Water Development Timeline

Timeline of Boulder, Colorado, Water History

1803

1804 to 1806

1806

1820

1833

  • First northern Europeans settle near Bent's Fort trading post on the lower Arkansas River and build irrigation systems.
  • Spanish-Mexican permanent settlements in southern Colorado use acequia (common-owned) irrigation systems.

1838

1842 - 1846

1848

1849

1852

1857

1859

1860s

  • Construction of large ditches and canals begins in Colorado.

1860

1861

  • The Colorado Territorial session sets water laws into the territorial constitution, including the right of ditches to cross other peoples' lands, to get water to users without land bordering a creek.

1862

  • The Homestead Act transfers 160 acres of public land to each homesteader after five years of residence, and brings many more small farmers to Colorado.

1863

1864

1865

1867

  • Denver established as the permanent seat of state government.
  • Congress authorizes four surveys of the West by Powell, Hayden, Wheeler and King. The Hayden Expedition conducts a geological survey of the natural resources of Nebraska and explores and maps Wyoming and Colorado.

1868

1869

  • Hayden Expedition passes through Boulder.

1870

  • The Union Colony founds Greeley and begins to divert water from the South Platte. The colony movement and ditch construction go hand-in-hand in Colorado.

1870s-1880s

  • Corporations and land speculators start constructing large ditches and often fail.

1871

1872

  • Boulder Aqueduct Company is organized to pipe Farmers Ditch water into every house in the City that wants it.

1873

  • 50 miles of irrigation ditch are built in one year in Boulder County.

1875

1876

  • Colorado becomes the 38th state.
  • The state constitution recognizes "prior appropriation" and allows right of way for water conveyance over private land.

1879

  • 400 farmers headed by J.P. Maxwell of Boulder petition Governor Pitkin to appoint Hiram Prince Water Commissioner of Boulder Creek, to oversee the fair division of water and resolve disputes.

1880s

  • Reservoir construction begins in the South Platte basin to capture spring peak flows for later use. By this time, most direct flows in streams along the Front Range have been fully appropriated. Irrigators develop areas farther away from the mountains as return flows from irrigation by upstream ditches increases creek flows in lower reaches of the streams.

1880

1881

1882

  • The Colorado Supreme Court, in Coffin v. Left Hand Ditch Company, affirms the doctrine of prior appropriation, or "first in time, first in right" in water rights disputes.

1885

1887

1888

  • Maxwell and Oliver build Silver Lake Ditch, Boulder's last ditch and the first ditch to rely primarily on a high mountain reservoir to store high-water flows for use later in the season.

1890-1894

  • Severe drought over eastern Colorado.

1890

  • City of Boulder builds Sunshine Reservoir to replace the reservoir at Red Rocks because of water quality problems.

1893

1894

1900

  • Boulder County has 947 farms, producing $1,000,000 worth of goods. 9/10th of improved acreage is under irrigation.

1902

  • Federal money starts funding more ambitious water projects in Colorado.

1904

1905

1906

1906

  • Maxwell sells the right to enlarge Silver Lake to the City for $34,000 and reserves most of the original storage rights for the Silver Lake Ditch.
  • Eastern Colorado Power Company begins construction of Barker Dam.
  • City begins construction of a pipeline from Lakewood Reservoir to Blanchard intake to avoid water pollution from mining operations on Boulder Creek.

1907

  • W.W. Degge buys the Silver Lake Ditch, as part of his development scheme for North Boulder, called "Wellington Gardens." Wonderland Lake (Mesa Park Reservoir) begins construction.

1910

1911

1917

1919

  • Boulder constructs a pipeline from North Boulder Creek below Silver Lake Reservoir to Lakewood Reservoir to avoid pollution from mining operations on North Boulder Creek.

1921

1922

1923

1930s

1936

  • Moffat Tunnel is completed, bringing up to 100,000 acre-feet per year of Colorado River basin water into the South Boulder Creek drainage and to Denver.

1937

1940s

1947

  • The Adams Tunnel of the C-BT Project is completed and transports on average 263,000 acre-feet per year of C-BT water from the West Slope to the East Slope.

1948

  • The first crude but functional center pivot irrigation machine is built by Frank Zybach, a wheat farmer in Colorado.

1950

1953-1956

  • Severe drought hits much of Colorado, with very hard times for farming and ranching.

1953

1954

1955

  • Boulder enters into the first of many agreements with Public Service Co. to use Barker Reservoir for city water storage.

1960

1962

  • Front Range development spurs Public Service Company to upgrade Valmont Station. They build the third lake in the Valmont Lakes complex and enlarge their water storage capacity.

1963

1963-1967

  • Severe drought again.

1969

1970

  • The Municipal Subdistrict of NCWCD forms to develop the Windy Gap Project, to bring water from the West slope to East slope cities. Boulder, Estes Park, Fort Collins, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland are original members of the Subdistrict.
  • Boulder County population 131,889

1971

1973

  • Colorado General Assembly adopts in-stream flow and lake level laws, providing water rights to fish and aquatic life in riparian areas.

1974-1978

  • Drought hits Colorado.

1980

1981

  • An extreme but brief drought lasts from the fall of 1980 into the summer of 1981.
  • Construction of the Windy Gap Project begins.

1985

  • Windy Gap Project becomes operational.
  • Boulder is the third largest holder of C-BT shares.

1986

1990

1991

1997

  • Boulder drops out of the bidding, and Lafayette buys controlling interest in Baseline Reservoir ($10 million). Anderson Ditch, with Boulder as majority shareholder, refuses to let Lafayette run Baseline water through Anderson Ditch. Both parties go to court.

1998

2000

2001

  • The Lafayette/Boulder/Anderson Ditch case is finally settled. Legal costs for each city are in excess of $1 million, according to newspaper accounts.
  • Boulder buys Barker Reservoir from Xcel Energy with money from selling Windy Gap units to Broomfield. Boulder uses Barker for its water supply and secondarily for generating electricity.

2002

  • Severe drought hits Colorado and the West, continuing for several years in many areas, and beginning earlier in some areas.
  • Governor Bill Owens proposes the "Big Straw" Project, to suck Colorado River water back up into the state at the Colorado-Utah line.
  • NCWCD finishes repaying the Feds for its share of the original C-BT project.
  • Colorado Supreme Court finds South Platte well-users must comply with the Prior Appropriation Doctrine and not harm senior surface water users.

2008

2010

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