Reclamation is one of the first forms of public improvement in California, with the early focus on reclaiming "swamp and overflowed" lands granted to the State under the Federal 1850 Arkansas Act. The term reclamation primarily encompasses flood control and drainage, but has also long been held to include irrigation. To help local landowners reclaim the swamp and overflowed lands, the State adopted a series of statutes authorizing them to form local reclamation and levee districts. The area of a proposed district was outlined in a formation petition presented to a State or county board, which would order the district to be formed after a majority vote of the affected landowners. Beginning in 1861, the Board of Swamp Land Commissioners issued the orders organizing reclamation and levee districts. Beginning in 1867, such districts were organized under the Green Act by county boards of supervisors. (Stats. 1867-8, c. 415.) A few reclamation districts were also created by special act of the Legislature. (See, e.g., Stats. 1911, c. 100 (RD 900).) Regardless of how they were formed, however, reclamation districts now operate under Water Code Division 15, § 50000 et seq., and levee districts under Division 19, § 70000 et seq. (See also Stats. 1911, c. 100, § 2.)

As reclamation districts were formed under the above noted laws, they were given numbers sequentially. As one of the first reclamation districts formed in 1861, Grand Island was given the number Reclamation District No. 3. The area protected by Reclamation District No. 3 has remained the same for essentially the entire time of its existence. As described in Division of Water Resources, (currently known as Department of Water Resources) Bulletin No. 37, which was published in 1930, the Reclamation District is described as protecting 17,100 gross acres, with a net protected area of 16,245 acres.