Recent Water Worries

A good mystery always entails intriguing circumstances and a circuitous pathway to its solution.  Whether it’s a deceptive villain intent on causing mayhem for the masses or a calculating killer, focusing single mindedly on his next victim, the goal is always the same – stay undetected and strike again.  This same objective may be true for a new genre of mysteries involving water borne illnesses. The solution, however, may not be as “elementary” as Sherlock implied.

Getting sick from ingesting or being in contact with contaminated water is nothing new. Nasty illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, botulism, and many others, have probably been impacting people since they first began gathering around the communal watering hole.

Historical records reveal water contamination problems have been around for centuries and offer basic solutions for dealing with them. Sometimes it was boiling water and other times it was replacing water with other beverages. For example, European sailor’s in the 1700’s were known to brew a beer with a higher alcohol and hops content, which acted like a preservative, for their long journeys to India.  It was referred to as India Pale Ale and has recently made quite a come-back in the burgeoning micro-brewery market.

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that water treatment practices starting to take hold in the United States. Water experts figured out a combination of filtration and disinfection, typically by chlorination, would keep water sources safe for consumption. While this simple, yet effective, treatment technology has prevented countless outbreaks of water-borne illnesses over the last century, it may have met its match.

Strains of bacteria and protozoa are being found that are resistant to chlorination, making them extremely difficult to kill. Worse yet, only a small number of these germs are required to cause an illness. One parasite of concern is cryptosporidium; a protozoan originating from human and animal feces as well as seasonal run-off. “Crypto” is known to stick on water filter membranes and even high doses of chlorine have difficulty terminating this culprit.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced there were twice as many crypto outbreaks in 2016 as there were in 2014. States hardest hit on 2016 were Alabama, Arizona and Ohio.  Specifically, the CDC website reported “Arizona identified 352 people sick with Crypto for July–October 2016, compared with no more than 62 cases for any one year in 2011–2015. Ohio identified 1,940 people sick with Crypto in 2016, compared with no more than 571 cases for any one year in 2012–2015.”  The mystery here is whether the increase in outbreaks is due to increased reporting, better detection or simply more cases occurring.

Another perpetrator guilty of recidivism is the bacteria Legionella. Different species of this bug are responsible for Pontiac Fever and the more well-known Legionaries’ Disease.  According to a June 6, 2016 Washington Post web article, Legionnaire’s outbreaks have quadrupled over the last 15 years. Recent large outbreaks occurred in Flint, Michigan and New York City.

Unfortunately, the health impacts of Legionella are more serious than Cryptosporidium. Crypto can cause nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea for up to three weeks but Legionella can kill.  Medical treatment costs are high. CDC Director Tom Frieden has stated “The annual cost of treating Legionnaires’ disease, based on hospital claims, is about $434 million…”

The mystery to be solved with Legionella is how to detect it before an outbreak occurs. Legionella can be eliminated with proper water treatment but often it goes undetected until it’s too late.  It can build up in older plumbing infrastructures and strike when people breathe in small droplets of water containing the bacteria.

Legionella is a more challenging culprit to arrest. It’s costly to replace antiquated water infrastructure and It’s not easy to check closed-systems for bacterial contamination. Still, the CDC recommends proper maintenance of building water systems as the key to prevention.

But for now, that key may have fallen into the wrong hands…

Arizona Water Pioneers – Jack Swilling

A fractured skull and a bullet lodged in the side would be enough to take down most men, but Jack Swilling wasn’t like most men. One of Arizona’s most colorful characters, Jack had a disposition that varied based upon who you talked to and the amount of opiate-laced painkiller he drank. Family members considered him a loving father, friends thought of him as a generous man and others felt he was a drunken desperado up to no good. At times, history would show he was all three. Yet, in spite of his tumultuous circumstances, Jack fostered a vision to bring water to the Salt River Valley of Arizona and helped put Phoenix on the map.

Jack Swilling

Jack was born in South Carolina on April 1st 1830, the eighth of ten children, but he was no fool. Historians would refer to him as a “Jack of all Trades” because of his diverse professions.  At one point or another he was a civil war veteran (for both sides) farmer, scout, teamster, postal express rider, mill manager and owner, justice-of-the-peace, post-master, business man, politician, contractor and miner. He had all the characteristics of a 19th century Renaissance man.

