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Turlock Irrigation District: Bringing water to the wasteland

Turlock Irrigation District: Bringing water to the wasteland

The TID was a truly visionary agency: the first irrigation district in the state, the first to bring water to customers, and the first to bring electricity to clients.


POSTED September 26, 2012 12:35 p.m.

Just 125 years ago, Turlock was a barren, arid wasteland. Wheat was the only viable crop.

The Turlock of 1887 scarcely resembled the Turlock of 2012, now the heart of the most agriculturally productive valley on the planet.

The transformation came not due to global warming, or natural changes in the landscape. It came due to the actions of a few dedicated men, those who founded the Turlock Irrigation District.

The TID was a truly visionary agency: the first irrigation district in the state, the first to bring water to customers, and the first to bring electricity to clients. It's because of the district and all of the hard working people who made irrigation possible that Stanislaus County is the thriving agricultural Mecca it is today.

It took until 1893 for the District to complete La Grange Dam, to divert water into canals. And it took another seven years to build those canals, to the point where in 1900, Ceres farmer Henry Stirring was the first to receive TID irrigation water.

That water began to make new crops feasible in Stanislaus County. Sandy Turlock soon became the watermelon capital of the world – a crop so water-intensive, growing it was an impossibility prior to the TID.

The plentiful water and fertile land brought more and more residents to the District’s boundaries, in search of a career farming these suddenly-bountiful grounds.

That led to the District’s next amazing feat: constructing the original Don Pedro Dam and Powerhouse in 1923, capable of storing 289,000 acre-feet of water. The reservoir meant farmers could now be assured that a dry year would not mean an absolute dearth of water.

Almost more importantly, the 15-megawatt Don Pedro Powerhouse meant the District could enter the electric industry, blazing another new trail.

By 1971, the rapid growth made possible by water and power was taxing Don Pedro’s storage and generating capacity. So the District built the New Don Pedro Dam and Powerhouse, capable of holding more than 2 million acre-feet of water and generating 203 megawatts of electricity.

As demand for power grew, the District built its first natural-gas power plant, the 49.9 megawatt Walnut Power Plant, in 1986. Just nine years later, Almond Power Plant opened, adding 48 more megawatts of power.

In 2006 the District’s largest generation facility, the 250-megawatt Walnut Energy Center, entered service. And just this year, the District opened Almond 2 Power Plant, a 174-megawatt quick-starting natural gas-fired power plant, using the latest technology.

In recent years, TID has continued to blaze a trail – this time, in the field of renewable energy. With diverse holdings in geothermal energy, the largest fuel cell in California, and a 136.6 megawatt wind facility in Kilckitat County, Washington, the district sources more than 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources.

Now 125 years old, it’s hard to foresee what the future will hold for the District. But it begins and ends with two words: Water, and power.

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