Printed on: September 25, 2013

Irrigation presentation is Oct. 15

By KIRSTEN JOHNSON
kjohnson@postregister.com

In 1862, much of eastern Idaho was dry, barren and covered in sage brush, according to research by the Bonneville County Heritage Association.

All that changed with an irrigation system.

The Heritage Association will explain just how it all happened at "Water to Dry Ground: Irrigation in Bonneville County" on Oct. 15. The free presentation, which is open to the public, promises an in-depth look at the history of the area's land settlements and irrigation.

Five speakers -- including the president of the Bonneville County Farm Bureau and the district director for the Idaho Water Users Association -- will lead presentations. There also will be plenty of time for questions, said Ann Rydalch, Heritage Association chairwoman.

"I hope we can fill the auditorium because it's an interesting subject," she said. "People from all walks of life will enjoy learning about the history of the irrigation system and how they can further use the system for our county."

Joe Stewart, Heritage Association board member, said the history of the region's irrigation system can be traced to 1871, when a well-known, accomplished geologist visited eastern Idaho and saw potential in the layout of the land.

"He said, 'Hey, you've got a natural irrigation system laid out right before you,'" Stewart said.

The geologist's optimistic observations inspired movement. In 1883, farmers began digging canals from the Snake River with horse-drawn equipment to water the dry land. Eventually, very little land remained unirrigated.

More than 100,000 acres was settled and irrigated in Bonneville County, Stewart said. Today, he said, the region is recognized as one of the most productive irrigated systems in the country.

Heritage Association board member David Nipper said attendees of all knowledge levels will benefit from attending the presentation because organizers are aiming to make it as visual as possible.

"This (presentation) is for the average citizen of the local area," he said. "The idea is to let people know how the canals got there and why they're important."

The presentation is one of many once-a-year events the Heritage Association hosts with a goal of ultimately unwrapping 100 "treasures" of Bonneville County. Each treasure -- a historical aspect of the county -- was voted on by citizens in 2011 during the Heritage Association's Centennial Celebration for the county. The organization hopes to bring enlightenment on as many topics as it can.

Last year's topic was a walking tour of downtown Idaho Falls. Next year's topic will be a look at development of the county's stagecoach transportation system during the early automobile era.

"Anytime we understand what our history is about, it gives us a greater advantage on the decisions we make for the future," Rydalch said. "It'll help us make wiser decisions in the future."

Reporter Kirsten Johnson can be reached at 542-6757.

If you go

What: "Water to Dry Ground: Irrigation in Bonneville County"

When and where: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15, University Place auditorium, 1784 Science Center Drive in Idaho Falls. Admission is free.

Membership for the Bonneville County Heritage Association is $10 per year. Visit bonnevilleheritage.org for more information.