He exceled at finding gold and had a reputation of being one of the best placer miners of his time. His acquaintance with Colonel Jacob Snively, who discovered gold along the Gila River, would be one of the paradoxical events that led to both his wealth and ultimately his death.

Jack met Snively at the Gila City gold camp, east of Yuma, and would step-up to lead a 215 man expedition against the Yavapai Indians who were raiding the encampment. The Yavapai lived in uncharted territory north of Gila City. The expeditions led him as far north as modern day Prescott.

Becoming familiar with the northern territory, Jack would become a guide for several miners and ultimately help discover some of the most famous mining districts in Arizona history. His mining partners would include Pauline Weaver (Rich Hill), Joseph Walker (Lynx Creek) and Henry Wickenburg (Vulture Mine).

Arguably his biggest discovery would not be gold but water.  During the early to mid-1800s, Arizona primarily relied on river water for its needs. The problem was either too little or too much.  Sudden summer storms could cause rivers to swell and result in devastating floods.  Arizonans longed for a consistent and reliable source of water.

Jacks travels as an express rider and scout often took him though the Salt River valley.  During these trips, he noticed linear mounds of dirt leading from the Salt River to the valley floor. He somehow figured out these mounds were part of an extensive irrigation canal system previously used by ancient native peoples, now known as the Hohokam.

Jack and some business associates put a claim on Salt River water and began to excavate the canals with the intention of using them for irrigation purposes.  He founded the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company in November of 1867 with seven other business partners.

His company would become incredibly successful irrigating crops of barley and wheat and selling them to the miners in Wickenburg. Others saw the success of “Swilling’s Ditch” and decided to settle in the area.  This settlement would ultimately be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

There is some historical controversy over whether or not Jack came up with the name for Phoenix or whether his business partner, Darrel (Lord) Duppa coined it. Regardless, this new settlement would come to be associated with Swilling’s Ditch and Jack would become the most memorable founding father of Phoenix.

In the later part of his life, his addictions to opiates and alcohol were getting the best of him. His wife, Trinidad, decided to do an intervention which she hoped would sober him up. She convinced Jack to retrieve his friend Colonel Snively’s bones from where they lay near White Picacho and bring them home for a proper Christian burial. Snively had been killed by Indians several years earlier in March of 1871. Jack complied with his wife’s request and together with Andrew Kirby and George Monroe, went off to perform this noble deed for their former friend.

Upon their return, the threesome was accused of robbing a Wells Fargo stage coach outside of Wickenburg. There wasn’t much tangible evidence but Jack, in self-professed “crazy drunken talk”, basically admitted to the charge. All three were rounded up and sent to prison in Yuma. Jack would die in prison on August 18, 1878 before bail was met. Andrew and George were released shortly after his death when the US Marshall who brought them in recanted his allegations. Jack would be posthumously exonerated of this crime.

In the end, Jack made a hasty departure from the physical world. Yet, in spite of horrible pain, hangovers and an incessant hunger for opium, he managed to accomplish feats few other men could imagine. A visionary, Jack ushered in an era of reliable and consistent water that stimulated the explosive growth of Phoenix – now the sixth largest city in the United States. Anyone who has ever lived in this area should acknowledge this man’s success and be grateful for his foresight and incredible fortitude.

 

References:

Bates, Al. “Jack Swilling and the Walker Exploratory Party” – adapted from Bate’s published book “Jack Swilling, Arizona’s Most Lied About Pioneer.” Website. Accessed May 23rd, 2017.

Farish, Thomas Edwin. “History of Arizona – Volume II”. Chapter Xii. Early Pioneers And Settlers, pp. 251-257. The Filmer Brothers Electrotype Company Typographers and Stereotypers, San Francisco. Phoenix, Arizona, 1915. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

“Jack of All Trades: J. W. Swilling in the Arizona Territory”, River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills, AZ. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

Thompson, Clay. “Jack Swilling, the father of Phoenix”, Arizona Republic, May 12th 2011. Website article. Accessed May 17, 2017.

