The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Susan Wiggins
Mayor Pro Tempore 

Oroville Dam and East Kern

A Page of History


When everything about the Oroville Dam and Lake in Northern California started to go to “hell in a hand basket” two weeks ago, I remembered that my mom Marion Deaver rode on a train to that area in the late fifties to see the Feather River and hear about a dam.

I searched high and low for an article that she probably wrote for the Bakersfield Californian concerning that trip and what did I find? Nada, zilch, nothing! Those articles must be in the infamous “lost boxes” that my brother Bill Deaver and I have not been able to locate.

I was getting really irritated and mostly gave up on the idea of writing about Oroville and my mother. I knew about the train ride thing, but I was only 8-10 in the late fifties.

I always have a small pile of articles or information on the corner of my desk for those times when I have no idea what I will write this week. So I began to dig through it once again. I had pulled a copy of the Mojave Desert News from 1979; why I had no idea.

And then Divine Intervention came through again. When I looked at the front page there was an article by my mom proclaiming that “after 20 years the Feather River water had arrived in Mojave.”

Yep, she discussed the history of the California Water Project, which included the construction of the Oroville Dam.

She noted that the first water brought to Mojave was in 1876, from a Southern Pacific well, 12 miles north of Mojave. The water arrived by pipeline to the small community. One time I was with my mom and dad, Paul Deaver, “exploring” along the railroad tracks just north of Mojave, when my dad saw a foot-long rusty thick wire poking out of the ground. So, they stopped to “explore.” Turns out it was connected to a length of old wooden pipe put together with redwood slats to make a circle and fastened by the wire wrapped around it. They dug it up, put it in the trunk and took it to the Kern-Antelope Historical Society Museum. After some research all decided it was a portion of that old pipeline that brought water to Mojave.

That well was sold by the railroad to the Mojave Public Utility in 1938. That district has operated the water system ever since.

Planning for the dam, which would be the highest in the United States, 770 feet, and the rest of the Feather River Project, was done during the terms of Governors Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, Edmund “Pat” Brown, and Ronald Reagan.

The state water project was approved by voters statewide in 1960. The Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency (AVEK) was created in 1959, and was one of 31 public agencies signing contracts with the state to receive water from the state. However it took three elections to pass a bond to fund a project to deliver the water to AVEK. This system was a group of dams, reservoirs, and the 440 mile California Aqueduct.

My mother mentioned the train trip adding that those who rode with her from Mojave included O.K. Parker, Cecil Smith, Martin Beck, Roger White and A.B. McAdams. They were all given a little bottle of the river water by the Oroville Chamber of Commerce. (I can’t find that either!)

The Feather River water arrived to the Mojave Public Utilities District in early August, 1979. The water residents drank was 50 percent local water and 50 percent Feather River water.

Jumping to 2017, those of us in Southern California listened as residents below Oroville Dam were evacuated for fear that the emergency spillway that was being used for the first time in the dam’s history had developed cracks and then a large hole.

Officials feared the spillway would collapse and affect the dam, causing it to fail. It did not, but the finger pointing is running rampant, blaming the state for not “thoroughly” inspecting the spillway in 2013 and 2015, when new cracks appeared.

By the time this column is printed, I do not know what the latest will be, but I can assure you my mother was there in the beginning.


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