Jeff Jardine

As Don Pedro Reservoir drops, what will it reveal?

The level of Don Pedro Reservoir always drops over the course of an irrigation season, reflecting the purpose of the reservoir. This is what the Eagle-Shawmut Mine’s stamp mill foundation looked like in January.
The level of Don Pedro Reservoir always drops over the course of an irrigation season, reflecting the purpose of the reservoir. This is what the Eagle-Shawmut Mine’s stamp mill foundation looked like in January. Modesto Bee file

Last winter, Don Pedro Reservoir’s water level had dropped so much that the Eagle-Shawmut Mine’s stamp mill foundation emerged from the drink. The mine is on the eastern side of the lake, alongside the Woods Creek tributary arm of the reservoir.

It became the rage for tourists, kayakers and TV crews who shot footage and then moved on to the next sound/visual bite to accentuate the drought.

However, first, while the TV types referred to the foundation as the mine, the actual mine went more than 2,000 feet into the mountain and operated from about 1850 until 1942. The visible foundation was from its stamp mill and chlorination plant, where rock removed from the mine was pulverized before the gold was extracted using the so-called cyanide process.

A second fact is that even in great rainfall years, at least some part of the five-story concrete foundation usually appears. Don Pedro Reservoir was built by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts to provide water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley. By the end of any irrigation season, and with fish survival also demanding water, the reservoir level is going to drop noticeably and some of the stamp mill foundation will surface.

A visit to the reservoir today offers a stark reminder of how how much the water level has dropped since January, with more to go. Even so, the old Don Pedro Dam downstream isn’t expected to be visible this year, Modesto Irrigation District’s Melissa Williams said. And what about old town site of Jacksonville?

“The Jacksonville town site foundations will remain submerged this year,” Williams said. “They lie between elevations 640 and 650 feet (above sea level), so they will remain about 30 to 40 feet under water based on our current low lake level projection of 682 feet.”

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