Zarbin, Earl. “The Swilling Legacy”, Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (APCRP). Website accessed May 17, 2017.

Arizona Water Pioneers – Carl Hayden

Few people might equate silence with power but that’s just the sort of paradox that defined Carl Hayden. Known as the “Silent Senator”, on the occasions when Hayden spoke before Congress, it was always with brevity and impact. What little Hayden said usually spoke volumes to his colleagues. He was known as a man of “sterling character” and his solid reputation and modesty helped usher in an era of water projects which would tame the West. He will especially be remembered as a persistent, driving force behind the massive Central Arizona Project (CAP), which ultimately helped Arizona acquire the water resources needed to become the burgeoning state it is today.

Hayden had a natural understanding of the importance of water in the West. He knew early on that the West’s greatest challenge with water was there was either too little or too much. As a child he experienced the great flood of 1891; one of the largest floods known to hit the Phoenix area.  This flood was devastating to the frontier town which was cut it off from communication with the outside world for three months. Farms, homes, bridges and more were wiped out. Families were displaced and several people were killed by the raging torrent. Locals began to clamor more fervently for controlled sources of water.  Hayden saw the destruction first hand which provided him with valuable insight on Western water issues.

In addition to his understanding of water issues, Hayden also had the benefit of political longevity. He was so well regarded by the citizens of Arizona that his political career spanned an impressive sixty-seven years. He began his calling at the local level, serving in a number of local and county positions within territorial Arizona. When Arizona became a state in 1912, he was elected to the House of Representatives for seven terms.  He then became a U.S. Senator in 1926 and remained there until he retired in 1969.

His support for consistent and reliable water resources in Arizona began with one of the first federal reclamation projects – the Salt River Project. The purpose of the newly founded Reclamation Service was to “reclaim” arid lands by providing a regular source of water for irrigation. At the time, the federal government believed that irrigation was at the heart of making land hospitable enough for settlers to move west. Without a reliable source of water, it was very tough for early pioneers to make a living.

Hayden was also successful in getting an engineering study completed for his Gila River constituents who wanted piece of the reclamation service pie. This ultimately led to the construction of the Coolidge Dam on the Gila River and the San Carlos Irrigation District.

In the 1970s, he wrote and secured passage of a provision which allowed local water-user associations to ultimately take over the maintenance and operations of federal reclamation projects. This seemed to make life easier for the locals as well as the feds.

His ultimate water resource accomplishment would culminate when the Central Arizona Project was finally authorized through the Colorado River Basin Project Act in 1968. He carried forward a collective vision from the 1920s for a centrally located Arizona water project but was unable to overcome continued resistance by various factions and special interests both inside and outside of the state.

The history of the Colorado River water allocations are far too complex to express in a couple of paragraphs. Suffice it is to say that it took decades of committees, meetings, negotiations and eventually multiple Supreme Court cases to work though some of the water rights issues pertaining to the Colorado River.

The finalized Central Arizona Project would provide much needed water for the rapidly growing state.  The CAP is now one of the nation’s largest and most expansive water resource projects. It flows an impressive 336 miles from the Colorado River’s entry point at Lake Havasu and ends about 14 miles south of Tucson. Its flow provides water to more than 5 million people.

Hayden’s support for western water projects also extended outside his home state of Arizona.  Hayden supported Oregon with the Bonneville Lock and Dam and other water projects seeking to control the Columbia Rivers.  He also backed some projects in California, Arizona’s water nemesis, mainly because he saw the greater good that could come from such an approach. He helped secure federal funding for northern California’s Central Valley Project and supported southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S.  Secretary of the Interior and former Governor of Arizona may have summarized Hayden’s career contributions the best when he stated: “Westerners living in the modern era and those of future generations would always be indebted to Hayden for his help in bringing life-giving water to arid lands and the countless benefits that flow from multiple-use developments of the river resources of the western United States.”*

 

* Babbitt quote from the Introduction to “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest” by Jack August, Jr.; page 2.

Bibliography:

August, Jack L. Jr. “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest”. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, 1999.

History of Central Arizona Project, Central Arizona Project website. http://www.cap-az.com/about-us/history. Accessed 5-March 2017.

