Boulder's Reservoir-building era

More Water! Boulder's Reservoir-building era

Drought hit hard in the 1890's. Farmers needed more water, but Boulder's creeks were already "over-appropriated." This means there was not enough water flowing down a creek to fill all the water claims filed on that creek. Where could farmers get more water?

The answer was to build reservoirs to store extra water. Local resources and technology were up to the job. Fresno scrapers were building the Panama Canal; they could certainly build small earthen dams in Boulder.

Over the next 20 years, reservoirs popped up all around Boulder. They would satisfy Boulder's thirst until the next great drought.

Early Boulder struggled with its water supply. Right from the start, Boulder's first reservoir named Red Rocks struggled with pollution from mill tailings and insufficient supply. In 1890, Sunshine Reservoir replaced Red Rocks.

29 years after Marinus Smith rolled into town, J.P Maxwell and George Oliver built Boulder's last irrigation ditch. Silver Lake Ditch is Boulder's most ambitious ditch, with two tunnels and five flumes. By keeping the water as high as possible, Silver Lake Ditch could water dry North Boulder mesas.

Silver Lake Ditch was the first Boulder ditch to rely mainly on reservoir storage. Maxwell and Oliver built small dams below Arapahoe Glacier at Silver and Island Lakes. They claimed storage rights to the runoff caught in their dams. Their storage rights boosted Silver Lake Ditch's junior direct flow rights.

As Portland cement came down in price, concrete became more common in dam construction. Barker Dam was the first concrete arch dam built in Boulder County. It was used to generate electricity, by sending water down a flume to Kossler Reservoir, and then down a two-mile long comstock pipe to a power plant in Boulder Canyon.

Building materials were brought by rail to the bottom of the dam. Wooden cranes were built higher as the dam rose, and were counter-weighted with rock-filled boxes.

Right, from top to bottom:

Construction of City Reservoir, Sunshine Canyon, 1890. Men use plows to break up the ground before excavating it. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

Silver Lake Ditch Construction, 1888. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection

Eastern Colorado Power Company builds Barker Dam, 1906. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection

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