Many folks have asked about various landscaping issues along Briggsmore Avenue. Its a little complicated because the Modesto Irrigation District is responsible for the growth along its canal in the center of the road, while the city of Modesto takes care of weed control next to owners fences.
We dont have landscaping along Briggsmore, said Steve Lumpkin, who oversees the citys forestry division.
Alex Zuroff of Modesto recently wrote to say, Ive noticed all of the trees/bushes along the Briggsmore canal just west of McHenry Avenue have been removed. Do you know why or can you find out?
Charla Zuhlke of Modesto echoed his question: All thats left is the plain dirt. It looks really ugly along the canal now. Are they planning on putting something in place of those trees and bushes theyve destroyed? Hopefully.
I didnt know the answer, but now I do. Lumpkin referred me to MID, where I talked with Melissa Williams, the districts public information officer.
Those trees were growing into the power lines, so we removed them, Williams said. Some of the Norwegian spruce trees, besides growing too tall, were also dying, she said. MID also removed some oleander bushes and bottlebrush plants. They can get out of control and are high-maintenance, she explained.
The utility company will replace the previous landscaping with olive trees, which will be planted in late January.
Theyre a beautiful tree and, more important, they arent as tall and theyre very low-maintenance, Williams said.
But its dirt until then, Im afraid. And MID doesnt plan to add any low-to-the-ground shrubs or ground cover, either. Too bad. A little color would perk up the busy city street. Maybe someone could at least throw out some seeds for California poppies, which reproduce and spread every spring with very little irrigation.
You might be interested to know a little more about MIDs canals. Williams said the one along Briggsmore is called Lateral 3. It starts to run adjacent to Briggsmore at Claus Road and goes down the Briggsmore corridor. It carries water to irrigate land west of Highway 99.
According to MIDs website, the company was organized in 1887 and is a community-owned, not-for-profit organization controlled by a locally elected board of directors. It provides electric service to 113,000 residential customers and businesses, irrigation water for 58,000 acres, and treats surface water for drinking in the city of Modesto.
There is a history on the utilitys website from a book commissioned by MIDs directors to mark the utility companys 100th anniversary. The Greening of Paradise Valley: The First 100 Years of the Modesto Irrigation District notes that the area between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers became known in the 1800s as Paradise Valley.
In 1842, according to the book, only 150 Americans and a few Indians inhabited the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys. One doctor who purchased a ranch at the base of Mount Diablo forecast a tremendous agriculture future for the area, describing it as one magnificent valley ... capable of supporting a nation.
But Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in 1844 asked: What do we want of this vast worthless area, this region of savages and wild beasts, of deserts of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust, cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever hope to put these deserts or these endless mountain ranges, impenetrable and covered to their bases with eternal snow? What could we ever hope to do with the Western coast of three thousand miles, rock-bound, cheerless and uninviting, with not a harbor in it? Mr. President, I will never vote one cent of the public treasury to place the Pacific Coast one inch nearer Boston than it is today.
Cattle ranching came first to the valley, replaced by wheat. A newspaper report in 1868 said the part of the county between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers, an area of 125 square miles and known as Paradise, is one unbroken field of grain.
Farming began to be diversified in the latter part of the century:
Ora McHenry, L.M. Hickman, J.B. Caldwell and others were planting orchards, vines and vegetables. By the start of the last decade of the 19th century, McHenry was the leader in the fruit industry, having some 100 acres in production. And at Paradise Gardens, three miles from Modesto, Peter Lesher in 1891 grew some 700 tons of fruit, primarily apricots but also including 200 tons of peaches and 8,000 boxes of Bartlett pears. ... The dramatic change was to come through the development of the first fiscally sound system of irrigation by wisely using the water which flowed from the Sierra through California to the sea.
An 1871 editorial in the Stanislaus County News said: We have the climate; we have the soil of a first-class country; but, for the want of that water which runs to waste at our very doors, and which a little sagacity and industry could make pour itself over our rich earth, we are living in a comparative desert, and are becoming notorious for our poverty.
On Jan. 11, 1887, C.C. Wright, a La Grange schoolteacher who had become a successful self-taught lawyer, became a one-term legislator specifically to introduce a bill to create irrigation districts. Youll enjoy this quote: In those days, the Legislature moved with considerably more speed than at present and the proposal was given unanimous approval by the Assembly on Feb. 18. It was passed by the state Senate and signed into law on March 7. Wow!
Heres another fun fact: Except for a single incident reported by the Modesto Evening News of June 7, 1889, in which a Modesto Irrigation District attorney implanted a blow on Judge Schells nasal organ which caused the claret to flow, there was no record of violence such as was experienced in other areas during Californias early days of irrigation development. Nevertheless, there were another 15 years of legal wrangling before the irrigation district was truly up and running. One of the cases even made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If you think theres been controversy and debate among MID leaders and customers in the past few years, read more of the book online. There are fights over rate hikes, challenges to board members and plenty of lawsuits. Sound familiar? Heres another quote: Suits were so numerous in those early years of the Modesto district that George T. McCabe, in preparing a 1920 Modesto Board of Trade history of Stanislaus County, wrote, When one spoke of irrigation, he usually meant litigation.
One last interesting note: In the late 1890s, MID directors were paid $4 a day when working for the district at the (La Grange) dam site, at meetings or in court and $5.50 a day if they drove their own team. The mileage rate for attending board meetings was 20 cents per mile. Directors did not get paid mileage for court appearances.
On June 27, 1903, the first water that had been promised decades earlier to farmers finally arrived to some properties in the area. MID expanded from there.
Weve gone far afield today from the original questions, but I found the history of the area and the irrigation district to be fascinating. Check out the rest of the story, as radio personality Paul Harvey would have said, at the website. Next week, well return to the present, I promise!
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.