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Tracing Tracy Territory

Importance of irrigation highlighted then and now

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Bonds passed at the election that eventually was approved by land owners in the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District financed construction that led to the start of irrigation in 1926.

The importance of irrigation to the development of Tracy’s agricultural economy, in this case the water provided by the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District, was underscored in last week’s column.

The column told of an Emmy nomination and other recognition accorded to the historic documentary commemorating the 100th anniversary of BCID.

The birthday of founding of the district was actually reached in March 1921, but Covid-19 restrictions doomed any development of a public celebration, and the documentary was chosen by BCID directors as a way of marking the district’s centennial.

As it turned out, it was a good choice. The history of the transition from dryland farming to growing irrigated crops was well worth telling.

And it should be remembered that the transition, especially in BCID’s case, was not an easy one.

A headline in the May 13, 1922, edition of the Press, told a lot. It read, “Fate of Banta District Hangs in the Balance — Small Acreage Needed to Call an Election to Vote Bonds for System.”

The story, written by Press editor and publisher Henry Hull, told of the need for at least one more land owner to provide a majority to call for a bond election, which if successful would finance completion of the district.

Before the May 13 meeting was called, the largest land owner in the district, Joseph Brichetto of Banta, had pulled his family’s land out of support for the bonds, which he said would require taxes that would be too costly for Brichetto vast land interests.

Ironically, this occurred while Joseph Brichetto was president of the board of directors of the newly formed district. His withdrawal of bond support was quite a blow to prospects for its success.

Noting that a majority of land owners in the district would be required to call for the bond election, Hull wrote: “Unless one more land owner signs the petition (for a bond election), it looks like the district will fail.”

If only the board of directors, and not a majority of land owners, called for the bond election, that would require a two-thirds’ vote to approve the bonds in the election, those present at the meeting were reminded.

Anyway, it was a close call, but the election was held, the bonds were eventually approved and completion of the district’s irrigation system of canals and pumping stations became a reality.

The district started distributing water from the San Joaquin River in 1926.

The history of the formation of the 17,500-acre district and its importance to Tracy area agriculture needs to be known throughout the Tracy area, within the city limits of Tracy as well as in rural areas.

The demise of Tracy’s agricultural economy has been predicted on numerous occasions over the years as urbanization has progressed. The BCID documentary breathes new life into the understanding, especially among newer residents of our town, that while agricultural no longer holds the dominant role it once did in our economy, it maintains an important place that requires careful land-management practices to maintain most-productive farm land and irreplaceable irrigation systems as viable segments of the current the Tracy area economy and continuing unique elements of our area’s character.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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