ABOUT
HISTORY

 For more than 150 years, the Fresno Irrigation District’s story has been in the making. It is a story about the management and deliveries of these life-giving supplies of water. It entails the support and survival of people, farms, businesses, industry, and cities and towns. It is also a story about the responsibilities of an important and remarkable public agency that has evolved through the years but continues to make advances in achieving its mission. This is the Fresno Irrigation District and its story.

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The Empty Valley, With Cattle, Fresno County (Circa 1860s) (1).jpg

THE FRESNO PLAINS

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. The first significant Fresno Plains agricultural undertaking was made possible by the 1868 purchase of 5,000 acres [east of what was soon to become the new town of Fresno] by Captain A.Y. Easterby. 

Flooding was a common occurrence in downtown Fresno’s early days as viewed in 1884 along J Street (now Fulton Street), north from Fresno Street.

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Ag -- Grain Harvesting (circa 1880s) Fresno Library (1).jpg

In the early days of the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company, the primary crop was wheat and harvesting was accomplished by horse-drawn equipment and manual labor. 

Flooding was a common occurrence in downtown Fresno’s early days as viewed in 1884 along J Street (now Fulton Street), north from Fresno Street.

Crossing the Kings River in the Districts early years.

1870

FOUNDERS

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. 

A.Y Easterby (Ca. 1880) FID-Willison (1).JPG

A.Y. Easterby had a vision upon me arrival to Fresno’s plains and later became known as the Fresno pioneer by creating a means to turn desert into an oasis using water.

Moses Church, known as the Father of Fresno Irrigation, is credited with forming the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Co. in February 1871. 

1870-
1890

This map shows the Freewater service area and its land ownership as it existed in 1934 during a period of litigation. The town of Centerville is on the left (western) edge of Section 8. The Fresno Canal is in the map’s upper portion as it passed through Section 33 and 32. The area has been served by the Freewater County Water District since 1955. 

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.

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COLONIES

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.

1887

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THE 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.

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An early-day Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company control structure.

Early-day Fresno County irrigators were a tough lot and many an acre-foot of disputed water was coaxed through head gates at the business end of shotguns.

1891

LAGUNA DE TACHE GRANT

This 48,000-acre former Mexican land grant near what became Laton helped solve Fresno’s water rights problem. Dr. E.B. Perrin, who then owned the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company, in 1891, purchased the Laguna de Tache Grant for $1 million. The following year, the company gained control of riparian rights totaling 2,500 cfs of Kings River water that remains the basis of FID’s excellent water entitlement to this day.

1870-
1890

THE FIRST WATER SCHEDULE

L.A. Nares took over the Fresno Canal and Irrigation Company in 1894, and by 1897, brought together the four senior Kings River diverters to frame and adopt the Kings River’s first water entitlement schedule. Only the river’s low flows (below 1900 cfs) and the small but constant Laguna Grant supply were included but it was a start. These original schedule numbers were included in later agreements and remain in use today.

Flood, Kingsburg (1906)
Flood, Kingsburg (1906)

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Downtown Fresno Flooding (1950s)
Downtown Fresno Flooding (1950s)

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Floods-cost-more...1

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Flood, Kingsburg (1906)
Flood, Kingsburg (1906)

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FLOODING WOES
AND CONTROLS

Flooding from heavy winters and spring rains has been a recurring problem in the Fresno area since the town’s founding in 1872. FID helped find solutions to this issue; the first was the Congressional authorization of the Big Creek Reservoir and Diversion Project northeast of Clovis, completed in 1948. Under an agreement with Fresno County and the cities of Fresnoand Clovis, FID assumed operation and maintenance responsibilities. Damage from the 1955-56 flood prompted the establishment of the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District (FMFCD), now one of FID’s water management partners.

