Orange County Branch Newsletter

October 2011

History & Heritage

Irvine Ranch Irrigation System Named Historic Landmark

American Society of Civil Engineers Names
Historic Landmark

By Bobby Fouladi, P.E.

Orange, Calif. – The Irvine Ranch Irrigation System has been named a Local Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Orange County Branch.  The system has been a staple of Orange County agriculture since the first of 10 ranch reservoirs, now known as Irvine Lake,was completed in 1931.

The Plaque

A plaque and pedestal were presented at Peters Canyon Regional Park on Thursday, September 15,2011 to commemorate the ingenuity of James Irvine II and C. Roy Browning, P.E. The second reservoir in the system, Peters Canyon Dam was granted to the County as a Regional Park and as part of a nearby residential development in 1991. The plaque was dedicated by Bill Lawson, Chairman of the ASCE Orange County Branch History and Heritage Committee in collaboration with Orange County Parks. ASCE OC Branch Historian, Carl Nelson spoke about the historical significance that the Irvine Ranch Irrigation System played in Orange County’s economic development, and how its existence shaped the expansion of irrigated agriculture on the Irvine Ranch.

ASCE OC Branch Vice President Josh Nelson Begins the Ceremony

James Irvine II inherited the largest ranch in Orange County from his father, James Irvine I, at the young age of 25 in 1888. The ranch stretched 9 miles along the Pacific coast and 22 miles inland, encompassing roughly 110,000 acres before development began. Irvine began to irrigate the central valley of San Diego Creek with drilled wells early in the 1900’s to transition from the historic era of dry-farming and pasturage to other types of farming. In the 1920’s, Irvine hired C. Roy Browning, P.E. to lay out pipelines and pumping stations that increased groundwater usage. Irvine also planned to contain floodwater from Santiago Creek and use it to irrigate his ranch. Bowning designed the Santiago Dam, forming what is now Irvine Lake, as well as Peter’s Canyon Dam and reservoir, along with a substantial network of water conveyance facilities. Construction of the dams and a “High Line” distribution canal provided enough water to Irvine, one of the largest orange growers in Southern California.

Bill Lawson Hosting the Ceremony

Mark Denny, Director of OC Parks, spoke about the donation of the park to Orange County.  He also commented that the area “certainly serves an important aesthetic role here in the park, as well as an important place for birds and other wildlife.”  

Santiago Dam Circa 1938

Also in attendance, Orange County Third District Supervisor and Board Chairman, Bill Campbell, stated that “the foundation laid out by the Irvine Ranch Irrigation System was eventually to benefit the people and the growth of Orange County culturally.  Because of these irrigation efforts in the past, the county continues to prosper and grow.”

Dedication of the Plaque


Left to Right: Mark Denny (OC Parks Director), Carl Nelson (ASCE History & Heritage Committee), Bill Lawson (Committee Chair, ASCE History & Heritage Committee), Josh Nelson (ASCE Branch Vice President), and Supervisor Bill Campbell (County District 3).


Ceremony Attendees Enjoyng the Presentation


Attendees Catching Up with Carl Nelson 


A video of the event was posted on the branch Youtube page and should be visible below.

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