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«Item type text; Electronic Dissertation Authors DeJong, David Henry Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © is held by the author. ...»

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By the spring of 1913, Olberg began constructing laterals to convey water to 9,090 acres staked and scheduled for allotment within the Sacaton Project. Nearly 7,800 acres were to be served with groundwater. Head gates and check structures were installed and new culverts and bridges were constructed. By 1915, nearly 60 miles of laterals had been built, irrigating 3,319 acres with ground and episodic floodwater. Despite high hopes, Olberg acknowledged that a maximum of 6,000 acres could be served by the project, just 60% of the Reclamation Service estimates.652 While a portion of the floodwater canal was completed, the means of diverting floodwaters from the Gila River into the canal were not. Lacking a permanent diversion dam, Olberg built a temporary brush dam across the river in an attempt to push water into the floodwater canal. The Pima, having built their own brush dam to channel water into the old Santan Canal, objected.653 The new canal crosscut the old one, making it impossible to use both systems concurrently. Concerns over allotment, groundwater use, incompatible delivery systems and insufficient floodwater resulted in the Santan Floodwater Canal becoming “completely choke[d]” with silt and impossible to operate “until a diversion dam” could be built.654 By 1915, the Sacaton Project extended west of Stotonic, where new problems arose, including well casings filling with silt. Winter flooding damaged both the laterals and the main canal. Olberg saw little value repairing the damage unless a permanent 652 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1915. See also Annual Report: Southern California and Southern Arizona Reservations, fiscal year 1915, pp. 39-40. History of the Indians and Irrigation on Indian Reservations, Prepared under the direction of W.M. Reed, Chief Engineer, District No. 4, C.R. Olberg, Superintendent of Irrigation, H.V. Clotts, Acting Superintendent, “History of Gila River Reservation,” Compiled by C.H. Southworth (US Department of the Interior, 1916), p. 81. “Olberg to Reed,” dated Sacaton, Arizona, February 23, 1914, in Olberg Letterbox, From Central Office to Olberg, 1913-1914. Of the 6,000 acres, 3,500 acres would be served with ground and floodwater and 2,500 acres would receive groundwater alone.

653 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1914, p. 5. The White Man’s Friend, p. 14.

654 See “Olberg to Reed,” dated Sacaton, Arizona, February 24, 1914, in Olberg Letterbox, Historical Research, 1913-1914. See also Annual Report: Southern California and Southern Arizona Reservations, fiscal year 1915, p. 40.

285 diversion dam could be built at the head of the canal on the Gila River. To provide water to the allotments in the interim, Olberg capitulated to the demands of the Pima and diverted water through the old Santan Canal. Flood and groundwater from eight wells irrigated just 1,740 acres of land under the Sacaton Project by 1915.655

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to restore irrigation south of the main channel of the Gila River extending from Blackwater to Casa Blanca. The Little Gila for centuries had been used by the Pima to convey water from the main channel of the Gila River onto lands south of the river. The 655 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1915. Assistant Engineer N.W. Irsfeld reported that 3,480 acres were under ditch. The remainder of the “approximately 15,000 acres” in the Santan District was “brush land outside the reach of irrigation absent a means of diverting water into the floodwater canal.” Work on the north bank was unpopular and resulted in difficulty getting Indian workers. This drove up the costs of the project. See “Olberg to Reed,” dated Sacaton, Arizona, February 26, 1914, in Olberg Letterbox, Historical Research, 1913-1914. The Sacaton Project cost $473,000 to construct. See Statement showing designation of funds and amounts therefrom, by years, on the various units comprising the San Carlos Irrigation Project to June 30, 1929, in the SCIP files.

286 Indian Service had closed it in 1903 as part of a scheme to convince the Pima in Casa Blanca to relocate to Santan in anticipation of ceding 180,000 acres of land.656 The Little Gila reopened in the fall of 1913 “to safeguard the interests of the Indians in the waters of the Gila.” Before Olberg began work, he reconstructed a small lateral the Pima had built to irrigate a limited area of land in Blackwater after the Little Gila was closed. To protect their rights to this water, Olberg constructed a flume to carry the ditch over the Little Gila into the Blackwater Island District and then re-excavated the river and installed two wing dams to divert the natural flow of the Gila River onto Pima farmland on the south bank. The Little Gila now carried 300 cubic feet per second of water west for a distance of twenty miles.657 By fall, Olberg expected to irrigate 1,000 acres of land with natural flow water in Blackwater.

