes, I mean just that. Also, that after the U.S. Circuit Court finally went on record in the Sawyer Decision, even then, those same counties had to furnish the funds to carry out the Court's decrees.
QUESTION: WERE THERE OTHER EXPENSES NECESSARY BESIDES LEGAL EXPENSES?
ANSWER: Yes, in every suit before it was commenced, it was necessary to get proper information that mines were operating and doing damage so as to have proper testimony to prosecute such suits. This information was very difficult to obtain because the mine owners had armed guards surrounding their mines to ward off any outsiders who might come near the mines.
QUESTION: WHAT WAS THE REAL DECIDING SUIT IN THIS LEGAL FIGHT?
ANSWER: This was the decision of Judge Lorenzo Sawyer, of the United States Circuit Court in 1884. The decision was very lengthy, the testimony was contained in 12,000 pages of printed matter.
QUESTION: DID THIS DECISION STATE THAT HYDRAULIC MINING WAS ILLEGAL?
ANSWER: No; but it did declare that the dumping of the by-products (debris) from hydraulic mining into the rivers was illegal.
QUESTION: IS THE PRINCIPLE LAID DOWN BY THIS SAWYER DECISION THE LAW OF THE LAND TODAY?
ANSWER: It is.
QUESTION: DID HYDRAULIC MINING IMMEDIATELY CEASE AFTER THIS DECISION?
ANSWER: No, for the reasons just set forth, that it was difficult to obtain information to sustain suits against mines because of armed guards surrounding the mines.
QUESTION: WAS IT NOT ARRANGED LATER ON TO LICENSE HYDRAULIC MINING?
ANSWER: Yes, in 1893 the Caminetti Act was adopted by Congress at the request of the mining interests and it is still in force at the present time. Under this act a hydraulic mine was permitted to operate after it had obtained permission to do so from the California Debris Commission which consisted of three United States Government Engineers. Before such permission was granted, the mine owner had to convince this Commission that it would be possible to properly restrain the mining debris by dams, etc.
QUESTION: DID THIS ACT PROVIDE FOR GOVERNMENT COOPERATION IN BUILDING DAMS FOR STORAGE OF DEBRIS?
ANSWER: Yes, but this cooperation required a payment of three per cent of the gross proceeds of mining for storage and no dam was ever constructed under this provision, or ever asked for by the miners.
QUESTION: ABOUT HOW MANY LICENSES HAVE BEEN GRANTED UNDER THE CAMINETTI ACT BETWEEN 1893 AND THE PRESENT TIME?
ANSWER: Something like 1000 licenses have been granted and I might state that the Valley interests have never made a single objection to any permit so granted, as we had perfect confidence in the fairness and good judgment of the members of the California Debris Commission, the personnel of which changes about every 4 years. At the present time, 29 mines are operating under permits.
QUESTION: DID THE CAMINETTI ACT PROVE SATISFACTORY TO THE MINERS AND ACCOMPLISH WHAT THEY HAD EXPECTED OF IT?
ANSWER: No, the restrictions which were imposed upon the miners irked them and they became dissatisfied and finally in 1905 President Roosevelt, at the request of the California Miners' Association, sent out Professor G. K. Gilbert of the U.S. Geological Survey to investigate conditions both in the mountains and in the valleys and endeavor to ascertain if there was any possible way to rehabilitate hydraulic mining. Professor Gilbert put in three years on this work and made a very voluminous report contained in a book of some 150 pages and under the head of “THE OUTLOOK FOR HYDRAULIC MINING,” appears the following significant statement: “The regulations that restrain hydraulic mining should not be made less stringent unless the advantage from the mining is of greater moment than the disadvantage to navigation that the change of policy might entail.” His conclusion was that there did not appear to be any way to solve this problem other than under the Caminetti Act. Might I not relate a rather amusing experience that befell Professor Gilbert? When he first came to make his investigations, he spent considerable time in the Bay area, then he came to the Valley and I had the pleasure of showing him about here for several weeks the result of mining and our levee building; he then announced one day that he was about to investigate the mining section and I suggested that he keep away from the mines but go direct to the owners and have them show him around. As he related the matter to me later on, when he left for the mountains, on his way up he saw a hydraulic mine at some distance from the road and his curiosity getting the better of him, he tied his horse at one side of the road and proceeded on foot to get a better view of the mine. When he got quite close, he was suddenly confronted by a man armed with a shotgun who demanded that Mr. Gilbert depart. Mr. Gilbert endeavored to explain but without avail and departed and then went to the mine official's office. Later, when the officials were apprised of the occurrence, they were profuse with apologies to Mr. Gilbert but the occurrence apparently made quite an impression on him besides the evident amusement he got out of it.