Hundley, Norris Jr.  “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West.” University of California Press, Berkley, 1975.

Powell, James Lawrence. “Dead Pool – Lake Powell, global Warming and the Future of Water in the West”. University of California Press. Berkley, 2008.

“With a Crash – Fell Many Adobe Homes Last Night”, Arizona Republican, 20 February 1891, pp. 1, 4.

Arizona Water Pioneers – William Beardsley

beardsleys-crop
William Beardsley (left) and his son Robert Beardsley, around 1920. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, HAER ARIZ, 7 -PHEN.V, 5.8)

Like a late-blooming teenager, 19th century Arizona was still trying to define itself.  Soldiers, miners and rugged pioneers gradually made their way to Arizona to begin life anew in a challenging landscape. These early pioneers quickly realized water was both the key to their survival as well as a powerful force to reckon with. Water, in the Arizona territory, was a double edged sword – there was either too much or too little.

By the late 1800’s, entrepreneurs and visionaries realized Arizona needed consistent, reliable and controlled sources of water to kick-start its growth. In their mind, the best way to meet this goal was by damming rivers and building canals to deliver water where it was needed. Tens of thousands of men were involved in engineering and building dams and canals from one end of the state to the other. One man, unknown to many current Arizonans, devoted a large part of his life to ensuring central Arizona would have the water it needed.  This man was William Beardsley.

What was notable about Beardsley was the fortitude with which he pursued his mission of building a dam and canals to store and divert water.  He would endure a series of setbacks over a 40+ year period that would culminate in a controversial, multiple-arch dam harnessing the Aqua Fria River. Such long term persistence and commitment is a rarely seen among men in any age.

Beardsley was part of a group of “speculative businessmen” who banded together to privately develop the Aqua Fria River. They wanted to harness the river by building a reservoir, diversion dam and series of distribution canals. Work on the diversion dam and canals began in 1892 but stopped 3 years later due to lack of funds. To make matters worse, in the fall of 1895 a flood tore away the west side of the preliminary dam. Things looked bleak. Beardsley was unable to raise money and legal complaints from unpaid contractors forced him into bankruptcy.

The story could have ended here but in a fairy-tale twist, a group of Beardsley’s associates from Ohio took possession of the assets and deeded them back to him so he could continue work on the project. For years he tried to restart the endeavor but the project remained stalled.

As 1902 approached, he started to run into issues with the federal government, specifically with the Department of Interior and the newly found Reclamation Service (now called the Bureau of Reclamation) who was the 800-pound gorilla in Arizona’s water world. Technicalities with surveys and public lands would hold the project up for another 17 years.

Finally in 1919, construction began on a multiple-arch dam designed by engineer Carl Pleasant. This style of dam was selected due to its strength and economy to build. William Beardsley died in 1925 and his son Robert would ultimately finish the project. The dam would be named the Carl Pleasant Dam in 1926 and then renamed the Waddell Dam in 1964 after an investor from New York.

More issues would follow the construction of the dam. Cracks appeared in the buttresses of the dam and much controversy loomed over its safety.  Several engineers poured over plans and reviewed the integrity of the dam. None seemed to agree on the significance of the cracks. Ultimately, modifications were made to ensure the dam’s safety. The required upgrades were completed in 1936.

Historically this dam was unique because it was the only Salt River Valley water storage project successfully completed by a private interest. All the other central Arizona water storage schemes were developed with federal government assistance.  It was also the world’s tallest multiple-arch dam; quite an accomplishment for a private outfit.

Today the project is known as the Maricopa Water District (MWD) which provides power and water service to 60 square mile area west of Phoenix. The new Waddell Dam (built in 1994 and successor to the original Waddell Dam) and resulting Lake Pleasant hold 157,600 acre-feet of water. Water is feed through the 33 mile Beardsley canal and diverted for use through a series of laterals and sub-lateral piping. This lateral piping system is almost 100 miles long. The MWD also has an “interconnect” with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) for collaborative use of the regions water.

What started out as a construction project with his brother George, turned into a multi-generational water business with his son, Robert. Thanks to the fortitude and sheer determination of William Beardsley, the Phoenix area will have water and power for generations to come as well as a beautiful lake for recreation.

