The proposal for establishing a training centre in water resources development originated with the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (now known as ESCAP) sometime in 1951-52 and the Centre was actually established at the 'University of Roorkee (Now Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee)' on November25, 1955. The essential equipment was provided under the then U.S. Technical Cooperation Mission and U.N. Technical Assistance Board. The Government of India provided funds for the building and other facilities and agreed to bear the entire recurring expenditure. The USAID, UNDP and ECAFE provided specialists for short-term lecture arrangements.
The choice of opening the Centre naturally fell on India which had the unique distinction of having the biggest network of irrigation works, the largest area under irrigation and the greatest variety of irrigation structures in the East. India also had, after attainment of independence, embarked on an ambitious programme of construction of river valley projects. IIT Roorkee being successor to University of Roorkee which in turn being successor to the Thomason College of Civil Engineering the oldest and best-known technical institution in the East and having the basic infrastructure for imparting such education with Dr. A.N. Khosla as the Vice-Chancellor was selected as the location, and the Centre was set up with Dr. Khosla as the first Director. Roorkee also has the added advantage of the facilities of the U.P. Irrigation Research Institute, the Bengal Engineer Group of the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Institute of Hydrology. The country's oldest canal passes through the town of Roorkee.