QUESTION: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
ANSWER: Nothing was done for many years, until the meeting of the Legislature in 1927 when a report was made known as the Jarman Report, which was authorized by the Legislature of 1925, on the feasibility of the resumption of hydraulic mining.
QUESTION: WHAT DID THIS REPORT SHOW?
ANSWER: This report (page 33) states that an “Inspection of the more important gravels in these districts for the present hydraulic mining commission showed that only 712,000,000 cubic yards could be regarded as workable under the changed conditions.”
QUESTION: WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF THIS REPORT?
ANSWER: This resulted in a bill being introduced in the Legislature known as the Cloudman Bill, asking for an appropriation of $300,000 to be expended by the State in acquiring dam sites with the idea that dams would be eventually constructed by the State and Federal Governments to restrain hydraulic mining debris and the State and Federal Governments to be reimbursed by the miners paying for storage of such debris behind those dams.
QUESTION: DID THIS BILL BECOME A LAW?
ANSWER: No, it was defeated in the Legislature, and two years later a similar bill for $200,000 was introduced, known as the Seawell Bill and this bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor.
QUESTION: WHAT WAS THE ATTITUDE OF THE CALIFORNIA DEBRIS COMMISSION IN REGARD TO THESE BILLS?
ANSWER: When the first bill was introduced in the Legislature, and later defeated, a series of meetings were held before the mining section of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco where both the Valley and the mining interests were given every facility to present arguments both pro and con and a great deal of information was disclosed. These meetings were attended by Colonel Thomas H. Jackson of the California Debris Commission who listened to all the arguments and later on, at the conclusion of the meetings he made a report to General Jadwin, Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army, Washington, D.C. and in that report were some comments and conclusions which Colonel Jackson arrived at, as follows:
“The Board believes, therefore, that any resumption of hydraulic mining on a large scale should be undertaken only on such a basis as would justify private investors in assuming all the risks involved. This would mean that the mine owners should provide directly or indirectly all necessary debris-retention work.
“The Board concludes that the construction of retention dams with Federal funds to enable a resumption of hydraulic mining is not justified at the present time.
“The debris commission believes that the United States should not enter into partnership with a private power company for the purchase of storage rights.”
QUESTION: JUST WHAT CONCLUSION HAVE THE VALLEY INTERESTS ARRIVED AT?
ANSWER: We maintain that the future prosperity and the extreme limit of this great State's development in the future depends upon its future water supply and not upon its gold product. Hydraulic mining, according to the Jarman report, could not last, under the most favorable conditions, much over twenty years; on the other hand it is vastly more important that the few reservoir sites in the mountains of the Sierra be retained for the storage of water for the development of power and for irrigation of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys than it is to have these storage basins filled with mining debris and so lose that capacity for water storage for all time to come for irrigation and power purposes.
QUESTION: YOU HAVE PREVIOUSLY STATED THAT AT THE TIME OF THE DECISION OF JUDGE SAWYER OF 1884, THAT AT THAT TIME HYDRAULIC MINING WAS NOT PROVING VERY PROFITABLE. I PRESUME BECAUSE THE RICHER GRAVEL DEPOSITS HAD BEEN PRETTY THOROUGHLY WORKED OUT BY THAT TIME. IF SUCH IS THE CASE, HOW WOULD THAT CONDITION BE AFFECTED AT THE PRESENT TIME?
