BEGAN TO FLOW...
IRRIGATION DISTRICT HISTORY
A CENTURY OF CONVEYANCE,
COMMITMENT & CUSTOMER SERVICE
Prior to settlement, our area was known as the Fresno Plains. Its landscape was dominated by vast expanses of mostly flat and vacant prairie upon which grew only native grasses that died away to leave mostly barren, dry soil during the hot summers. The land was primarily used for cattle and sheep grazing.
Early Conveyance System
Moses Church organized the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company in 1870 to begin building earthen channels of distribution works. Much of the construction of the canals still used in the Fresno Irrigation District took place between 1870-90. Church further expanded the system by buying a competing company in 1885. Some of the earliest canals include the Sweem, Centerville, Gould, Enterprise and Fresno canals.
Agricultural subdivisions known as colonies — agricultural parcels sold with water rights covering typically 20 acres — fueled early growth near Fresno. The first of these in 1875 was the Central California Colony located just south of modern-day downtown Fresno. It included 4,000 acres. Many existing FID canals continue to be named after the original colonies.
A.Y. Easterby, one of Fresno’s true pioneers, owned land a few miles east of today’s downtown Fresno. He was convinced water would make this dry land come alive. Easterby commissioned Moses J. Church (pictured) “Father of Fresno Irrigation,” in 1870 to develop the Fresno Canal to divert and convey Kings River water to irrigate Easterby’s wheat fields.
RAILROAD AND FRESNO
Along with water, rail development arrived on
the Fresno Plains. Late in 1871, with Easterby’s wheat crop having germinated into a sea of green, a Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) inspection party headed by Leland Stanford reached Fresno County to view CPRR’s chosen rail route. A major town and rail station were then planned near the present site of Herndon. After viewing Easterby’s wheat, made lush with canal water, Stanford ordered the planned major townsite move southeast nearly 10 miles. The railroad opened in the spring of 1872 and Fresno was established.
Early Water Rights
In 1887, Dr. E.B. Perrin purchased the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company. Four years later, he bought the 48,000-acre Rancho Laguna de Tache Grant (along with other riparian acreage near modern-day Laton)
to obtain its water rights for the Fresno area. This action set in motion a long, complicated series of events. Ultimately, it resulted in settlement and resolution of the Kings River’s many water rights disputes, establishing firm water entitlements for Fresno and other river agencies.