History of the Area and District
Settlement of the area began in 1851 soon after gold was discovered near the community of Jacksonville. Other settlements such as Phoenix, Talent, Ashland, Medford, Willow Springs, plus others, sprang up in the Valley. These settlements were purely agricultural, and had very little to do with the discovery of gold at Jacksonville and Applegate. However many of the gold miners stayed to make their homes in the valley, recognizing agricultural possibilities. Early settlers raised common field crops and livestock adjacent to the streams, using adjacent hills and mountains for range land.
The hot dry summers, coupled with the necessity of keeping livestock close to the settlements, emphasized the need for irrigation. The Earliest filing for water was in 1851 from a tributary of Bear Creek, and the first land was actually irrigated in 1852. Simple stream diversions furnished irrigation for summer pastures and by 1860, there were 3,900 acres irrigated in the valley.
This acreage grew year to year until all tributary streams were appropriated to the extent of summer flow. By 1890, close to 17,000 acres were irrigated. The success of early irrigation created a desire for larger projects. However, early attempts to control the larger streams, notably Bear Creek, proved to be inadequate to handle the needed expansion.
The Fish Lake Water Company was organized in 1897 or 1898 for the purpose of storing and transporting water into the Rogue River for irrigation of some 55,000 acres of land. This development was patterned after the Carey Land Act Companies.
The new company began work on the Fish Lake Road, and in the following year water right filings were made and permits granted by the State of Oregon. In 1902 the road was completed as well as a log dam capable of impounding 4,500 acre feet of water. That same year the Fish lake Company delivered irrigation water through new canals to the Agate Desert, now known as White City.
Fish Lake Company mortgaged its system to Pat Welch, Spokane, WA, in 1909 or 1910. He began a land promotion project, using his own personnel, to plant several hundred acres of orchards which then sold for $200 – $300 per acre. Welch acquired outright ownership of the water company and began operation as the Rogue Valley Canal Company. His private lands were operated as a cattle ranch.
He made no further enlargement of the water system until 1919-1920 when he contracted with the Medford Irrigation District (MID) to construct and furnish water to MID lands, and maintain the system for two years.
Further enlargements were made between 1916 and 1930. Fish Lake Dam was constructed to its present height. Cascade Canal connecting Fish Lake and Fourmile Lake was completed as well as Fourmile Dam and the Medford Irrigation District system.
The main canal from Little Butte Creek to Bradshaw Drop and the Hopkins Canal were enlarged with more permanent structures. However, the Welch interests and the Medford ID were soon involved in litigation over many matters, including incomplete construction work and conflicting water rights. The legal problems continued until 1927 when the parties stipulated that the water supply was insufficient to serve 55,000 acres of land. Consequently the Medford ID was cut to 9,400 acres and the Hopkins Canal system to 4,784 acres.
Rogue River Valley Irrigation District (RRVID), organized by farmers, then bought the present irrigation system from the Welch interests in 1929. Since then additional water has been made available to both Medford and Rogue River Valley Irrigation districts through the Talent Project.
Rogue River Valley Irrigation District has added Agate Reservoir to its system thus providing irrigation water for new lands. Many improvements have been made to the storage and conveyance system over the years, with extensive rehabilitation projects begun in 1957 in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). A three member board of directors, each elected for a three year term, sets policy for the District. Policy is carried out by the District Manager. The board meets monthly, or more often if necessary. The annual budget, prepared by the manager and staff, non-budgeted construction, and other major items must be approved by the board.
The District provides a yearly report to OWRD of total water used. There are 953 accounts, with 810 separate users within the District. Average size user is approximately 11 acres. There are 147 users in the District with irrigated acreage of 0.01 – 1.0 acres in size. These users represent a total of 91.24 acres of irrigated land. Total area in the District is approximately 66 square miles, with 8,813 acres being irrigated. OTHER Many forms of recreation are also facilitated by the three irrigation Districts (TID, MID and RRVID) in the Bear Creek, Little Butte Creek and Klamath River basins. Boating, fishing, and other water based recreation is popular on all reservoirs created by dams constructed by The districts, and are accessible by the public. All of the reservoirs are also widely used by wildlife and waterfowl.