William G. Collier is considered the “father of irrigation” in Merced County.
Collier, a Kentucky native who grew up in Missouri, made the journey to California in 1853 to make his mark in the lumber business of Tuolumne County. However, by 1859 he settled along the Merced River and began a life of ranching. His foresight on issues of water and irrigation for early farmers in the region also led him to work as a surveyor for Miller & Lux and others.
By 1870, Collier was promoting the first irrigation enterprise of any size in the entire state of California — the Robla Canal Company. Along with the help of William P. Sproul and Stephen Baltzley, the landmark firm was created with a total capital stock of $25,000.
The headquarters of the company was on ranch land Collier had purchased in the Livingston area, and Collier was president, manager, and engineer.
The Robla Company’s first project was to construct a canal beginning near the diversion point of what ultimately became MID’s main canal (pictured in main photo). Collier’s goal was to connect the canal to Bear Creek so as to eventually bring water to his property.
Because of a lack of capital, he only succeeded in building a 7-mile-long canal with a tunnel about 1,580 feet in length. His canal fell far short of Bear Creek. Starting on the south bank of the river near the Crocker-Huffman Diversion Dam, the canal ended at Canal Creek about 1/2 mile easterly from Merced-Snelling Road.
In 1876, the Farmers’ Canal Company succeeded the Robla Canal Company.
Collier ended up serving several terms as a county surveyor for Merced County. He died on Oct. 9, 1883.
The Merced Irrigation District and the Merced County Historical Society are planning a community celebration and exhibit in recognition of MID’s 100-year Anniversary on Nov. 7. The date coincides with the formation of the District: MID was established in November 1919 when Merced County voters supported the formation of the Merced Irrigation District.
The exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse will help tell the fascinating story of how Merced Irrigation District was formed and how it has evolved over the past 100 years. More information can be found online at: MIDisThere.com or mercedmuseum.org.