This story is in Walter W. Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY.” It is assumed that Bristol is the author.
By Walter W. Bristol
One of the first, if not the first, efforts to get gravity water for domestic purposes was started in 1912 when O. W. Robertson, C. M. Pratt, E. D. Libbey, William Ladd, F. H. Osgood, H. T. Sinclair and John Burke bought the Gridley ranch in order to secure its water rights.
The water source is a tunnel in a canyon about 1,000 feet higher than the ranch house. The water is piped from there about three miles and supplied the homes of all the original shareholders. Later, Mr. Libbey turned in his interest, which was bought by the remaining owners.
The company was incorporated in 1931 as the Gridley Mutual Water Company. The water is charged to the stockholders each year on an estimated budget for the coming year, according to the amount of water each stockholder has used the previous year.
Richard Phillips was the superintendent for many years. Howard Bald is acting in that capacity now. Helen Robertson is president and William Simonds is secretary-treasurer.
The company eventually sold the ranch house and a few acres to Dr. Ida Stambach, who came to the valley many years ago with her nephew and niece, Henry and Alice Nixon. Both of the Nixons have been, and are, prominent citizens of the valley. Henry is a director of the Ventura County Chamber of Commerce, trustee of the Presbyterian Church and member of the Lions Club.
The Thacher Project
In the 1920’s, due to increased pumping and short rainfalls the water table throughout the valley reached a level which was alarming. The average rainfall, William Bowie informs the writer, from 1920 to 1929, inclusive, was 17.88 inches. This means that in some of these years the rainfall was far below normal.
In April or May of 1925, S. D. Thacher called a meeting at the school of prominent citizens to discuss the subject of an increased water supply for the valley, both upper and lower. The subject before the meeting was primarily the way to do it and the means with which to get it done.
It was decided to raise money enough to engage the engineering firm of J. P. Lippincott to present a plan which provided for the damming of the Sespe river at Cold Springs and piping the overflow water through the mountain to the valley. This would cover a drainage area of 66 square miles and impound 50,000 acre feet of water, which would be enough to irrigate a minimum of 15,000 acres.
The estimated cost was $3,262,000. He estimated that the generation of electric power would bring to the district $105,000 annually. At this time he also made a survey of the Matilija for dam sites, but concluded that the cost per acre just for Ojai alone would be prohibitive.
The matter hung fire for some time. The depression of 1929 put a stop to the matter and it never came to a vote by the people.
About this time A. E. McAndrew, at his own considerable expense, had check dams built on the side of the mountain near the Senior Canyon area. A heavy storm a year or two later swept all these away.
Senior Canyon Mutual Water Company
In May, 1929 work was begun on the project of drilling a tunnel to develop water in the Senior Canyon. It met with surprising success.
The initial drilling of 1,550 feet brought out 50 inches of water. Since that time the tunnel has been lengthened to about 2650 feet. Owing to sedimentation, however, the output has considerably decreased.
This water is a godsend to water users, both domestic and commercial, in the district from San Antonio School to and including the Topa Topa ranch.
The first officers of the company were Philip Pierpont, president, Denham Lord, vice-president, Hal Gorham, secretary-treasurer, A. L. Dodge and J. Myrick, Jr.
There are about fifty stockholders. Water is distributed by meter control and amount of water is allocated in accordance with the amount of stock held.
The 1929 Project
On August 2, 1929 another project for the development of water was launched. The object of this endeavor was to develop a water supply mainly for irrigation purposes, although provision was made for city participation if desired. The territory included a wide area in the vicinity of Ojai and Ventura.
The immediate plan was to call an election in this area to form a district with power to levy a tax on the property involved for the purpose of an extensive survey. The election, set for January 14, 1930, failed to carry.
The prime mover of the project in this section was Gird Percy. Mr. Percy was a splendid type of citizen and very popular. He served a term as president of the Lions Club.
The 1938 Project
On the evening of November 22, 1938, a meeting of the citizens of Ojai was called under the auspices of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. The meeting took place in the high school auditorium and was called to order by Dr. Charles T. Butler, president pro-tem of the Chamber of Commerce.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss feasibility of taking advantage of Federal aid under certain congressional enactments concerning the establishment of districts for the purpose of water conservation by check dams, spreading or otherwise, and also pertaining to drainage development. There was considerable discussion after John Dron explained the details of the act.
The following persons were selected to arrange the preliminaries: R. S. Dennison, H. W. Gerry, John Barnard, Charles T. Butler and Clarence Mattson. This committee elected Dr. Butler its chairman.
In the good old American way an opposition group developed, led by Alfred Reimer. All through the year 1939 the controversy pro and con went on, occupying a great deal of newspaper space and creating a certain amount of bitterness. In December of 1939 the matter was argued before the supervisors to determine whether or not they would approve the calling of an election to settle the case. The supervisors turned it down and that was that.
The 1945 Project
The latest effort for water development was made in the summer of 1945 when it was proposed to put to the vote of the people the formation of the Ventura County Flood Control District. Ventura and Ojai were put in Zone 1 of the district.
The plan was to build two dams in the Matilija Canyon to control the flood waters for the use of Ventura and Ojai. Meetings were held to explain the matter and on October 16, 1945, an election took place in Ventura and Ojai calling for a bond issue of $3,400,000. The vote was in the affirmative by the narrow margin of 85.