Since its foundation in 1917, the District has grown from delivering untreated surface water in large, horse-drawn tank wagons to supplying high quality water through 180 miles of pipeline. Along the way, the District’s history has been tightly woven with the community’s history. Here are some highlights:
In the early 1890s, some 6,000 acres of land near the American River was purchased, subdivided into smaller tracts and named Fair Oaks. The Howard-Wilson Publishing Company of Chicago promoted the area extensively in the Midwest as the “Sunset Colony.” One advertisement listed the area’s many virtues—no saloons, grand scenery, moral and well-to-do people, flowers that bloomed perpetually, perennial fruits and vegetables, no frosts or blizzards, and the best fruit region in the world.
In November 1895, the first train arrived with 150 colonists. By the end of 1897, 1,000 acres of land had been cleared and planted with oranges, olives, almonds, and other crops.
Settlers arrived with the understanding that the North Fork Ditch Company would provide them with water indefinitely at the rate of $3 per acre per year. But, in 1915, North Fork applied to state authorities for a water rate adjustment, a move that inspired angry Fair Oaks residents to form the Fair Oaks Water Takers Association.
On March 12, 1917, the community voted 184 to 16 to create the Fair Oaks Irrigation District. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors certified the election two weeks later on March 26.
Along with creating the Fair Oaks Irrigation District, voters elected three men to the newly created Board of Directors—Chairman Sam E. Mack (a farmer), J.E. Adams (a lumber dealer) and Joseph Broadley (a contractor). At its first meeting on March 27, 1917, the Board appointed Fair Oaks resident Robert Parker as the District’s secretary (resolving to pay him $200 a year); agreed to rent the rear room of the Fair Oaks Bank Building for monthly board meetings at a cost of $60 per year; and voted to pay themselves $4 per day plus expenses when conducting District business.
A three-member elected Board of Directors continued to govern the District for the next 35 years until Fair Oaks registered voters changed the board to include five members elected to four-year staggered terms, a policy that continues to the present day.
One of the District’s early pioneers was Eric Fulton, who served as superintendent for more than 35 years, from 1913-50. Eric and his son Edwin (Bud) devoted many years of service, often without adequate equipment or compensation.
The District’s original water supply was untreated surface water purchased from the North Fork Ditch Company to irrigate about 4,000 acres of vegetables and fruit and nut trees. At that time, water was delivered from the river in large, horse-drawn wooden tank wagons. Later, a main wood pipe linked to a reservoir supplied water to the community. To supplement its surface water supplies, the District drilled its first groundwater well in 1940, and a second one in 1943.
After the completion of Folsom Dam on the American River in 1954, the North Fork Ditch Company’s water rights were transferred to the newly created San Juan Suburban Water District (now called San Juan Water District), from which the District still purchases wholesale water.
By 1979, residential development in the community had replaced all of the significant agricultural land. In July of that year, the Board of Directors passed a resolution declaring that “irrigation district” no longer described the District’s actual functions and changed the name to Fair Oaks Water District (FOWD).
Today, Fair Oaks Water District remains a committed and involved member of the community, serving a population of approximately 37,000 people on approximately 6,053 acres. The District serves this area with approximately 90 percent treated surface water purchased from the San Juan Water District and 10 percent groundwater pumped from District-owned wells.