2024 N.W. Beech Street
Madras, Oregon 97741
(541) 475-3625 (24 hrs)
(541) 475-3652
(541) 475-3905 (fax)

Jefferson County Water Festival

Water Festival Program

On Saturday, May 18, 1946, a huge party welcomed the arrival of North Unit irrigation water with an estimated 8,000 people turning out at the Madras Airfield for the daylong celebration. Those in attendance included Gov. Earl Snell, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation representatives from as far away as Washington, D.C. and many residents from Central Oregon and beyond.

For many decades people in Jefferson County had been waiting for irrigation water. As early as 1904, water had been diverted from the Deschutes River into large irrigation canals near Bend, and Redmond by 1906, but for the next 40 years, the water stopped at the Crooked River, south of Jefferson County. In the 1930’s after federal funding was secured, construction of the North Unit project finally began. The main canal and aqueduct system took over six years to complete and was ready for operation in 1946.

On that afternoon, people traveled in a large caravan of vehicles from the air base to the main lateral canal where they gathered for the ceremony held on the George Rodman place. The ceremony was a greeting for the first stream of water to reach the lateral after traveling 65 miles through tunnels and by flumeway. A.D. Anderson, pioneer, lifted the gate of the lateral releasing the first water upon the land. As the first streams of water flowed into the North Unit canals, the people celebrated the Jefferson County Water Festival. That day marked the beginning of basic agricultural and economic changes in the county, and the start of a new wave of immigration, which would eventually bring hundreds of new residents to the area.











Water Festival Parade

Water Festival Parade
An estimated 8,000 people gathered on the Madras Air Base on May 18, 1946 to celebrate the introduction of irrigation water to the North Unit project.

Release of water on M-41
Release of water on M-41
A crowd of people gather on May 18, 1946 to observe the release of the first irrigation water into the M-41 Lateral.

first water to reach land
The first water to reach land on the 50,000 acre North Unit project was on the George Rodman farm on May 18, 1946