Early homesteaders to Jefferson County ranched and practiced dry-land farming techniques, with wheat becoming the dominant agriculture commodity in the area by the early 1900s. Despite being one of the most successful dry-farming areas in Central Oregon, local farmers began to experience a moisture shortage after 1925. Hit hard by the dry-spell, coupled with the arrival of the Great Depression, many dry-land farmers left. Those that remained realized that to exist, they needed a reliable source of water.
Construction on the North Unit Project began on July 21, 1938, but was stalled due to the arrival of World War II. With the completion of the North Unit canal in 1946, water was delivered to 17,000 acres during 1946 and 1947. By the spring of 1949, all 50,000 acres were receiving water. North Unit was the largest unit of the Deschutes projects in Central Oregon. Created by the Bureau of Reclamation, the irrigation project was operated by the agency until 1955, when the North Unit Irrigation District took over.