Water is King in California



Pioneers Museum hosted a packed house Friday, kicking off their 2016 Lecture Series with presenter Brian McNeece, a former English professor and dean at Imperial Valley College.

Guests were treated to dinner and the premier of McNeece’s labor of love, a 20 minute video entitled, “The History of Water in the Imperial Valley.”

A Valley native and graduate of Central Union High School, McNeece has always had an interest in learning the how and the why of things, specifically the history of the Imperial Valley.

What started as a nature-bent curiosity developed into a fascination with Imperial Valley history and its role in the development of the West in the late eighteen hundreds.

“My feeling was there are so many of us who live here who think, ‘Oh I’m just from El Centro, I need to get out of here,’ but when you look at the history you learn that Imperial Valley was one of the major players in the whole development of the West,” McNeece said.

Through his research, McNeece discovered that the Imperial Valley’s founders’ pursuit of bringing sustainable water flow to the Valley played an instrumental part in the creation of the Hoover Dam, as well as the All American Canal.

The Valley’s founders, led by Thomas Blythe (of which Blythe, CA, is named), were also the earliest people to take water out of the Colorado River – one of the biggest irrigation projects in the world in 1877, McNeece said.

In an effort to share his passion of Imperial Valley history, McNeece began digging through archives and gathering visuals, ultimately developing power point presentations on the topic.  He has two hours of material in power point form, of which he has shared at Imperial Valley College, Pioneers Museum, and places in Coachella, said McNeece.

McNeece believed this information needed to be more accessible to the general public.

“I thought the best way to get things to the public is through video,” McNeece said.

He received a grant from the Imperial Irrigation District, in the form of $21,000, with which he used to create a 20 minute pilot video on the subject.

He worked with Conveyor Group to make a video suitable for middle school and above.

The process took a year to make and over 500 hours, McNeece said.

“It was a back and forth collaboration,” McNeece said.  “We had 12 rewrites of the script.”

The video is a high quality production, that includes appealing visuals such as animation, maps, and sound effects, along with music from the period.

The video outlines the history of water in the Imperial Valley, focusing in on the drama in which early founders attempted to bring a sustainable water flow from the Colorado River.

McNeece would like to make more videos to keep the story going.  “This first video is a bare bones project,” McNeece said.

He has two more projects in mind, one on the Hoover Dam and the other on the All American Canal, both of which the Imperial Valley played a huge role in founding.

“I’m just a curious guy and I want to know about everything,” McNeece said.

IMG_20160129_184300527-2 IMG_20160129_184313875 IMG952016012995184249137-2



  1. I would like to correct myself. Thomas Blythe filed on water in what would become Blythe, CA in 1877, not 1881, as I stated. Thanks to Michelle for a fine article.

Comments are closed.