The floods of 1914-1915 damaged the Little Gila, with silt and driftwood plugging the channel and destroying the Blackwater flume.658 Three wagon bridges were also damaged and a half-mile of embankment on the south side of the Gila near Sacaton Flats washed away. More than a mile of the Sacaton Flats Canal was replaced in what Olberg coined the Sacaton Flats Project. More than 900 acres of agriculture was restored as a result of this project.659 Additional flood damage in Blackwater resulted in the Blackwater Project, designed “to retain the Indians’ rights to [Gila River] water.” Olberg—wishing to demonstrate actual Pima water utilization—rebuilt over 27,000 feet 656 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1913, p. 19. Report in the Matter of the Investigation of the Salt and Gila Rivers—Reservations and Reclamation Service, p. 19.





657 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1913, p. 20.

658 C.H. Southworth, “The History of Irrigation along the Gila River,” in San Carlos Irrigation Project, Arizona: Report to the Secretary of War of a Board of Engineer Officers, p. 130.

659 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1915, p. 46. See also Statement showing designation of funds and amounts therefrom, by years, on the various units comprising the San Carlos Irrigation Project to June 30, 1929. It cost $790 to complete the repairs.

287 of ditch in Blackwater, reflecting the importance the Indian Service placed on beneficial use as a means of protecting Pima water rights. By 1915, the Blackwater Project was completed, with 2,000 acres in cultivation.660 Winter flooding limited full development of the Blackwater Project and pointed to a continuing need for “a permanent diversion dam” if the Pima were to beneficially use their water.661 In November of 1913, Olberg began surveying land north of the Pima Agency on what was called the Agency Project. This project was designed to put Pima water to beneficial use on 1,870 acres of land two miles above Sacaton and lying on an island between the Gila and Little Gila rivers. Construction of 15,000 feet of irrigation laterals began in January 1914. This land was farmed until the opening of the Florence Canal in 1886 when, for lack of water, it “was abandoned.” The Indian Service scheduled the land for allotment once the laterals were constructed. Difficulties crossing the Agency grounds, however, left just 800 acres with irrigation.662 In the spring of 1914, Olberg made plans to construct the largest irrigation project then attempted on the reservation. The Casa Blanca Project was designed to irrigate up to 35,000 acres with water channeled through the Little Gila River. While more land than necessary to “furnish 10 acres for each individual now living in the district,” Olberg informed Reed, the grandiose scale of the project was necessary “to keep the costs per acre as low as possible.” Olberg admitted cost was only part of the consideration. By 660 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1914, p. 8 and ibid 1915, p. 47.

661 History of the Indians and Irrigation on Indian Reservations, p. 83. The Little Gila Project cost $21,197. See Statement showing designation of funds and amounts therefrom, by years, on the various units comprising the San Carlos Irrigation Project to June 30, 1929.

662 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1914, p. 7. The project cost $43,000 to complete. “Olberg to Reed,” dated Sacaton, Arizona, February 26, 1914, Olberg Letterbox, Historical Research, 1913-1914. The land was exceptionally fertile within the project with crops consistently awarded grand prize ribbons at the Pima Agricultural Fair held annually in Sacaton.

288 allotting land in Casa Blanca to those Pima and Maricopa living down river in the villages of Santa Cruz, Gila Crossing, Komatke and Maricopa Colony, the Indian Service could avoid “the losses that would occur if the water was used lower down the river.” Olberg recognized the advantage of utilizing as much water as possible on the

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not yet surveyed, Olberg requested $15,000 to begin the project, which encompassed the villages of Sweetwater, Bapchule, Alkali, Wet Camp and Casa Blanca.665 Superintendent Ralph Ward was enthused by the rapid development of irrigation works on the reservation. But while much of the new irrigation system was in place—at a cost of $932,911—water resources were inadequate.666 The Indian Service recognized it was in a race with off-reservation farmers to see who would first beneficially put the 663 Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1914, pp. 9, 98.

