The Orland Project, in north-central California, is located about 100 miles north of Sacramento. The project incorporates parts of neighboring Glenn, Tehama and Colusa counties. The hub of the project, the town of Orland, is in northern Glenn County.
One of the smallest projects ever tackled by Reclamation, the project irrigates 1 percent of the Sacramento Valley’s total irrigable soil, 20,000 acres. The project, one of the oldest federal reclamation projects in the country and one of the first undertaken in California, was authorized by the Secretary of the Interior in October 1907 after a finding of feasibility by a board of engineers.
Water was delivered to the first farm units at the beginning of the 1910 growing season. The project is irrigated by Stony Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River. Flowing northward, the creek gathers water drained from the surrounding slopes of the Coast Range Mountains. The collected water irrigates lands on both sides of the creek near the town of Orland.
The Orland Project comprises two main dams to store water, East Park and Stony Gorge, two diversion dams, almost 17 miles of canals, and 139 miles of laterals. Orland has some of the best conditions for agriculture. The growing season lingers over 262 days from March to November. The project’s soil is considered some of the richest and most productive in the nation. Orland, and the Sacramento Valley, is warmed by a thermal belt, with very few frosts. Average rainfall is 17.99 inches, most of which is measured between the first of November and the first of April. With hardly any snow, winter runoff occurs almost immediately after precipitation. The project has an average annual runoff of 410,000 acre feet.
The rapid development of the Central Valley in California began in 1849 after the discovery of gold. Cattle raising was the primary activity for the next decade, but at the same time various forms of agriculture were being established. First planted in the 1860s, wheat soon dominated the socio-economic life of the Sacramento Valley. Wheat was easy to grow and required little continuing investment.
During the late 1890s, as the wheat yield decreased across the farming communities of northern California, grain farming shifted its emphasis from feeding humans to feeding livestock, and cattle ranching increasingly dominated the local economy.
Along Stony Creek, isolated individual attempts at irrigated farming began before 1880. On Stony Creek and its tributaries above Orland, 40 to 50 separate water diversions were built in the 1880s and 1890s.
Construction of East Park Dam was started Aug. 27, 1908, and completed in 1910. Northside Diversion Dam was built during the same period. Rainbow Diversion Dam and East Park Feed Canal were constructed in 1913-1915 when it was determined that insufficient water was being stored for project use. Stony Gorge Dam was started in 1926 and finished in October 1928.
Reclamation manages the recreation facilities. East Park and Stony Gorge Reservoir areas provide campgrounds, including trailer space, picnicking areas, swimming, boating and fishing, primarily for bluegill and largemouth bass.
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