The Bailey Ditch Company was formed and filed for water rights on the Umatilla River on March 4, 1893. In 1896, the Bailey Ditch Company went into receivership. That same year, interested citizens began talking with Reclamation Service about the idea of a Basin Project. A feasibility study for the Umatilla Basin Project was started.
The Oregon Land and Water Company (OLWC) took over the assets of the Bailey Ditch Company in 1904. The former Bailey Ditch became the OLWC canal. The OLWC diversion was built at the two-mile point on the Umatilla River. Volunteers renovated the canal and extended it for service. Additional water rights were filed in 1906 to develop more irrigated lands in Umatilla and Irrigon and to take the water to Castle Rock (west of Boardman), as planned by the Bailey Ditch Company.
The Umatilla Basin Project was authorized in 1905, under the Reclamation Act of 1902. Individual water users entered into contracts with the federal government that provided the government would construct irrigation facilities, and that these water users would repay the construction costs. In turn, the Government took liens on these individually owned lands. Possible reservoir sites and irrigable lands were withdrawn from entry.
In 1909, Reclamation filed on 6,000 acres of water rights to be irrigated from the West End main canal, yet to be constructed. In 1912, OLWC went into receivership. Their assets were assigned by the courts to the United States Government until a succeeding entity was formed. OLWC water rights and assets were merged into the West End of the Umatilla Basin project.
The Three Mile Falls Dam was constructed in 1914. The new dam was built a mile upstream from the original OLWC dam.
The old dirt ditch was also abandoned and a new 27 mile long concrete canal was constructed at a higher elevation. There were sixty headgates built along the main canal along with corresponding concrete laterals. The main canal was completed in 1916 with the first water being delivered to Boardman that year.
In 1919, the West Extension Irrigation District was formed and took over the OLWC water rights and Reclamation facilities. Landowners in the district entered into a repayment contract in 1920, which was amended in 1922. In July of 1926, the district assumed operation and maintenance of the project. They hired A.C. Houghton as District Manager, a position he held until his death in 1951.
The settlers in the area faced serious financial problems, and by 1931, the district was unable to make its contract payments. Discussion began with Reclamation regarding writing off the repayment contract. The lands were reclassified under the Project Reclamation Act of 1939 and, in 1954, Congress approved the current repayment contract.
In 1962, the John Day Dam was completed. As the water rose, thousands of acres were inundated, including 1200 irrigated acres within the West Extension Irrigation District. District and Reclamation officials worked with the Corps of Engineers and Congress to obtain compensation for the district for these inundated lands. Compensation was not received, nor was the district able to transfer the water rights onto other lands.
Also in 1962, the Three Mile Dam facility was renovated. The fish ladders were improved and a fish trap was added.
The district remained concerned about its loss of base acreage for revenue. By 1968, the matter had become serious and the district filed a water right on 3289 acres of lands to be irrigated with Umatilla River water.
The district built a pumping plant on the Umatilla River to furnish supplemental water to all lands within the district. The water from the pumping plant was to be conveyed by pipeline into the main canal.
In 1978, a wood stave pipe that delivered water to approximately 600 acres from the Relocation Lateral, under the highway and into the Irrigon area washed out. This was a devastating blow to the district, which had little financial resources for repair. After three years deliberation, the district purchased an existing pump station on the Columbia River in Irrigon and filed for water rights on the Columbia River for 1144 acres.
Discussions and negotiations with Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and the local tribes had been ongoing since the early 1980’s regarding the fisheries resource in the Umatilla Basin. This culminated with the Umatilla Basin Project Act of 1988. This act was passed to allow for exchange of Columbia River water for Umatilla River water in order to enhance anadromous fish runs in the Umatilla River. Three districts, West Extension, Hermiston, and Stanfield, are involved with the project. West Extension’s portion, Phase I of the project, was completed in 1992. The Phase I exchange began in 1993.