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A century of water, power: MID celebrates 100 years

A team of workers in an early Hydro Power Room of Exchequer Dam.
A team of workers in an early Hydro Power Room of Exchequer Dam.

Special report from the Merced Irrigation District

You probably know Merced Irrigation District provides water for irrigation, and non-profit public power. You might even know we operate Lake McClure and produce renewable hydroelectricity.

But do you know where it all started?

With a vote by our community to establish the Merced Irrigation District in November of 1919 – one hundred years ago this year.

We have come a long way since then. Today our operations deliver water to approximately 135,000 acres within the Merced Irrigation District, while benefiting precious local groundwater used for drinking. We also keep electricity flowing to another 9,800 residences and businesses. And, we provide camping, boating, fishing and other recreation at Lakes McClure and McSwain, as well as on the Merced River.

So, how did we get here?

Between the 1870s and the early 1900s, significant miles of canals were constructed to convey life-giving water throughout our community. In eastern Merced County, the Crocker-Huffman Land and Water Company was responsible for nearly 50,000 acres being irrigated from Livingston to several miles south of the City of Merced.

In about 1914, the Crocker-Huffman Land and Water Company decided to sell its irrigation system. Eastern Merced County residents launched an effort to form the Merced Irrigation District. Nearly five years later, local residents voted in November of 1919 to establish Merced Irrigation District.

Not long after, in 1922, the District purchased the Crocker Huffman Land and Water Company irrigation system for $2.25 million. The Exchequer Mining Company on the Merced River was chosen as the ideal location to construct the District’s first dam. Planning for it began in 1921 and construction soon followed.

The original Exchequer Dam was completed in the mid-1920s. Once constructed, it was 326 feet high and allowed for storage of 281,000 acre-feet of water. A dedication ceremony was held on June 26, 1919. The then-existing Yosemite Valley Railroad carried about 1,000 people up to the dam site for the important historical event.

By the 1950s, Merced Irrigation District was looking to expand Lake McClure. Planning began for a larger dam that would provide even more water storage, flood control and hydroelectric output. In 1964, the District was granted a license from the Federal Power Commission to expand the irrigation and power facilities on the Merced River.

Construction began soon after. Upon completion in 1967, the New Exchequer Dam has a crest elevation of 879 feet with a length of 1,220 feet. The New Exchequer Dam increased Lake McClure’s storage capacity to 1,024,600 acre-feet of water. And, the hydroelectric project is able to produce about 100 megawatts of clean, carbon-emission-free energy.

Today, Lake McClure provides water to 2,200 local growers, the vast majority of which are farming on small generational family farms of less than 50 acres. The reservoir produces clean renewable energy and offers a place to cool off on a hot day. MID remains the steward of some of the most historic and important water rights in the State of California. Our operations also replenish and help protect the quality of our local groundwater used for drinking: each year, surface water from Lake McClure replenishes up to 140,000 acre feet of groundwater. With a state mandate for our region to address groundwater overuse, this is a tremendous benefit to our community.

Throughout 2019, we will be celebrating MID and its rich history. We invite you to join us.

To learn more about the history and the benefits of Merced Irrigation District, visit online at:

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