Beardsley family – Arizona thanks you!

Bibliography:

  1. Waddell Dam (Pleasant Dam). “Photographs – Written Historical and Descriptive Data”, Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Western Region, Department of the Interior, San Francisco, California, HAER-ARIZ-7-PHEN.V.5.
  2. Giordano, Gerald. “Images of America – Lake Pleasant”. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2009.

Abracadabra – Water from Thin Air!

Technologies are now available which can create water from air – or so they say.  The idea may not be so far-fetched. After all, clouds are merely water vapor floating in the sky. But is this technology viable? Can the sky’s moisture really be harnessed in quantities large enough for human consumption? Let’s take a look.

abracadabra-pix

About a decade ago an Australian man, Max Whisson, garnered a lot of attention for his wind powered machine which could produce water from air. His contraption, initially called the “Whisson Windmill”, harnessed wind to turn vertically aligned blades on his uniquely designed windmill. The turning blades were cooled with refrigerant and had a special coating applied which allowed the condensate (water) to run-off the blades and be collected.  Whisson claimed his machine could produce 2600 gallons of water from the air per day.1

Some people discounted Whisson’s claims and calculations. On the “SkepticForum” website, blogger “Major Malfunction” contested Whisson’s production estimates of “around 7,000 liters per day, even in a light breeze”.2 Using math “which a 16-year-old school kid should be capable of doing in a matter of minutes”, Major Malfunction showed Whisson was off by three orders of magnitude in his production calculations.3

The skeptical blogger may have been onto something. In spite of the flurry of press Whisson received for his invention, he apparently never got any financial backing to bring his idea to fruition. The website related to his patented invention, MAX WATER at “waterunlimited.com” essentially goes nowhere and doesn’t provide any useful information. However, there is a wiki site (PESwiki.com) that offers some additional insight on Whisson’s patents and provides a listing of 2007 news reports on his windmill idea.4

Another water-from-air technology which made US headlines in 2006 is called AquaMagic. Jonathan Wright and David Richards developed “a machine that filters air, condenses the moisture in it, purifies the water and then dispenses it from a spigot on the side” of a trailer. 5 Their intention was to “help first responders and emergency personnel get the hydration they need to do their jobs” at large-scale events, such as Hurricane Katrina.6 The inventors toured 183 cities within the hurricane zone of the United States and also went to South Africa to see if there machine would work well in that environment.7

The AquaMagic machine is pricey with machines staring at $35,000. While they can produce about 120 gallons (1,000 16 oz bottles) of water per day, they use 50 gallons of diesel fuel during the process, making this technology less sustainable than Whisson’s Windmill which solely relies on wind power.8 Scientists and Public Health professionals pointed out that while the AquaMagic machine does have merit, “there are cheaper and easier ways to provide large-scale water purification if cleanliness is the main issue.”9

A broader online review of water-from-air technology shows very few viable options. Most of the designs referenced on the web went to non-functioning websites or broken links. The assumption being these ideas never got any traction. (See “The Conscious Media Network” referencing designs by airwatercorp.com, vapaire.com, globalrainbox.com and others.10)

However, could we have stumbled upon a new conspiracy theory? Maybe the designs were so innovative the patents were bought by international corporate water interests and squashed in perpetuity to maintain a worldwide strangle-hold on water markets. After all, financial projections for the bottled water industry expect the demand to reach $279.65 billion US dollars by 2020.11 Sounds almost believable, doesn’t it?

As it stands now, the only water-from-air technology which seems to have a current market is manufactured by Aqua Sciences of Florida. Their technology runs air over a salt compound which attracts and binds water molecules. A “proprietary hygroscopic water extraction process” removes the salt concentrate from the liquid to create pure water.12

A quick review of the Aqua Sciences website reveals award-winning technology which was field tested during the disastrous Haitian earthquake in 2010 and also in the Saudi Arabian deserts. Their website implies a contract with the US Military on their “Our Products” page and boasts of coverage by major television networks such as Fox News, CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Could Aqua Sciences really be a viable and scalable option to pull water from the sky? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. While the Aqua Sciences website is still up and running, the most recent online news seems to be from 2015. Wonder if they’ll be bought out by global water interests too?

