Water History

Colorado Water Conservation Districts

In 1934, Governor Edwin Johnson proposed a state planning commission to identify statewide needs for natural resources, as well as public works projects—including water development. In 1935, he convened an advisory group known as the Committee of 17 to direct the planning commission. This provided the foundation for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and conservation districts. Prior to this, all matters in Colorado pertaining to water resources were under the jurisdiction of the State Engineer. Over the years, however, a feeling developed that these duties were too all-inclusive to permit proper oversight of state water resources. It was due to developing intricacies of water issues in the state that the CWCB was created in 1937. In addition, four conservation districts made up of designated geographical counties were established:


Southwest Colorado Mining History

Duane Smith, a local historian and retired Fort Lewis professor, said that even in the late 1800s, downstream communities wondered why the Animas River changed color, as mining practices of the day were unregulated. A 1899 newsclip from the Durango Democrat, indicated the early tension between Durango and Silverton: “The question that is crowding upon Durango thick and fast is one of water. The mill slimes from Silverton are now reaching us.” According to a 1932 report in the Silverton Standard & the Miner, a La Plata County farmer won a legal action against Sunnyside Mining and Milling after the company dumped mine tailings into the Animas River, damaging the farmer’s land and stock. The article does not name the terms of the settlement, but the farmer sought $25,000 in damages (about $500k in today’s dollars). In a great November 17th article by the Durango Herald, archival photos of mine tailing pits above Silverton highlight that not much has changed when it comes to complaints about mine waste since the region’s early settlement. “Ranchers and farmers who want to use water for irrigation in the lower valley have always attempted to force the mine and mill operators to keep the tailings from polluting the streams; however without much success,” the original caption for the 1940 photograph said. The mine tailing photo is especially relevant after the August 5th Gold King Mine blowout, which sent 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage down the Animas River, and reinvigorated a decades-old problem of water quality in the river’s upper basin.


Colorado River History

The Colorado River was once called the Grand River, and nearly 100 years ago, on July 25, 2012, Congressman Edward Taylor helped to persuade Congress to officially change the river’s name to what it is now. As Taylor stated of the Grand River, it is "a meaningless misnomer because practically everything in Colorado is grand."


Wettest Month in Recorded History

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records go back to 1895 and last month was the wettest on record for the contiguous United States. On average 4.36 inches of rain and snow, mostly rain, fell over the Lower 48 in May. NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch calculated that comes to more than 200 trillion gallons of water in May. Crouch said the record was triggered by a stalled pattern of storms that dumped massive amounts of precipitation.


History of Water Conflicts

The Pacific Institute has created a 5,000-year timeline (http://www2.worldwater.org/conflict/index.html) of water conflicts that shows that water politics have been messy since the beginning. The timeline goes as far back as 3,000 BC and includes such examples as poisoning enemy wells, targeting and destroying hydroelectric dams, bombing of irrigation canals, and riots sparked by insufficient water supplies. The Pacific Institute indicated that “the problems are expected to continue.” By 2025, scientists predict that one in five humans will live in regions suffering from water scarcity and many analysts have predicted that pressure on water resources could spark wars in the coming years. Moreover, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world has not woken up to the water crisis caused by climate change. The latest report from the United Nations IPCC predicted a rise in global temperature of between .5 to 8.6 Fahrenheit by the late 21st century. More extreme weather such as droughts will lead to serious water shortages and affect agricultural output and food security. Development experts around the world have become increasingly concerned about water security in recent years. More frequent floods and droughts caused by climate change, pollution of rivers and lakes, urbanization, over-extraction of ground water, and expanding populations mean that many nations will face serious water shortages.


The Mancos Project

Settlement and irrigation of the Mancos Valley began about 1876. The natural flow of the Mancos River during the months of July, August, and September is very low, and the irrigation water supply for those months inadequate. By 1893, when a state adjudication of water was made, late summer demands for irrigation water far exceeded the supply. To alleviate the shortage, three small reservoirs storing approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water were built by local irrigation organizations. In 1937, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation investigations led to the conclusion that the Jackson Gulch Reservoir site, an offstream storage basin, was the only site of sufficient size to furnish an adequate project water supply.

Long Hallow Reservoir History

Long Hallow Reservoir has a long, rich history. In 1915 Elmer Taylor conceived an idea to build a water powered flour mill near the outlet of Long Hollow Creek south of Red Mesa Reservoir.  At the time he determined there was adequate water from irrigation return flows and enough drop to power a mill. In 1922 he filed for the rights to use 17 cubic feet per second of water from Long Hollow and Government draws to a point directly above the mill site.  From there it would drop into a large pipe and turbine to power the mill. By 1924 the project was finished and the Long Hollow Milling Company (commonly referred to as the grist mill) was in business.

McElmo Flume

Flumes are a method to divert water to a desired location. In contrast to a ditch or trench, a flume is man-made channel for water, in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain. Most flumes were wooden troughs elevated on trestles, often following the natural contours of the land. In 1878 a ditch company was formed in Montezuma Valley for the purpose of diverting water from the Dolores River for agricultural irrigation purposes. Canals were dug and flumes were built, and by 1889 the project was complete. In April of 1888, the Montezuma Journal called the system, “…one of the greatest irrigation enterprises, not only in the state, but in the West.”


McElmo Creek Flume

The Montezuma Valley is naturally arid, but by the early 1880s had become a place of great pro

How Drought Spurred Evolution of Human Intelligence

According to new research, humans evolved their very large brains in response to the dramatic shifts in the climate of East Africa, the cradle of humanity where man's ancestors are thought to have originated about two million years ago. Scientists have matched exceptional


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