UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Irrigating the Okanagan, 1860-1920 Wilson, Kenneth Wayne


Irrigation is a powerful means of changing the landscape, and in the Okanagan Valley between 1860 and 1920 it played a major role in shifting of the regional economy from cattle ranching and grain growing to orcharding. But irrigation is not a straightforward process of building dams, flumes and canals, as this regional study of the legal, administrative and technological background of large-scale, capital intensive irrigation in the Okanagan clearly demonstrates. Provincial water legislation is shown to refine the principles of beneficial use and prior appropriation and eliminate the stumbling block of riparian rights. For Okanagan orchardists who perceived water as a public resource, water legislation provided the means to remove it from the control of private irrigation companies. An examination of water management traces the redefinition of water as a common good rather than a private resource; the emergence of regional perspectives in water management; the shift to large scale developments reliant on large volumes of water; and the increasing reliance on scientific climatological and hydrological data for making effective water management decisions. Irrigation technology is described in relation to a system's three major components - storage, conveyance, and application. As the transfer of large volumes of water over long distances became necessary, irrigation systems became more complex and more costly to construct and maintain. Unfortunately, many of the company irrigation works were built hastily or with poor engineering judgement. As a result, a number of the valley's larger irrigation systems were in need of extensive repairs shortly after their completion. Against this background the final chapter combines the use of maps and tables to reveal the extraordinary speed with which irrigation remade the regional economy and landscape. In less than a generation tens of thousands of acres of the valley's benchlands were opened to irrigated orcharding.

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