A Brief History of Arnold Irrigation

Excepts from “The Arnold Project”
Toni Rae Linenberger
Bureau of Reclamation History Program
Denver, Colorado
Research on Historic Reclamation Projects

Originally, the Deschutes River was known by the Klamath tribe as, Kolamkeni Koke, or “place where the wild root kolam grows.” Many years later Lewis and Clark, referred to the river by another Indian name Toworenhiooks after sighting it on October 22, 1805. On their return trip the river was renamed Clarks River in honor of William Clark. A little more than a decade later the river was again renamed, this time essentially for good. When the area was trapped by French-Canadian fur traders, the river’s proximity to the falls of the Columbia River earned it the name Riviere des Chutes, or River of the Falls. The French place name was then shortened by the following generation of English-speaking pioneers into what we know the river as today, Deschutes.2

After the Civil War the Deschutes River Basin was settled primarily by ranchers who then used the Deschutes grasslands as pasture for their cattle during the summer months. The ranchers were succeeded by the timber men, who proceeded to make Bend, Oregon, the logging capital of Central Oregon. Between 1893 and 1908, a number of private ditch and irrigation companies claimed water rights from the Deschutes and its tributaries. The work of the ditch and irrigation companies prompted a shift in the local economy. The emphasis went from ranching to farming with the introduction of water. All of the local irrigation efforts succeeded in bringing state and Federal attention to under-irrigated Deschutes County. In 1914 and 1922 comprehensive surveys of the Deschutes Basin were released, by the State of Oregon and the Federal Government, most notably the United States Reclamation Service (USRS) in 1922. The second survey resulted in a $500,000 Federal appropriation for a storage works located at Benham Falls, eight miles south of Bend. After meeting with Arthur Powell Davis, then Director of the USRS, the land owners rejected Reclamation’s plan because under the province of the Reclamation Act all land over 160 acres would have to be sold at the government appraisal price.3

Even without federal help, small irrigation efforts were well underway. In 1922, the North Unit Irrigation District under terms of the Carey Act, which allowed for state supported irrigation efforts, built the Crane Prairie Dam. Located southwest of Bend, Crane Prairie is a log-crib, rockfill dam. The dam was responsible for irrigation of 40,000 acres in the Central Oregon, Arnold, and Lone Pine irrigation districts. Crane Prairie Dam was troubled by leaks and due to poor financing repairs were obstructed.4

The present Arnold Irrigation District was first organized as the Arnold Irrigation Company on December 27, 1904. The organization became official when incorporation papers were filed with the State of Oregon on January 9, 1905. In addition to the Arnold Irrigation District, three other small irrigation companies, the Pine Forest Ditch Company, the Bend Company, and the North Irrigation Company, diverted water through the main canal. The three irrigation companies were later absorbed by the Arnold Irrigation Company. Water was diverted from the Deschutes River a few miles south of Bend, Oregon, through the Arnold Canal for the lands to be irrigated south and east of that city.

Cross Section and Elevation of Simicircular Flume
Engineering News-Record April 10, 1924

The Arnold Diversion Dam is a wing type dam, which extends a short distance into the river from the east bank. The main structure of the distribution system is the one-mile long Arnold Flume which connected to the Arnold Canal. Originally, the main Arnold Canal was seventeen miles long, however since rehabilitation it has been reduced in length to about eleven miles. At the diversion, the Canal has a capacity of 120 cubic feet per second. The Project lands are served by approximately twenty-five miles of laterals.5

The canal system was built so that water could be delivered to lands selected by the stockholders; the result was an extended canal to serve scattered farms. The Deschutes River Decree of February 10, 1928, by the Circuit Court of Deschutes County, as modified by the Oregon Supreme Court, allotted to the Arnold Irrigation Company a diversion right of 150 c.f.s. for irrigation of 9,392 acres. Not all this acreage was under cultivation, however. Longtime residents on the Project estimate the maximum area under irrigation at any one time was about 5,000 acres.6 In 1960 there were 3,416 acres under irrigation rotation out of a total of 4,292 acres eligible for full irrigation service.

The Company was reorganized in 1936 as the Arnold Irrigation District (AID) and it assumed all obligations and accounts of the Arnold Irrigation Company.7


2. Lewis A. McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, (5th ed.), (Portland, Ore.: The Press of the Oregon Historical Society, 1982), 218-9.

3. Denver, Colorado, National Archives and Records Administration: Rocky Mountain Region, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, Record Group 115, “Annual Project History, Deschutes Project,”, Vol. 1, 1938, 7-8; Norman Delmar Kimball, The Impact of Economic and Institutional Forces on Farmer Adjustments in the North Unit Deschutes Project, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Oregon State University, Corvallis, 1961), 16

4. Kimball, 1.

5. Project Data, 11.

6. Denver, Colorado, National Archives and Records Administration: Rocky Mountain Region, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, Record Group 115, “Annual Project History, Arnold Project–Oregon,” Vol. 1, 1952-1960, 1.

7. “Annual Project History, Arnold Project–Oregon,” Vol. 1, 1952-1960, 1. 8. Project Data, 13..

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