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W.H. Laidlaw starts project with Three Sisters Irrigation Co. to build canal from Tumalo Creek.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOWMAN MUSEUM - Construction of the Columbia Southern Canal began in 1904, extending Tumalo Creek to Bull Flat.An old irrigation canal extended from Tumalo Creek to Bull Flat. The project was begun with the Three Sisters Irrigation Co., under the management of W.H. Laidlaw.

Canal construction was begun in 1904. Difficulties in delivering enough water led to the Three Sisters Irrigation Co. being acquired by the Columbia Southern Irrigation Co. The company was a subsidiary of the Columbia Southern Railroad, which traversed from the Columbia River to Shaniko.

The goals of the company included building a canal from Tumalo Creek and diverting water to Bull Flat west of Laidlaw (now Tumalo). An intake dam was constructed on Tumalo Creek and eventually a canal was built to Bull Flat, but the company went into receivership and it failed to deliver irrigation water to settlers.

The company had hopes of acquiring large holdings of land under the Carey Land Act, as it allowed companies to acquire and sell property if irrigation reclamation was done.

W.A. Laidlaw became very unpopular when the irrigation scheme failed. The town of Laidlaw was named for him, but residents did not want to have their town named after a shyster, so the name of the community was changed to Tumalo. Mr. Laidlaw was even hung in effigy.

The project was eventually taken over by the state of Oregon. Although a dam was built and water was diverted from Tumalo Creek, the project proved to be a disaster, as water behind the dam disappeared in lava tubes and fractures.

The old reservoir site is now a vast sagebrush flat and the Columbia Southern Canal can be traced through the landscape, but there is no water delivery.


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