ANSWER: In the hearings before the Commonwealth Club, it was pretty well brought out that the cost of labor and material necessary for such mining operations is at least sixty-six and two-thirds per cent greater now than it was in the unrestricted mining days, and you must remember that the output of the enterprise (gold) has no higher value now than it had then. It would appear therefore that it would be quite uneconomical to carry on hydraulic mining now under conditions which might require more expensive methods to hold back the debris, than were ever used before.
QUESTION: ABOUT WHAT IS THE AVERAGE GROSS EXPECTED YIELD PER CUBIC YARD NOW IN HYDRAULIC MINING?
ANSWER: For all practical purposes it has been considered a fair average yield per cubic yard in the middle and south Yuba mining region is 10 cents. In that section it has been shown that during the old hydraulic mining days the cost was $0.0453 for operations; if present advance costs today for labor, material, etc., are now sixty-six and two-thirds per cent more than the old cost, then today's cost would be $0.0755 and subtracting the latter figure from the estimated 10 cent gross, would leave a profit of $0.0245. In other words, if 1,000,000 cubic yards of material were washed away, the net profit would amount to $24,500 and if we take Jarman's report which contemplated washing of 137,392,000 cubic yards in the middle and south Yuba mining region in 20 years, this would average 6,869,600 yards a year. If that be done, the average net profit would be $168,305 and at eight per cent per annum, would represent an invested capital of $2,103,800.
I might also state that on the Yuba river three estimates were made on probable net returns, one by Mr. Jarman who got up the report to the State, the other by Mr. W. W. Waggoner, of Nevada City, representing mining interests and one by O. Von Geldern, representing Valley interests. Their conclusions were as follows:
Mr. Jarman: Gross receipts .109 less total expense .075 net returns .0340 per cubic yard.
Mr. Waggoner: Gross receipts .0981 less total expense .07 net return .0281 per cubic yard.
Mr. Von Geldern: Gross receipts .10 less total expense .0805 net return .0195 per cubic yard.
The average of the three above would be a net return of .0272 per cubic yard which would not appear very profitable as a mining proposition. Please remember that this is all on the Yuba River where the most valuable gravels are to be had. All the other rivers would not expect to show as good results as values in gravels are less.
QUESTION: ISN'T THERE AN OLD SAYING THAT THERE HAS BEEN JUST AS MUCH MONEY EXPENDED IN THE MOUNTAINS IN TRYING TO GET THE GOLD OUT AS THERE HAS BEEN ACTUALLY GOLD RECOVERED?
ANSWER: Yes, there is such a saying and there is undoubtedly a great deal of truth in it. In any event, gold production is insignificant with agriculture, for example, the Jarman report estimates in 20 years behind three of the dams there MAY be produced $10,000,400 in gold; this would be an average of $500,000 per year. Now just compare this with the ANNUAL production of fruits, grapes, grain and other such products in the two small counties of Yuba and Sutter which average about $14,000,000 each year and requires vastly more labor than mining.
QUESTION: WERE ANY ESTIMATES MADE ON RESERVOIR CAPACITY FOR STORAGE OF MINING DEBRIS AND COST OF THE DAMS NECESSARY FOR SAME?
ANSWER: Yes, in Colonel Jackson's report, the reservoir capacity which would be available behind nine dams on the Yuba, Bear and American Rivers would be 375,700,000 cubic yards of debris and these nine dams would cost about $12,085,600 and the average units cost for all of them for storage would therefore be $0.0286 per cubic yard, or practically three cents per cubic yard.
QUESTION: WOULD IT NOT BE VASTLY MORE BENEFICIAL TO THE WHOLE STATE IF IN PLACE OF HAVING THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS BUILD THESE DAMS AND HAVE SOME 375 MILLION CUBIC YDS. OF DEBRIS STORED BEHIND THEM IN SAY THE NEXT 20 YEARS, THAT THIS STORAGE AREA BE RETAINED FOR THE STORAGE OF WATER FOR THE FUTURE NEEDS OF THE STATE?
