ContentsPutah and Cache: Lower Cache Creek

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Winters Canal

Robert Thayer

Cache Creek, which has been flowing out of sight beyond a ridge of low hills to the east, passes behind the Rumsey Rancheria and parallels Route16 to the left side. Pull off just before the bridge over the Winters Canal.

Water rights to the flows in Cache Creek out of Clear Lake and Indian Valley were acquired by Yolo County over one hundred years ago. In 1957, the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District was established. The district acquired the Clear Lake Water Company in 1967 and in 1976 it built the dam forming the Indian Valley Reservoir on the North Fork of Cache Creek. "Clear Lake water" is what the local Yolo farmers call this life blood of their livelihood, and much of it flows out of Cache Creek at the inflatable Capay Dam, to the southeast via the Winters Canal and to the northeast via the West Adams and Hungry Hollow Canals. By 1987, this water was irrigating 55,000 acres of Yolo farmland.

Route 16 turns sharply right at the stop sign in the small town of Esparto. In 1888, the Vaca Valley and Clear Lake Railroad, with financial backing from the Southern Pacific, began a 24 mile extension from the town of Madison to the Capay Valley. The Capay Valley Land Company (which was made up of executives from the Southern Pacific!) purchased several large tracts of land along the railroad route. William Mills, the manager of the Capay Valley Land Company, determined that the west side of the town would be "dry", and sold 60 lots in June 1888. The original name of the town, Esperanza, was changed to Esparto. Later, additional lands were purchased and subdivided, an elementary school built, and by 1893, Esparto had the second high school in Yolo County.

Esparto's boom was to be short-lived, as with other Capay towns after 1890 when Southern Pacific failed to acquire Clear Lake water rights. The difficulty of building a railroad through Cache Creek Canyon was merely a nail in the railroad's coffin. Passenger service to Esparto ended in 1941, the line closed in 1967, and the rails were torn up in 1975. The railroad right of way and the remains of the train station are visible across the street from the right angle turn in Route 16.

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