“You only turn 100 once.”
So said Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell when he spoke about the theme of the day as the OID celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special event held at the Bianchi Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 26 that hosted approximately 800 people.
Seats were filled inside and outside in the community center plaza as OID constituents and community members came to learn more about the district, enjoy a free barbecue tri-tip and chicken lunch, and acknowledge the district’s 100 years of existence.
The community center was filled with historic photos and information about the district’s beginnings. There were computer monitors that displayed OID “then” with old newspaper articles and photos, and OID “now” with photos of repairs and new construction throughout the district. There were also several booths staffed with representatives from OID consultant companies where people could ask questions about what the companies do and the projects they work on with OID, such as the Water Resources Plan, tunnel construction, fish management, and more.
Another special display held court in the plaza area: three ore carts on a track that were among the original ore carts that were used in the building of the district’s dam system. A large historic photo showing the carts at a dam site accompanied the display, along with a commemorative plaque dedicated to the five men who died during the construction of the dam system. Knell noted that the ore carts had been residing in the OID yard and they’ll soon be on display in front of the OID offices.
“People were truly amazed at the extent and breadth of the district,” said Knell, who also served as Master of Ceremonies for the festivities.
He added that the event was valuable because it allowed the district to educate community members on things about the district that they didn’t previously know, such as all the district’s dams, lakes, canal systems, and more. He said it helped people “connect the dots” on the district’s role in the area.
In Knell’s address to the crowd, he gave a general overview of the district’s history and timeline, how OID provides a cheap water service to its constituents, and his “dam” duties as the general manager.
He reported that the district consists of 72,000 acres, with 56,000 irrigated acres. He also gave a brief recognition to the former employees and family members of employees who helped build the district and Tri-Dam system.
The current board of directors consisting of Jack Alpers, Al Bairos, Frank Clark, Tony Taro, and Steve Webb — who will be the longest serving OID board member at the end of this year — were also introduced. Alpers gave a brief welcome address to the attendees.
“The district has become an economic engine for Oakdale,” Alpers said.
He reported that OID has assets worth over $1 billion, has 76 employees, four hydroelectric plants, and generates approximately $18 million annually from electricity sales.
“We’re here to celebrate that beginning and we haven’t looked back,” he said.
Alpers noted that OID went through some difficult times in its history, at one point being nearly bankrupt. He credited the vision of the district’s forefathers for bringing the district to fruition.
“You people had the courage to start this,” he said to the audience.
Oakdale city councilmember Mike Brennan presented a proclamation from the City of Oakdale. He stated that the OID employees worked hard to make the district what it is today, as well as the farmers who demanded the water and helped build the district with their own hard work and vision.
Knell said that although they were expecting a large turnout, it exceeded their expectations.
“The event was a huge success,” he said. “It was more than what we anticipated… We thought we’d have between 500 and 700 (people).”
Planning for the event began a year ago, and OID brought in Fresno public relations agency Astone to plan the event, prepare and compile the extensive history and photos in a concise and interesting manner, and produce the varied promotional materials.
The district sent out 2,600 special invitations to OID water users, had special banners made, and also produced 500 booklets for attendees that featured information about the district’s beginnings, all those who served on the board of directors, all former general managers, as well as historical photos.
Though the OID traces its roots back to the 1850s, it became an official district in 1909. OID’s sister district in the Tri-Dam Project, South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID), hosted its own 100th birthday party earlier this year. Turlock Irrigation District (TID) is on the books as the first publicly owned irrigation district in California formed under the Wright Act and established in 1887. Modesto Irrigation District (MID) followed shortly thereafter, and a number of other surrounding districts were created in the area.
“This was pretty much the center hub for irrigation districts forming in California,” Knell said.
Other presenters at the celebration included Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien; representatives from Congressman George Radanovich’s office, State Senator Dave Cogdill’s office, and California Assemblymen Tom Berryhill and Bill Berryhill’s offices; as well as officials from the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, Stockton East Water District, SSJID, MID, and TID.
The OID budgeted $80,000 for the centennial celebration, and also had 16 luncheon sponsors at $250 each, as well as six consulting companies that also paid to have informational booths at the event.