664 Ibid, 1917, p. 64. See also “Olberg to Reed,” dated Sacaton, Arizona, March 6, 1914, in Olberg Letterbox, From Central Office to Olberg, 1913-1914.

665 C.H. Southworth, pp. 136-137. The project also included lands in the Old Maricopa, Ancient Sweetwater, Mount Top and Sranuka districts, each of which was traditionally farmed until the districts lost access to water with upstream diversions in the 1880s. An additional 9,984 acres was ready to be allotted within the Casa Blanca Project. See “Additional Unallotted Irrigable Lands Gila River Reservation Reserved for Future Allotments as Recommended in Letter of June 29, 1916,” in C.H. Southworth Letterbox, Historical Correspondence, 1914-1916. An additional 2,950 acres were set aside for allotment in the Sacaton Project. Of the 9,984 acres, more than three-fourths was withdrawn from allotment after passage of the Florence-Casa Grande Project bill, with 3,000 additional acres reserved within the Sacaton Project. See also Annual Report of the Irrigation Service, fiscal year 1916, pp. 55-56.

666 “Letter from W.A. Walker, Field Cost Accountant, to Commissioner of Indian Affairs C.J. Rhoads,” dated August 8, 1930, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Irrigation 40378-30, in SCIP files.

289 water to use. Reed recognized water resources in the West in general and on the Pima Reservation in particular were being rapidly depleted. Despite nearly a million dollar investment, the Indian Service’s beneficial use approach was tenable at best, as it could not divert a large enough flow of water to put the Pima back on a stable economic foundation. While there were 18,500 acres under ditch, in 1916, just 7,693 acres were actually irrigated and farmed.667 During the winter of 1916 another flood devastated the Gila River Valley, and this after flooding in the fall left the soil permeated with moisture. Heavy snowmelt in the upper reaches of the watershed kept the river flowing until the first of June.668 While the Pima put the water to good use in the spring, the winter flooding decimated their crops and damaged their villages. Thackery telegraphed Hayden that reservation damage surpassed $100,000, with an additional $40,000 damage off reservation. Canals were destroyed, head gates, check structures and brush dams washed out, and deep erosion occurred throughout the newly constructed irrigation facilities on the reservation. Some 3,000 Pima, Mexican and American farmers stood to lose their crops.669 In the spring of 1916, the House Committee on Indian Affairs again took up debate on the FCGP bill, believing Pima water rights had been adequately protected.

While William Borland (D-MO) feared construction of the project would commit the government to building the larger and more costly San Carlos dam, Senator Charles

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Curtis (R-KN) remained skeptical the Pima would receive “all the water they need.” Ashurst assured Curtis the Pima would be first in line for water and then added, “any remaining [water … ] may be sold to the whites, [with] the … proceeds of the sale to be used for paying for this appropriation.” To ensure his vote, Curtis—a Kaw Indian— demanded the water be protected “for the use of the Indians,” even if they needed it all.670 Merritt did not wish to be bound by such restrictions and, in a personal letter to the Senator, argued Pima priorities were “thoroughly safeguarded and conserved,” with the secretary given “latitude” to negotiate with property owners off-reservation.671 The bill (HR 10385) included an ambiguous provision that water would be distributed to Indian and non-Indian landowners “in accordance with the[ir] respective rights and priorities” as “determined by agreement of the owners thereof.”672 When Lockwood issued his ruling in Lobb v. Avenente, Congress believed the decree prioritized Pima water rights to 35,000 acres of land and approved of the FCGP bill.673 On May 18, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law, authorizing $75,000 to begin construction of a lower dam and bridge (Olberg Bridge and Sacaton Diversion Dam) and another $75,000 to begin construction of an upper diversion dam (Ashurst-Hayden 670 “Merritt to Curtis,” Hearings on the Indian Appropriation Bill, 1917, United States Congress, House of Representatives 64th Congress, 1st Session, (Washington, DC, 1916), pp. 179-181, and 284.

671 “Merritt to Curtis,” ibid.

672 Hearings on the Indian Appropriation Bill, 1917, p. 284.



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