Agricultural Uses of Ditch Water: Then

Agricultural Uses of Ditch Water: Then

Early settlers could grow just about anything in Boulder, as long as they could get the water to it. However, they were limited to gravity feed delivery systems. Only land below the ditch could be watered, using small channels, dams and flood irrigation to spread water down rows and across pastures.

The Sugar Beet Boom started in Boulder County in the late 1890's. Sugar beets require large amounts of water late in the summer, so farmers had to first build reservoirs to store the spring run-off, to use late in the growing season.

Longmont citizens lured a beet sugar factory to town in 1903, and for 70 years, sugar boomed. In 1977 when sugar prices fell, the Longmont plant closed, severely impacting local farmers who depended on this cash crop.

Wheat was the main crop grown by Boulder's early settlers. In 1860, the Wellman brothers planted Boulder's first wheat crop on their 640 acre farm near 48th and Arapahoe. They filed on the Wellman Ditch in 1862. (Often settlers didn't get around to filing on their water until a few years after they started using it.) More and more acreage was put into wheat in the 1870's, but the yields gradually diminished as Boulder's soils were depleted.

Boulder farmers could grow a variety of crops once they found a reliable water supply.

Right, clockwise from the top: Wheat harvest, 1909, McClure photo. Courtesy of FRICO collection.

A farmer works water down rows of sugar beets. Courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Facts, From Drumm Pocket Map of Boulder County 1908. Courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

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