The Old Exchequer Dam was Merced Irrigation District’s (MID) first major project after MID was formed in 1919. When the dam was completed in 1926, it was 326 feet high, allowed for storage of 281,000 acre-feet of water, and was one of the largest concrete gravity arch dams at that time.
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. The New Exchequer Dam was completed in 1967, with a crest elevation of 879 feet, a length of 1,220 feet, storage capacity of well over 1 million acre-feet of water, and a capability of generating tens-of-thousands of mega-watt-hours of electricity each month.
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.
In all, water is delivered to approximately 135,000 acres within the Merced Irrigation District, while also benefiting precious local groundwater levels (each year by 140,000 acre feet of water). MID operations also keep electricity flowing to another 9,800 residences and businesses. They also provide camping, boating, fishing and other recreation at Lakes McClure and McSwain, as well as on the Merced River.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: As MID turns 100 this year, the Merced County Historical Society, in collaboration with MID, will hold a community celebration and exhibition at the Courthouse Museum in downtown Merced on Nov. 7. Stay tuned for more info on the event.