The Problem: Measuring flow

The Problem: Measuring flow

Before 1922, there was no easy way to measure the amount of water flowing down a creek or a ditch. This was a huge problem because Colorado's entire water system has always been based on a specific measured amount of water going to each user.

The amount of water a ditch carries depends on the cross-section of the channel, and the flow, or speed of the water passing though that cross-section. Early ditch builders carefully tracked their cross-sections. Court testimony and adjudication records are full of measurements. (See illustration below.)

Major problems developed in the 1890's because there was not an accurate measurement of flow.

  • Most ditches claimed far more water than they were physically able to carry.

  • By 1890, most Front Range creeks were over-appropriated, meaning that all the ditches along a creek, together, had claimed more water than the creek ever had in it.

  • There was no way to prove if your neighbor was taking more than his fair share of water.

Ditch builders had a much harder time measuring the speed of the water, and calculating flow. "Miners inches" were used, but there was no standard way to measure them. Miners inches varied from state to state and district to district.

Above: Testimony of Marinus Smith regarding Smith Ditch, Water Rights hearings, Boulder, June 30th 1882.  Courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Top right: Early water measuring devices, 1883   Illustrations from Colorado as an Agricultural State, by William E Pabor, courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

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