Thursday, July 14, 2016

Fullerton Water Wars Part 2: 1897-1900

In a previous post, I began a research/writing project called Fullerton Water Wars, in which I started going through the Fullerton Tribune newspaper microfilm archives in the local history room of the Fullerton public library, and reading all the articles pertaining to water.  My goal with this project is to chronicle the tumultuous history of water use in my hometown, as part of a larger project called The Town I Live In: A History of Fullerton.  In my first post, I chronicled the years 1893-1896.  For this post, I'll continue where I left off, and tell what happened between 1897-1900 with regards to the life-giving natural resource of water.

By 1897, conflict had developed between the Board of Directors of the Anaheim Union Water Company (hereafter referred to as the Water Company) and Edgar Johnson, editor of the Fullerton Tribune (the only paper in town).  Apparently, after Johnson printed some articles criticizing the management of the Water Company, the board of directors decided to stop doing business with the Tribune, which caused Johnson to write an angry editorial in which he said, among other things: "Because a paper criticizes the board is no reason why business should be withdrawn."  As it turned out, it was.

Complaints continued from residents of the region of Yorba, particularly from a Miss Yorba, probably a relative of the famous Bernardo Yorba, who refused too accept $100 for a "right-of-way" for water to pass through her lands.  The residents of Yorba seemed to increasingly get screwed in these complex water dealings.

When an election was held for a new Board of Directors of the Water Company, Johnson criticized the election as corrupt: "Forgery was used to carry out the program of the water ring."

In 1897, the Water Board voted to add over 1000 acres of irrigable land to the Water District, most of which was east of town and owned by two primary entities: a Mrs. Haynes and the Security Savings Bank of Los Angeles.  Here we see the first bank-owned land in the region.  This was probably the result of all the bonds (loans) which the Water Company had taken out to finance massive irrigation projects (mainly cementing ditches).  These loans were taken out with banks.  Thus, banks got into the land/agriculture game.

As landowners, the Bank got shares of the Water Company, but Johnson (again) smelled corruption, writing that, for the vote to expand the Water District, "of the 3,967 shares signed, there were 961 bogus shares mainly made up of persons who had signed twice and, in some instances, stock was signed three times...and in one case, the name of a man appeared who had been dead for two or three years."  An editorial in the Tribune considered the actions of the Water Board to be criminal: "At the present time, a great many stockholders are demanding that if individual guilt can be brought home to any person in connection with the rascalities now being developed...then criminal prosecution should follow."  It seems that no criminal prosecution followed.

Meanwhile, the controversial Wright Act, which (in theory) allowed small farmers to create Irrigation Districts for the purpose of deciding fair water use, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  This was bad news to the Anaheim Union Water Company, which pretty much held the monopoly on local water use.  From their perspective, the Wright Act was nothing more than a tax-raising scheme created by government bureaucrats.

In 1898, as the Water Company expanded irrigation and ditch-cementing at a relatively rapid pace, a voice of environmental conscience was raised by a Judge Charles Silent of Los Angeles.  In an April 13th editorial, Judge Silent wrote: "I desire to call your attention to the fact that many applications are being made to the Secretary of the Interior for rights of way on the Forest Reservations of Southern California for ditches and canals for purposes of power and irrigation.  Some of these projects contemplate taking the water from the natural stream at the head, and carrying it along the mountainside, across ridges, and uniting various branches, by which scores of miles of the natural bed of the stream will be abandoned, the little feeders coming into it lost and wasted, and the source of the water supply disturbed and endangered.  It is self evident that such wholesale abandonment of the natural beds of the mountain streams must seriously injure the forest growth and not only defeat the object of the Government in making these reservations, but will endanger the permanency of the water supplies for irrigation."  The question behind Judge Silent's concerns is: Is all of this irrigation sustainable?  We shall see.

It's easy, in hindsight, to criticize the Water Company for their relentless expansion and cementing of irrigation ditches, but from their perspective, this was primarily a matter of business.  These dudes were ranchers, and they wanted to grow, and that meant more water.  A Captain Schumacher explained quite eloquently why the ditch by his farm must be cemented.  With his dirt (uncemented) ditch, he irrigated with 50 inches of water (this meant many hundreds of gallons), but the loss by seepage, evaporation, and gopher holes was such that whereas he paid for 50 inches of water, he really only got 35 inches."  For Captain Schumacher, it was simple math.  More cement = more water = more profits.

Meanwhile, with more land and money at stake, it appears that the Board of Directors of the Water Company acted with increasing power.  An anonymous editorial from "a stockholder" asks: " What is the matter with the Water Co.?  They refuse to let stock-holders irrigate for early barley, cabbage, etc., or to their water on other than land covered with their own stock.  Does the Water Co. belong to the stock-holders or to the president of the company?... Be liberal, Messrs. Directors of the water company, and let any stock-holder put his water where he pleases at this time of year, and the company will be better off and the stock-holders will also feel better if the President does not exercise quite so domineering a spirit."

Editor Johnson was even more blunt in his assessment of the situation.  In an editorial entitled "Plain American Talk," he wrote: "Dear sir, and friend, you will excuse me if I indulge in a little very plain American talk.  I now have no interest in the A.U. W. company district, nor do I ever expect or desire to have in as much as I am satisfied there is an element in the water board constantly seeking to centralize power regardless of the best interests of the company and would to all appearances jeopardize the interest of the small stockholders by limiting the supply of water until the small holders are forced to the wall in the interest of corporate greed and a damnable selfishness which in its character in my estimation is beneath that of the highwayman."

In 1899, the idea of building a reservoir in La Habra (as opposed to poor Yorba) was again raised.  Editor Johnson, perhaps speaking on behalf of Fullerton ranchers, heartily supported the proposal, writing: "May I have the privilege through the columns of the Tribune to speak to the land owners of Fullerton and stockholders of Anaheim Union Water Co?  Another dry year is on us with a prospect of great scarcity of water for irrigation and likewise short crops of hay, nuts, oranges, etc.  Would not La Habra reservoir with its 400 acres filled 50 feet deep be a great relief to the agriculturalist just at this time?"

Meanwhile, another legal battle began between rival water companies.  The Anaheim Union Water Company and the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company went to court to prevent ranchers from the San Joaquin Valley from trying to use water from the Santa Ana River.  An agreement was reached.

As the 19th century drew to a close, the Industrial Revolution was spreading to agriculture, pushing out the small farmer in favor of large, corporate farming companies and ranchers.  At this time, there was a famous poem called "The Man With the Hoe," which was a kind of elegy to the small farmer.  Edgar Johnson thought it was a bullshit poem, preferring to celebrate modern advancements in farming.  In an editorial, he wrote: "The poem of 'The Man With the Hoe' has been exploited in all the newspapers of the country. Unfortunately for its truth, it deals with a past age.  The man with the hoe has given place to the man with the riding cultivator.  The agriculturalist nowadays rides to his work and rides home.  He cultivates the soil not by the painful labor of the hand, but by all the appliances that ingenuity can devise.  The hoe and the flail have given way to steam and the improved methods of latter days."

In what can only be described as a minor tragedy of local history, the entire year of 1900 is missing from the Fullerton Tribune microfilm archives.  Thus, I have no idea what happened that year.  Stay tuned for more on Fullerton's Water Wars...




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