From 1850 to Now
A long-standing purpose for sustainable water delivery and recharge in the Central Valley.
The Fresno Irrigation District was formed in 1920 under the California Irrigation Districts Act, as the successor to the privately owned Fresno Canal and Land Company. The District purchased all the rights and property of the company for the sum of $1,750,000. The assets of the company consisted of over 800 miles of canals and distribution works which were constructed between 1850 and 1880 and the extensive water rights on Kings River.
The District, which now comprises some 245,000 acres, lies entirely within Fresno County and includes the rapidly growing Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area.
A significant improvement in the control and management of the waters of Kings River occurred with the completion of the Pine Flat Dam project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1954. Although built primarily as a flood control project, the Dam provides significant water conservation benefits stemming from the storage and regulation of irrigation water by the 28 water right entities on Kings River including Fresno Irrigation District. The Fresno Irrigation District contracted for 11.82% of the 1,000,000 AF capacity of the Pine Flat Reservoir. While the District is entitled to approximately 26% of the average runoff of Kings River, much of its entitlement occurs at times when it can be used directly for irrigation of crops without the need for regulation at Pine Flat.
In a normal year, the District diverts approximately 500,000 AF of water and delivers most of it to agricultural users, although an ever increasing share of the District’s water supply is used for groundwater recharge in the urban area.
In addition to its entitlement from the Kings River, the District and the City of Fresno have signed contracts to purchase up to 135,000 acre-feet annually from the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project. The City’s contract is 60,000 AF of Class I M&I water and the District’s contract is 75,000 AF of Class II Irrigation water. Some years are less than 100% allocation of these contracted amounts.
Historically, excess water applied by the farmers has percolated beyond the root zone and recharged the extensive aquifer underlying the Fresno Irrigation District. Between 85% and 90% of the groundwater supply can be attributed to water imported and distributed by the District.
However, the conservation of agricultural lands to high density urban uses in the ever expanding Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area has reduced the capacity to utilize surface water since all M & I water is obtained by pumping groundwater. A local overdraft has developed in and around the urban area.
The City of Fresno, the City of Clovis, the County of Fresno, the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District and the Fresno Irrigation District are involved in the cooperative development and implementation of a comprehensive surface and groundwater management effort. The main thrust of the program will involve the use of flood control basins for recharge during the summer when they are not needed to control urban storm runoff.
However, the District is also expanding and improving its distribution system to deliver water to agricultural lands that have not received surface water in the past, but have instead obtained all the crop water requirements from groundwater pumping.
The management program also contains a water quality element designed to preserve and to protect the quality of groundwater of the area.
In recent years, the District has formed cooperative agreements with other agencies to handle special projects and to solve specific problems. Three examples are:
1. An agreement with the City of Fresno to recycle groundwater from the vicinity of the Regional Sewage Treatment Facility operated by the City.
2. A storm water agreement with the City of Clovis, the City of Fresno, Fresno County and the Metropolitan Flood Control District for the coordinated use of District’s facilities to handle foothill and urban storm water runoff.
3. Cooperative agreements with the City of Clovis and the City of Fresno for a proportionate share of the District’s water entitlement in exchange for lump sum payment of water service charges, rather than the District billing the tens of thousands of individual landowners within those urban areas.
As a public corporation, the District is governed by a board of five directors. Each director represents a separate geographical division of the District and is elected for a term of four years by the qualified voters within his division. Regular board meetings are held twice each month.
The budget of the District is adopted by the Board in August for the following calendar year. For 2019, the District’s budget is $16.7 million and is supported principally by water users fees for services provided by the District and water sales. There are no volumetric charges for the delivery of water to the landowners but the property is assessed by service provided on a per acre basis. The District usually delivers over two AF per acre of water in a normal year but it may be lower or higher in extremely dry or wet years.
Day to day operations are the responsibility of the general manager acting through the following described five divisions:
a. Administration & Operations headed by the Assistant General Managers;
b. Engineering headed by the Chief Engineer;
c. Accounting headed by the Controller;
d. Water headed by the Watermaster;
e. Construction & Maintenance headed by the Superintendent of Const. & Maintenance
The District has a normal complement of about 85 full-time employees.