The volume of water in an extreme flood of the Sacramento River is from four to eight times greater than the capacity of its channel in different sections. This incapacity has been increased by the debris deposits and sediments from hydraulic mining. This problem is still with us today and the Boards’ ability to respond to the problem with appropriate solutions is frustrated by varied interests in the River and Delta. One hundred years ago, it was apparent that the rainfall in the Sacramento Valley and its related runoff posed a major obstacle to population growth and development of agriculture in this bountiful area.
One of the major purchasers of swampland in the mid 1800s was the Tide Land Reclamation Company. The founder of the company was George D. Roberts, for whom Roberts Island is named, who had purchased 250,000 acres in the delta at $0.50 to $3.00 per acre. Splitting off 120,000 acres to form the Tide Land Reclamation Company, development of a drainage program to drain the swamp was initiated. The joint venture included backers from as far away as Kentucky.
Among the early Californians involved were two men Thomas H. Williams and his fellow attorney and business partner David Bixler. Referred to as “General” Williams, not because of any military rank but due to his former position as Attorney General of the State of California, Williams & Bixler were major investors in the San Francisco Bridge Company which was their financial base. With a $600,000 investment in the Tide Lands Reclamation Company, about 1870 the Company was experiencing financial difficulties. For this reason, Williams & Bixler wanted to divest and took payment in kind and exchanged their interests of $600,000 for 65,000 acres of land extending from Clarksburg on the north to Victoria Island on the southern end of the Delta. The property included 20,000 acres in the Yolo Basin, 11,000 acres in Grand Island and 34,000 acres between Middle and Old Rivers which became Victoria, Woodward and Union Islands. This transaction proved instrumental in the formation of Reclamation District No. 999 and accounts for the size it is today, one of the larger reclamation districts in the Delta encompassing 26,000 acres.