Yelm Prairie, with the assistance of the Nisqually river and the natural geography of the land is being put on the map as one of the most important irrigation centers in the state of Washington. Irrigation of the Prairie has been realized after years of struggle and the entire district is beginning to prosper. The hardships which the hard-working farmers of this section will not soon be forgotten.
The Yelm irrigation project is complete and the ditches are running with water. The extension of the benefits of irrigation from the same project to the other lands yet to be developed to their full capacity undoubtedly will be undertaken.
A few years ago the Yelm Prairie was a howling wilderness of dirty prairie grass that died out every summer during the dry months. Yelm was for many years a picture of distress, a little group of weather-beaten, dust colored, stores and houses resembling a tank town in the sage brush more than a thriving farming community.
A few days ago a woman who lived during her childhood days on the Yelm Prairie returned to see how the old home looked. She found the fields growing fine, the irrigation ditches carrying prosperity to the farmers and automobiles gliding over the roads where teams in the old days struggled to pull lightly laden farm wagons. She returned to her home in the city praising the old Yelm Prairie as she had never praised it before.
J.L. Mossman is one of the Yelm citizens responsible for the improvement. Years ago he conceived the idea of irrigating the prairie. Mossman conducts a general store and is one of the kind of citizens who cannot let things go haphazard.
Twenty years ago Mossman made an investigation at his own expense to determine whether or not the district could be irrigated profitably. He spent much of his time and money on the scheme, but he was given little support. Some of the old timers laughed at him. Others refused to listen. Irrigation was there but little practiced it in the west. Mossman was told that if the prairie were watered the moisture would sink away and disappear. He was told by the farming experts of the community that the scheme would not work, that the soil was not good enough, that there wasn’t enough water in the world.
But, about this time a certain irrigation ditch in the west was being constructed, and it was costing a lot of money. The backers of the project put in $75,000 and were forced to shut down. The best looking man in the outfit was dolled up in a $10 suit of clothes and sent back east to talk to a big railroad official. Result – the ditch was completed.
The Yelm ditch, however was not built that way. Associated with Mossman were L. M. Rice, O. K. Thompson and Chester Thompson as well as J. P. Martin. All three served in different capacities while the big ditch from the Nisqually was being constructed.
The work of surveying the ditch was a job of itself. The main idea was to spread the water from the river over the prairie as well as possible, but it had to be done systematically by following the highest lines and giving the ditches a fall of at least one foot in 1,00 feet.
The valley is seven miles long and from two and a half to three miles wide, naturally drained through the center by Yelm Creek, it was necessary to take the water from the Nisqually river at a point 14 miles upstream and to convey it down to the prairie in a long flume. The flume was constructed on land as much as possible but in some places it hugs the side of the cliffs and hills and is more or less scenic. As the district develops tunnels probably will be constructed through some of the hills and the flumes made more permanent. It was hard scrabble, however to put the big project over, and now the ditch is complete with the exception of a few minor details and improvements will be undertaken from time to time. The prairie is divided into tracts and there will never be any shortage of water as the river is high at the time when the irrigation is the most necessary.