U.S. Bureau of Reclamation


"Reclamation! " was a rallying cry heard throughout the arid west in the early decades of the 20th century. The following excerpt from a joint United States Bureau of Reclamation and Oregon state study outlines in cold scientific terms the possibilities of reclaiming the marsh lands of the Warner Valley in the south central part of the state for purposes of farming and agriculture.

The development proposed by this project is the drainage of 46,000 acres of Warner Valley swamp land, the irrigation of 33,000 acres of these lands in the south end by gravity canals, and pumping to irrigate 27,000 acres in the north end.

The features to which this report has special reference are:

(a) The reclamation of about 88,000 acres of land in South Warner Valley by dredged channels for drainage and gravity canals from Deep Creek to serve these lands during irrigation.

(b) The reclamation of 27,000 acres in North Warner Valley by a drainage channel to serve 18,000 acres of these lands and control excess water, and by pumping to irrigate the entire 27,000 acres.

(c) The development of 2,000 electrical horsepower on Deep Creek for operating dredges during construction and to furnish power to four pumping plants in North Warner Valley on completion of the project.

(d) Provision for ample storage in Big Valley and Coleman Valley to insure the reclamation of the marshlands in years of extreme run-off.

...Irrigation of the marshland will probably be required after thorough drainage, and this can be at least partly accomplished by sub irrigation. The main drainage channels, if provided with control gates which may be closed when the land is nearly drained out, will help to control the water table and hold it at a favorable distance below the surface. The grass lands may be irrigated by simply using some large field laterals which will spread the water over the slopes and raise the water table to the grass roots. Grasses will generally keep green and make good growth where the water table is 1 or 2 feet below the surface. Timothy and clover should do well with the water table 3 feet from the surface, while grain and alfalfa will be better with the water table some 4 feet below the surface. On the silt loam soil the field-lateral system of distributing the water could be improved, and with the land in alfalfa probably the strip-border method would make a further improvement in time. Garden stuff or row crops would generally be irrigated by the furrow method.

The values of land use reflected in this 1916 study are in sharp contrast to the contemporary view of Oregon author and Warner Valley native, William Kittredge. In his 1992 memoir, Hole in the Sky, Kittredge describes his family's role in reclaiming the valley of his youth with bull dozer and tractor, but shares an altogether different point of view later in life. Rather than the mechanical conquest of the land his family had practiced he now suggests a connection with the land that values the marsh and its wildlife and the intrinsic good of the landscape itself. His description of descending into the valley from Hart Mountain "...where we could look down on lakes brimming with spring runoff, shimmering in the morning breezes, edged with green and populated by rafts of white pelicans and snow geese."1 is telling.

John T. Whistler and John H.Lewis, Warner Valley and White River Projects, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916, pp 7, 58.

1William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky: A Memoir, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, pp 232-233.

Last modified in August, 2019 by Rick Thomas