In 1917, Munson B. “Bert” Church and his wife, Kate, drove their cattle from parched dry pasture in western Nevada County eastward and up to the green mountain meadows of the Sierra Nevada.
On this cattle drive, Bert and Kate first envisioned a water system where the tumbling and abundant waters of the high mountains could be carried to the fertile but dry farms and ranches of the Sierra Foothills.
Soon, the Churches joined with other Nevada County residents to pursue this dream. The Nevada County Farm Bureau and visionary leaders such as Aubrey L. Wisker, Herman Graser and Guy N. Robinson Jr. set out to convince Nevada County residents and voters they should form their own irrigation district.
Building a Better Community
These men knew that a reliable, year-around water supply was a key to building a better community…. They envisioned a true partnership of people, land and water.
Through the early 1900s, many of the old reservoir and canal systems built during the California Gold Rush had become under-utilized and were falling into disrepair. Community leaders were determined to acquire these invaluable assets, make improvements, and recreate them as the backbone of a new public water system.
From 1917-1921, engineering studies were completed, new water rights were negotiated and a local campaign was mounted to build support for this dream of a new irrigation district.
NID is Formed by Voters
On March 15, 1921 local organizers presented petitions carrying 800 signatures of irrigation district supporters to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. On August 5, 1921 a public election was held with voters favoring the new district by a margin of 536-163.
Nevada County Supervisors authorized the new district and 10 days following the election, on August 15, 1921, NID was officially formed. The district’s first board meeting was held that day in Grass Valley’s Bret Harte Hotel.
Placer County Joins in 1926
At its formation, NID included 202,000 acres in Nevada County. Five years later, in 1926, residents of Placer County chose to join the district and another 66,500 acres were added. Today, NID includes more than 287,000 acres.
Following its formation, the district achieved rapid progress in laying the groundwork for the new public irrigation system. During the 1920s, many important water rights were obtained, key water rights the district retains to this day. The acquisition of land to store and deliver water was a very important step in the district’s development.
Irrigation Water: 10 Cents a Day
NID began to deliver irrigation water to local farms in 1927. At that time, irrigation water was priced at about 10 cents per day.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s it had become apparent that the future would bring more demand for water in NID service areas. Demand for NID water was beginning to transition from canal water to piped and treated drinking water. At the same time, California was embracing development of hydroelectric power to meet the state’s growing energy needs.
NID Builds Yuba-Bear Project
District leaders once again took their campaign to the electorate and in a 1962 election, 97 percent of NID voters supported a $65 million bond issue to construct the Yuba-Bear River Power Project.
The major project, completed from 1963-66, remains a very important milestone in NID history. It brought not only power generation capability, but new reservoirs and canal systems and, most importantly,created an additional 145,000 acre-feet of water storage for district residents.
No longer would foothill reservoirs run dry in the long hot summers. Bert and Kate Church would be proud.
Today, as NID has grown and matured into a multi-faceted water and power agency, the district continues to take great pride in its Gold Rush roots and important place in California water history.