New display at Fresno State provides glance into irrigation history

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New display at Fresno State provides glance into irrigation history

More than 100 years worth of sprinklers and other artifacts representing the history of irrigation have found a home in the Water and Energy Technology (WET) Incubator at California State University, Fresno.

The new 100-piece display represents the vision of key water industry leaders to illustrate the development of one of the most important technologies the world has ever known – irrigation.

The WET Lab is housed with the International Center for Water Technology on the Fresno State campus. In addition, the university is home to the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT), which has served as an international research and testing facility for irrigation and water delivery equipment for more than 25 years.

The display features some of the more than 500 museum-quality pieces collected over more than two decades, noted project manager Kate Norum.

“We’ve been looking for a permanent home for these items, and now we think we have it,” she said. The CIT collection includes prototypes of sprinklers and valves that were first tested in the hydraulics lab, fine-tuned and retested, then manufactured and eventually sold throughout the world.

The collection has grown in other ways as well: “We’ve had people drop in with boxes of vintage pieces and say, ‘Do you want these?’ and of course we say ‘yes,’ ” Norum said.

Another major source of donations is the Irrigation Association, an international organization that promotes efficient irrigation through education, certification, research and innovation. With the blessing of Tom Kimmell, the association’s former executive director, the entire collection of sprinkler and irrigation-related artifacts was recently moved to Fresno, Norum said.

“Work is still ongoing to identify, catalog and photograph the more than 1,000 pieces that the association has amassed over the last 50 years,” she said.

Instrumental in the move was Glenn Bowlin, an irrigation consultant with Broussard Associates of Clovis, who chairs the IA History Committee. Bowlin, who’s been in the irrigation business for 35 years, began to collect vintage and trend-setting sprinklers and equipment years ago when he realized the importance of the technology to California and the world.

“We decided to re-energize our history committee and find a way to tell the story of sprinkler development and show the history of irrigation,” Bowlin said. “We wanted to create a virtual museum and also one from brick and mortar.”

Norum, who also is a member of the History Committee, appreciates how much work has been done in such a short time. A series of custom made glass cases along the WET lab’s main hallway comprise the first phase of the museum. The cases currently house more than 100 sprinklers and irrigation artifacts ranging from a 1920s vintage ornamental alligator lawn sprinkler to a giant Buckner 890 rotating agricultural sprinkler that could blast a fire hose-like water stream up to 200 feet.

In addition to the WET Lab museum, the Irrigation Association launched a Web-based virtual irrigation museum, Bowlin said. The site displays water-related artifacts and describes the worldwide history of irrigation, starting in ancient times.

Both the virtual museum and the real museum are works in progress, with new artifacts being added all the time, Norum said. Future plans include display cases to house larger artifacts such as pipe, pumps and controllers.

Also to come is an exhibit tracing the history of sprinkler testing at Fresno State, beginning with the pioneering work started more than 50 years ago by the late Winston Strong, professor of plant science from 1956 to 1984.

The CIT Irrigation Museum at the WET Lab is open during the facility’s regular business hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, contact Norum at or Bowlin at

(Copy by Steve Olson of the California Agricultural Technology Institute at Fresno State.)

Related link: Irrigation Museum