References

  1. Josh Clark “Why can’t we manufacture water?” Posted 2 November 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. Accessed 6 February 2017
  2. The Skeptic Forums Society. “Whisson’s Windmill” blog by “Major Malfunction.” Posted 11 June 2007. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Munsey, Andrew (editor). “Directory: Max Whisson’s Gust Water Trap Apparatus.” Posted 14 June 2016. PESWiki.com. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  5. Struglinski, Suzanne. “Make water out of air? Utahn goes with the flow” Posted 1 October 2006. Deseretnews.com. Accessed 7 February 2017.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Tresnor, Jules (web master). “The Conscious Media Network.” Posted 2007. Tesla3.com “Human > Water from Air”. Accessed 7 February 2017
  11. Transparency Market Research. “Bottled Water Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2016 – 2024.” Posted 13 October 2016. transparencymarketresearch.com. Accessed 7 February 2017
  12. “Aqua Sciences – Global Leader in Atmospheric Water Generation” Posted 2015. com. Accessed 7 February 2017

Southwest Water History – The American Canal – Part 1

Historically, water has always been a problem in the American southwest. In the 19th century, the problem was either too much water or too little. Too much came in the form of sporadic, intense storms producing uncontrollable flood waters which destroyed everything in its path. Too little resulted from prolonged drought conditions or attempts to irrigate cropland in areas where water wasn’t available.

imperial-valley-hundley-p-52
Image Source: Hundley, “Water and the West, p 52. See below for full reference. 

 

In the mid 1800’s, the 49’ers headed to California to seek their fortunes in the gold rush. Most of them were unsuccessful in their quest for riches but a few took note of promising lands along the way. One of those early pioneers was Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft who made note of the fertile land area now known as the Imperial Valley.

Soil was good there. Its richness consistently replenished by erosional deposits from the Colorado River as it made its way to the ocean. Periodically the river tore through its upper banks, dumping silt into the Salton Sink basin which sits below sea level. The basin’s topography is unique. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and bordered on the east by the Sonora Desert and on the north by the Colorado Desert. Due to the mountain ranges, rainfall is limited averaging only three inches per year. Yet the high temperatures, fertile soil and abundant sunlight were perfect conditions for agriculture. The problem was how to get water to crops.

Wozencraft saw great potential in the land. He connected with Ebenezer Hadley, a surveyor with San Diego County, to figure out a way to irrigate the land using the Alamo canal, an overflow channel of the Colorado River which flows through Mexico before heading back into the US. The reason for the canal diversion south of the border was to bypass “the large shifting sand dunes that separated the river from the valley on the American side of the border.”1

Unfortunately, his vision of a fertile land would never come to fruition. Mainly because he felt the need to own the land the irrigation canal would be built upon. His attempts to persuade the California legislature to support his request for a grant of 1,600 miles of public domain land were rejected by Congress. Ultimately, he “spent the remaining 25 years of his life and his entire personal fortune trying to convince Congress to change its mind.”2

Forty-three years later, Charles R. Rockwood saw the incredible potential of this same land. He, too, realized water was the key to its development and began planning a means to bring water to the area. He created the California Development Company and sought funding from financial centers in both America and Europe. He also “enlisted the help of famed engineer George Chaffey” to figure out a way to tap the river’s water and bring it inland to the valley.3

Similar to Wozencraft’s vision, Chaffey’s irrigation design fed water through the Alamo overflow canal for delivery to the US. Rockwood’s dream was realized on June 21, 1901 when the first water reached the valley. A land boom followed. “Within eight months, 2,000 settlers had arrived, the towns of Imperial and Calexico were laid out, 400 miles of canals and laterals were built and 100,000 acres readied for cultivation.”4 By 1909 the population swelled to 15,000 with 160,000 acres being irrigated.

In spite of its initial success, there were problems controlling the diversion route south of the border. Rockwood negotiated an agreement with border land owner Guillermo Andrade to purchase the 100,000 acres on which the canal sat. For payment, Andrade not only wanted cash but water rights. In fact, he demanded “all water necessary…for the irrigation of the other lands” he owned below the border which was over 600,000 acres.5 Rockwood agreed to Andrade’s rather tall order because he felt the increase in land value would more than compensate for the cost of the land and the canal system.

