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SSJID marks 100 years of service
Nearly 500 celebrate at districts open house
Manteca Bulletin Advertising Manager Teri Poletti presents SSJID board president Dave Kamper with a copy of the Manteca Bulletin on the irrigation district’s centennial date. - photo by HIME ROMERO
It was a good reason to party.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District marked its first century of service this month prompting nearly 500 people to make their way to the district headquarters in Manteca for an open house on Wednesday.

They were celebrating much more than just a milestone. The SSJID’s reservoirs and coffers are both full while other irrigation districts in the state struggle to weather the drought and economic firestorm.

The success of the SSJID can be credited to fiscally conservative and forward thinking leadership but it wouldn’t have occurred if visionaries a century ago hadn’t seen the wisdom of securing water rights and forming an irrigation district. The vote on May 11, 1909 approved both forming the district and the initial $1.8 million bond to build Goodwin Dam and a series of canals.

“This is an honor and a privilege to represent you as a board member,” SSJID Board Chairman Dave Kamper told the gathering.  “Water changed this valley. It was a beautiful place before but it feeds a lot more people today.”
The small talk among farmers at the celebration Wednesday was over depressed almond prices and bumper crops and the situation in Sacramento. What didn’t come up once was any fretting over not having enough water to bring crops to market as California enters its third year of drought. Given the original decision 100 years ago and subsequent moves to build Melones Dam and the Tri-Dam Project in conjunction with the Oakdale Irrigation District, farmers in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon aren’t losing sleep over whether they will have to take crops out due to lack of water.

Once bonds were in place and irrigation water was on the way, Manteca turned into a boomtown. Lots were selling for between $300 and $1,000 apiece – more than quadruple the value of prior years. By the time SSJID released its first water, the South County had grown from 3,000 to 15,000 residents as people from throughout the state and the West came to buy irrigated land to farm.

The dedication of Goodwin Dam on April 6, 1913 included Gov. Hiram Johnson opening the head gate before a crowd of 4,000.

The dam completion was followed by the construction of 300 miles of ditches, flumes, and tunnels to bring the water to Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.

The first water released on Aug. 13, 1913 by the SSJID was on the E.N. Pierce Ranch on the southeast corner of Austin Road and East Highway 120 less than a quarter of a mile from the present-day SSJID headquarters.

The first full year of irrigation in 1914 had water delivered at a rate of 35 minutes per acre about 30 days apart.

The initial year there were 14,195 acres irrigated with the top three crops alfalfa (7,889 acres), vines (3,189 acres), and corn (1,154 acres).

By the second year 24,210 acres were under irrigation with the top three corps alfalfa (11,549 acres), orchards, (3,100 acres) and vines (2,495 acres).

Today, the SSJID is gearing up to use the cash flow from the Tri-dam Project’s wholesale electric sales to enter the retail power business in a bid to reduce rates 15 percent across the board in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.