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New Melones assures Manteca’s prosperity

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POSTED May 22, 2013 2:12 a.m.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a six-part series taking a look back at Manteca’s first 95 years as an incorporated city. Voters approved incorporation on May 28, 1918.

Manteca as a city was barely six years old when the crippling Great Drought of 1924 hit.

And how city and rural residents alike responded to the drought to assure the future of agriculture - the community’s economic bread and butter - allowed Manteca to weather the Great Depression better than many Central Valley communities.

Up until 1924, bonds to build the Melones Dam were soundly defeated. Manteca farmers and residents couldn’t see the benefit of the dam for flood protection or water supplies since the Woodward Reservoir completed in 1916 seemed to serve the South San Joaquin Irrigation District well.

But the drought of 1924 changed all of that.

Farmer after farmer suffered severe losses as only three rounds of irrigation were available from March until October when irrigation runs normally occur every 10 to 15 days.

It required 46,000 acre feet of water to make the needed 30-minute-to-the-acre irrigation round. But when the first irrigation started, only 36,000 acre feet was in storage at Woodward Reservoir.

The first run was enough for 20 minutes of coverage on March 19, 1924. It left Woodward Reservoir completely drained.

Spring run-off allowed 22,000 acre feet to accumulate by the end of April. This time the run was decreased to 15 minutes per acre.

Some relief was provided to farmers on May 16, 1924 when 1.22 inches of rain fell in three hours. Unfortunately, it severely damaged the alfalfa crop’s first cutting. It triggered a summer shortage forcing dairymen to import feed at high costs from Washington.

The third and final round of irrigation came on June 3, 1924. Woodward Reservoir was drained and the run was only half of the required 30 minutes per acre.

G.K. Parker, SSJID superintendent in 1924, told the Bulletin the farmers could have been saved with one more run in August but there was nothing the district could do.

Voters passed bonds for Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River. Two years later on Nov. 11, 1926 the dam was dedicated.

The Melones Dam saved Manteca area farmers several times over the next 20 years when lack of rain wrecked production in other California farming regions.

The name “Melones” is Spanish for melons. It was attached to the Stanislaus River area where the dam was built because the gold nuggets found in the area reminded Spanish and Mexican miners of melon seeds.

The Melones bonds also put SSJID in the unique position of not receiving any federal assistance to develop its water storage system. It was the federal government’s decision decades later to build a component of its water system at Melones that brought Washington into the picture. Both the Oakdale Irrigation District and SSJID share rights to over 300,000 acre feet of water behind the New Melones Dam since the federal project required the elimination of Melones Dam.

Melones Dam played a key role in SSJID’s long range water planning that today is allowing it to bring treated surface water to South County cities as well as move into retail electricity sales expected tom lower retail power rates by 15 percent.

Depression brings labor strife to city

The Depression and the Dust Bowl combined in the 1930s to plant the seeds that would change the course of growth in Manteca and the rest of the Central Valley as tens of thousands of Midwest farmers came to California.

Immigrants from the Dust Bowl were arriving in the Central Valley by the thousands to provide stiff competition for low-skill agricultural jobs. The result was a drop in pay for locals who competed for the same type of work.

Manteca’s economic future brightened in 1931 when disease resistant seeds developed by Spreckels Sugar and the Department of Agriculture were distributed to farmers. The plant resumed limited operations that year. By 1933, the Manteca plant was again producing commercial sugar.

Sugar beet production increased steadily until 1939 when Manteca farmers produced the largest crop ever. Spreckels Sugar enjoyed a 140-day run with 250,997 tons of beets sliced and 715,768 bags of sugar produced.

Manteca Canning Company also had its share of labor problems.

The cannery, located at Oak and Vine streets where the brick winery warehouse still stands today, had let houses southeast of its plant that had been built in the 1920s for migrant workers fall into disrepair. During the 1930s after years of neglect, the shanties became known as Manteca’s own Hoovertown.

Labor strife was common place up and down the Central Valley. Manteca was no exception.

First major food of 20th century hits

Manteca got its first taste of a major flood of the 20th century in February 1930.

Levees failed near River Junction 10 miles southwest of Manteca near the Airport Way bridge where the 1997 floods occurred.

Boats were used to aid marooned families along the river while cattle were driven to higher ground near Manteca.

Most roads were closed with the only access to Stockton being via French Camp Road.

The Paradise Cut levee broke on Stewart Tract on March 17 of 1930. It closed Highway 50 and made travel to the Bay Area impossible unless it was by boat.

The water level at Mossdale measured 20.45 feet, the highest ever recorded.

THURSDAY: War and the subsequent peace alters Manteca’s course in the 1940s and 1950s.

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