Grand scheme to divert water from Suttle Lake
Near the turn of the 20th century, many homesteaders came to the Lower Desert region east of Camp Polk and just west of the Deschutes River.
It was a very arid land with many rocks. Land had to be cleared of rocks before any farming could occur.
Another major issue was water. There was very little water and few springs. Water for domestic purposes had to be hauled long distances and was usually a constant trek done mostly by women. Water could be obtained from the mud flats at Fly Lake or from Squaw Creek (now Whychus Creek).
The only crops that could be grown was winter wheat that depended on winter moisture. It was difficult to make the flats known as Grandview to be productive.
Settlers in the Grandview and Plainview areas began to explore the possibility of diverting some of the water outlet of Suttle Lake and Lake Creek to the arid regions.
In 1912, the Suttle Lake Improvement Company was initiated with plans to irrigate nearly 12,500 acres of land near Cline Buttes. Nothing resulted from the enterprise. In 1915, homesteaders living in the Lower Desert formed the Suttle Lake Irrigation District.
Bonds were sold to finance a project that was designed to divert water from Suttle Lake to their lands. A survey was done to determine a reservoir site and a canal route for water to be moved to the Lower Desert. The project was approved by the State Engineer.
The plan called for a dam to be built at Suttle Lake, raising the water level by 58 feet and providing greater storage capacity in Suttle and Blue Lakes. It was intended for a 23.3-mile-long canal to be constructed around the south side of Black Butte to the Lower Desert region.
Construction began with a 35-man crew working under the direction of H.J. Chenowith. The crew completed 500 feet of main canal and made a clearing ready for the dam at the outlet of Lake Creek. The Deschutes National Forest issued a temporary special permit to the Suttle Lake Irrigation Company of Grandview authorizing the construction of a dam.
It was estimated that the project would cost more than $533,000. Other nearby lakes were looked at for additional water storage.
A tunnel was to be constructed through Jay Bird Ridge, then the canal would run down Stevens Canyon to the Lower Desert.
Bond issues were approved by voters for construction interest, but the State Banking Commission did not certify the bonds as the cost was more than the assessed land value. The project came close to being a reality, but economic conditions and failed crops led to abandonment of the project.
The dreams of Grandview farmers came to an end. Many of the homesteads would be abandoned by the time of the Great Depression.
Today, many long rows of rock piles stand testimony to the determination of homesteaders to make a living from the land.
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