The initial success of the diversion canal would be short lived. The Rockwood-Andrade agreement ruffled the feathers of the Mexican government who became concerned the river flow might be reduced or exhausted by canal users. The Mexican ambassador complained to Washington about a possible treaty violation without success.

In the meantime, in the winter of 1903-1904, the intake for the Imperial Valley canal silted up and the flow of water never reached many residents. Crop losses and lawsuits ensued. More bad news would follow. In 1905, an usually wet winter and spring would result in 5 floods breaching the canal, allowing the Colorado River to pour into the area and decimate the cropland. Financial ruin would force Rockwood to turn over his California Development Company to the Southern Pacific Railroad for help.

Prior to the devastating flood waters, Rockwood had a series of political setbacks as well. He was feeling pressured by the newly formed Reclamation Service which was interested in building four large reservoirs along the Colorado River to reclaim 90,000 acres in Arizona’s Yuma Valley. The Reclamation Service wanted to include the Imperial Valley in its scheme to help reduce the overall cost involved. If the Reclamation Service was successful in its attempts, he would soon be out of business.

He scrambled to get the War Department to give him permission to divert the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley north of the border. Since the river was technically deemed navigable by the US, the War Department was the agency to deal with. The War Department refused saying “it could not approve projects already completed.”6 He appealed to Congress and was shot down.

Much to his dismay, to prevent the Reclamation Service from imposing upon him, he felt compelled to work out a deal with the Mexican government to cut an intake to the river. This deal included some extremely onerous conditions. The government demanded half of the water diverted and the authority to set the water rates for Mexican lands as well as specify where the water would be used. The Mexican government wouldn’t allow Rockwood to sell or partner with any foreign government. The arrangement was “subject only to Mexican judicial system and any appeal or grievance to a foreign power would terminate the agreement.”7 As a result, when the floods did hit, Rockwood could not ask the US Government for help. Instead he went to the Southern Pacific Railroad for assistance. He was fortunate they were willing to assist and had the resources to do so.

Ultimately, the flood event proved to be too much to bear, even for the Southern Pacific. The company went into receivership with both Mexican and American creditors. Chaos ensued with both sides of the border wanting different things. The canal system went unmanaged for years and was left to deteriorate as all sides worked through the complicated receivership process.

Valley residents were understandably upset. They had grown tired of the onerous conditions imposed by the Mexican government and the inability of Rockwood’s company to manage water delivery. They demanded public ownership of the water supply system. Furthermore, they wanted to avoid any further overreach of the Mexican government. They wanted an “All American Canal.”

 

References

The primary reference for this article was “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West” by Norris Hundley, Jr. Most points are paraphrased. Direct quotes are referenced below.

  1. Hundley, Norris Jr. “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West”, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975, p. 20.
  2. Ibid, Hundley, p. 20
  3. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  4. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  5. Ibid, Hundley, p. 22
  6. Ibid, Hundley, p. 25
  7. Ibid, Hundley, p. 26

Arizona Water History – Marshaling Martial Law

Arizona’s history is colored by feuds and fights; the most famous being the OK Corral in Tombstone. One of the most protracted fights in Arizona history was with California over water allocations from the Colorado River.  Political leaders on both states fought bitterly over water rights for decades. Threats of fistfights and filibusters were written into the history of the Seventieth US Congress. Ultimately the water allocations issue was resolved in a Supreme Court battle which lasted over 11 years, included 340 witnesses, 50 lawyers and produced 25,000 pages of testimony – as well as one whimsical war story along the way.1

The rumbling started when Arizona refused to sign the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Arizona saw the compact as an aggressive push by California to secure river water at their expense. The compact divided the Colorado River into two basins, an upper and a lower one, with each basin allotted 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually. Arizona, California and Nevada were part of the lower basin while Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico were part of the upper basin. Under this scheme, Nevada would receive 300,000 acre-feet of water annually, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet per year and California 4.4 million acre-feet per year. To Arizona, the inequity was obvious and they weren’t going to sign.