ANSWER: That question “hits the nail right on the head” and brings out our chief contention that it would be the height of folly for the State to go into partnership with a private industry, which, if it proved successful would mean that the State would reap no profit whatever, but on the other hand, would help in losing reservoir space for the storage of water for the future needs of the agricultural interests in the State. Colonel Jackson in his report particularly called attention to this matter in the case of the proposed dam at the Narrows on the Yuba River and behind which the capacity for storage for debris would be almost three times greater than the storage of any of the other eight dams; this dam would be the most expensive, the estimate being $3,524,000 and the storage was to be 117,000,000 cubic yards of debris; Colonel Jackson stated in connection with this proposed dam, “even though present plans may appear feasible to use this site for storage of debris without interference with its primary purpose of irrigation, this Commission feels that the project of which the site is an essential unit, is so vital to the welfare of the State as to preclude it from this investigation.” This meant that it would conflict with the State's plan for the conservation of water.
QUESTION: WAS THERE NOT SOME PROPOSITION OFFERED BY A POWER COMPANY IN CONNECTION WITH THIS DAM AT THE NARROWS?
ANSWER: Yes, the Yuba River Power Company made an offer that it would build this dam and sell outright for $1,500,000 some 350,000,000 cubic yards of storage space for debris. This dam had been planned as a commercial venture involving a combined, power, irrigation and debris project and it was contemplated that the United States Government would furnish one-half the funds to purchase this storage and the State of California the other half, but Colonel Jackson in his report stated that “the Debris Commission believes that the United States should not enter into partnership with a private power company for the purchase of storage rights.”
QUESTION: IS THE WATER PROBLEM NOW SERIOUS IN SOME PORTIONS OF THIS STATE?
ANSWER: For centuries in the past the melting snows of the Sierra Nevadas filled the streams that poured into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and underneath the floor of the Valley millions of acre feet of water were stored. Rapid advances in agriculture made necessary the pumping of water from wells throughout these valleys and this has resulted in the lowering of that water table so that at present, in several of the counties of the San Joaquin Valley, the situation is getting alarming, and in the Sacramento Valley it would appear that in a few years a similar serious lowering of the water tables will occur. The first motor driven pump for irrigation was installed in Tulare County in 1901 and there was no water problem then, but records show that during the past four years, 400 wells have been abandoned in Tulare County and 1500 others have been deepened and their lifting capacity increased. Practically in 30 years this great underground reservoir in the San Joaquin has been largely dissipated and today the question is, whether or not surplus flood waters of the Sacramento River and its tributaries, now flowing into the ocean, can be diverted in the San Joaquin Valley to care for their increasing needs. According to Bulletin No. 12, Water Resources of California, compiled by the Department of Public Works, if all the water resources of the San Joaquin Valley were used, there “is little more than half enough water for its future needs.” It would appear that before long, a very similar situation will prevail in the Sacramento Valley and that is why we seriously object to the construction of dams in the Sierras to hold mining debris in place of keeping that storage of water for future needs.
QUESTION: WELL, THIS HAS ALL BEEN VERY INTERESTING AND INSTRUCTIVE. WE DO NOT KNOW OF ANY MORE QUESTIONS TO ASK. HAVE YOU ANYTHING TO SUGGEST?
ANSWER: Yes, I would suggest that you consider all of these matters very carefully and seriously and that when you vote on this question next November, that you will come to the same conclusion that the Federal Government's Engineers have arrived at, that it would be unwise to enter into partnership with a private industry and that the State of California should not do so either. Also that you conclude that it is tremendously important to retain all possible storage basins for the storage of water for future development and needs of the State and that it would be the height of folly to sacrifice a large portion of that storage area for the storage of vast quantities of mining debris for the momentary gain of a few million dollars of gold in the next twenty years.
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