1919

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FID FORMATION

 In 1919, a petition was circulated by 788 landowners to form the Fresno Irrigation District (FID). On June 15, 1920, voters overwhelming approved the District’s formation with more than 88% of the vote (1,290/ 1,438),. County supervisors certified the election on June 28, 1920, and FID’s first board meeting took place on June 29, 1920. Elected as the District’s original directors were M.F. Tarpey, E.J. Bullard, W.A. Groves, Herbert E. Vogel and P.B. Thornton (all pictured). Tarpey was the first board President. FID spanned 242,000 acres at birth. The new District’s assessed valuation of property was $18,171,665

1920

FID GROWS FAST

 By July 1920, FID had acquired the Fresno Canal and Land Corporation (as the old canal company had been renamed), including 260 miles of canals at a price tag of $1.75 million. Nearly all these canals are in existence today - built to last! FID grew quickly between 1920 and 1930, with its water user base doubling in size to 9,000 customers. The system expanded to 530 miles of canals and ditches within just a few years.

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Shelton 1
Shelton 1

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Pull grader & Equip
Pull grader & Equip

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ditchtender action

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EARLY DISTRICT OPERATIONS

FID quickly adopted rules and regulations and defined service classes to address concerns with water distributions and state requirements. FID also recognized canal bank maintenance as an issue, eventually getting better equipment and significantly reducing hand labor. In its first four years, the District doubled the old company’s holdings and boosted its customer total to more than 8,000. FID’s operations allowed the District to survive a severe drought and national depression. By 1934, FID
had become the San Joaquin Valley’s second-largest
water purveyor.

1927

KINGS RIVER WATER RIGHTS

In 1927, FID became a charter member and signed the Kings River Agreement; this voluntary agreement included monthly water entitlement schedules based upon prior agreements, court decisions, and Fresno’s role as a senior appropriator. FID was the largest of the 19 agencies that signed this agreement. It established the alliance known as the Kings River Water Association (KRWA). 

1930's

THE CENTRAL VALLEY PROJECT & FEDERAL RECLAMATION

Many schemes to move water south for regional benefits had been contemplated since the beginning of California’s statehood. In 1931, a state water plan proposed a solution: a comprehensive Central Valley Project (CVP), which was to include the San Joaquin River water storage and uses. California’s CVP becamea U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project when Congress authorized it in 1935. In 1939, Reclamation struck a deal to buy and exchange the San Joaquin River’s old rights. This made the development of the Friant Division possible in 1945, which allowed the Fresno area to be served by a large San Joaquin River dam and reservoir at Friant, northeast of Fresno and Clovis. The CVP was the nation’s largest water development ever undertaken.

1947

PINE FLAT DAM – AT LAST

Groundbreaking for the Pine Flat Dam project was in 1947, when the Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a $42.3 Million project. Pine Flat Dam, the nation’s 26th tallest dam, was completed in 1954. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages river flood releases, and the Kings River Watermaster is in control all other times. KRWA member agencies, including FID, adopted new and more complete water schedules in 1963, which still govern the Kings River entitlements and operations. 

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Pine Flat Dam Under Construction.jpg

Pine Flat Dam beginning to rise from the Kings River in a 1952 construction view.

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Pine Flat Dam -- Aerial (6-96)img031A.jpg

A Pine Flat Dam spillway release in June 1996 creates a dramatic perspective for the long-sought project’s Kings River flood management and water conservation benefits.

FID INTO THE PRESENT

2014

SGMA

As drought conditions worsened across California, a state legislative push aimed at developing groundwater regulation bills was developing. The result was the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA). The new SGMA law established comprehensive groundwater management criteria intended to achieve groundwater sustainability. FID and nine other local agencies became members of the North Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) to formulate a groundwater sustainability plan and address groundwater issues.

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2022+

TODAY'S WATER SUPPLY

In an average year, FID imports approximately 500,000 AF
of surface water, which is approximately equivalent to the capacity of Millerton Lake.  FID manages this robust water supply, ensuring water availability for users even in the driest years. The composition of the FID supply is primarily Kings River water, but also includes Central Valley Project (CVP) water available from contracts with the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). FID has a separate contract for Class II CVP water (up to 75,000 AF per year) and has an agreement with the City of Fresno to manage their Class I CVP supply (up to 60,000 AF per year).

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