Politics being politics, a “legal” means of moving the project forward without Arizona’s consent was devised and the compact was signed into law by mid-1925. Throughout the three year delay, California had been feverishly working on moving forward with an All-American Canal to divert large portions of the Colorado River into the southern part of the state. Congress passed the “Boulder Canyon Project Act” which included provisions for the All-American Canal and the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River. The pot was being stirred and simmering.

Then California stepped over the proverbial line in the sand. They decided to build another dam, Parker Dam, on the Colorado River without asking Arizona for permission. Arizona’s fourth Governor Benjamin Moeur was boiling mad. He called on the Arizona National Guard to do some reconnaissance work.  Six soldiers were dispatched to Parker Arizona for observation and patrolled the dam construction site for several months.2

Moeur was “something of a stereotype” and “known for his short temper and profanity.”3 He was also very generous. Being a physician, he often offered “free medical consultations in the capital during his lunch hours. And he was known for writing off his patients’ medical debts every Christmas.”4 His generosity apparently had limits and one of them was California trying to take water away from Arizona.

His patience was tested in November 1934 when California decided to begin construction of a trestle bridge that would connect to Arizona.5 This action prompted Moeur to declare martial law and he dispatched 100 Arizona National Guard troops to block construction on Arizona’s land.6

He also started the first official Navy in landlocked Arizona when he authorized a ferryboat operator in Parker to transport the troops across the Colorado River.7 The Governor declared ferryboat owner and 17 year operator, Nellie Bush, as the Admiral of his new Navy. She would be in command of the ships.8

fa_1281_0334julieb1940
March 1934: The “Julia B.” Colorado River ferry during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the “Julia B.” was dubbed the flageship of the Arizona “Navy.” This photo was published in the March, 8, 1934 Los Angeles Times.

At one point, the troops got in a bit of a pickle when one of the ferryboats got snagged in the river during a nighttime reconnaissance mission and “construction workers from the enemy state of California had to rescue them.9 The press had a field day with the news of “enemies” helping out the Arizona troops.

Can you picture this scene? A woman Naval commander, unheard of at the time, asking hearty male construction workers for assistance in freeing their boat. I’m sure the scene went sort of this: “Excuse me gentlemen, we seem to be in a bit of a bind. Would you mind helping to free us from this snag. Thank you so much.” Can you imagine what the construction workers as well as the Arizona troops were thinking?

In spite of this whimsical incident, the ferryboat Navy and the National Guard troops meant business. Forty members of the new Navy rode on the riverboats while twenty machine gunners were stationed on the shoreline to prevent construction on “the sacred soil of old Arizona.”10

In the end, Arizona won the Parker Dam battle as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, intervened and halted construction. A court case ensued and on April 29, 1935, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s right to object and interfere with the construction.11 Arizona felt vindicated and used this victory as a means to negotiate a deal to create its own irrigation system; the Gila River irrigation project.12 Parker Dam was completed three years later in 1938. The resulting Lake Havasu Reservoir now provides water to both southern California and to Arizona.

What happened to the infamous Admiral Nellie T. Bush? She became quite well known in Arizona. She was a justice of the peace in Parker, served in the state legislature and became a lawyer – passing the bar in both California and Arizona. She was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982.13

References:

  1. August, Jack L Jr. “Shaped by Water: An Arizona Historical Perspective” in Arizona Water Policy – Management Solutions in an Urbanizing, Arid Region. Bonnie G. Colby and Katharine Jacobs, editors. Resources for the Future. Washington. 2007. p. 18.
  2. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  3. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  4. Ibid, Stanley.
  5. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  6. Ibid, Harrison.
  7. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  8. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017
  9. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  10. Ibid, Stanley.
  11. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  12. Spencer, Monica. This Is The Single Craziest Thing You Never Knew Happened In Arizona. Only in Your State Website. Posted 10 May 2016. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  13. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017

Photo Credit: From Los Angeles Times archives as displayed in “The Parker Dam War” by Scott Harrison.

Original photo caption:

March 1934: The “Julia B”, a Colorado River ferry, is seen during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the ferry was dubbed the flagship of the Arizona Navy. This photo was published March 8, 1934 by the Los Angeles Times.