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Open Digging the Old West and discover the roots of our hydrological heritage. Learn the history of our ancestral water use, from ancient canals to skyscraper gardens. Focused on a small region of Colorado’s Front Range, this book outlines the development of a semi-arid landscape into an irrigated metropolis. Like a family scrapbook, it is overflowing with photos, doodles, charts, maps, and stories of triumph and disaster.

Now available from Amazon.com


 

The Ditch Project:

150 Years of Irrigation Ditches; Constructing Boulder's Landscape

In 2009, Boulder, Colorado celebrated its 150th birthday or Sesquicentennial. In honor of this event, the Ditch Project brought together artists, historians, scientists, and the general public together to celebrate 150 years of irrigation history and consider how ditches have constructed Boulder's landscape. Now, online and in an upcoming book, The Ditch Project continues to examine Boulder's irrigation ditches over the last 150 years. To learn more, visit the links above. 



 

The Ditch Project would not be possible without grants from various arts organizations and the support of our generous sponsors. Please be sure to thank these organizations and businesses the next time you see them. Learn more about our sponsors by clicking on their logos:

Boulder Farmers MarketAmerican Society of Mechanical EngineersBoulder Creek Watershed InitiativeAquatic and WetlandBoulder County Arts AllianceGrant Grant and GoiranLeonard Rice EngineersJohnson and RepucciNorthern Colorado Water conservancy DistrictColorado Council on the ArtsDietze and Davis P. C.Open Space and Mountain ParksBoulder Arts CommissionWright Water Engineering

The Ditch Project

In May of 2009, three concurrent venues each showed different artwork, photo essays and educational material about ditches. 

Exhibits and featured events at the Boulder Public Library drew crowds of curious Coloradans, while visitors to the Dairy Center for the Arts enjoyed eclectic displays inspired by local water scenes. Various bits of sculpture lined Boulder Creek near the headgates of the Boulder and Left Hand Ditch.

Special programs included tours, storytelling, films, and a symposium of expert speakers. Here, you can revisit parts of the Ditch Project with our comprehensive archive of images, podcasts, and movie clips.

New content will be added here sporadically. Check back here for more updates.

Coming in 2011: The Ditch Project in print! Digging the Old West: How Dams and Ditches Constructed an American Landscape will include much of the art, history, and information found in the Ditch Project exhibits, along with other ditches and dams in the area.

Ditch Symposium

Ditch Symposium

A one-day Ditch Symposium about the ditches of Boulder was held on Saturday May 16th, at the Boulder Public Library. The Symposium was sponsored by the Boulder Watershed Initiative and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Coming soon: podcasts from the Ditch Symposium.

Welcome and opening remarks

Paul Hempel


Ditches & the Town

Michael Holleran


The Water Ditch, Basis of Civilization In the West from the Native Americans On

Justice Greg Hobbs


Boulder, A Constructed Oasis

Bob Crifasi


And on the sixth day, He created ditches, and He saw that they were good.

Ed and Betsy Marston


Flood, Drought and Difficult People Under Customary Spanish Water Law in Northern New Mexico

Stanley Crawford


Free-flowing & Mud-clear, Ditches as Inspiration

Chuck Forsman

Cha Cha

Jason Emery


A Soft Spot for "Small": Why Little Ditches Have So Much More Charm than Big Ones

Patricia Limerick


The view from the pitchfork

Richard Behrmann

Bob Carlson

John McKenzie

Catherine Long Gates


Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda... What We'll Wish We'd Done with Ditches, Twenty Years From Now

John Wiener


Ditches and Climate Change: Greater Demands and Earlier Supply (Good News for Spring Crops, Not-So-Good News for Sweet Corn)

Lee Rozaklis

Michael Holleran

Michael Holleran

Ditches & the Town

Michael Holleran is currently working on a book about irrigation canals in the urban landscapes of the American West. He completed a statewide historic context report on canals and ditches for the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office, which will become a statewide Multiple Property nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. He practiced for twelve years in as a partner in Everett · Clarke · Holleran Associates in Providence, Rhode Island, a planning, architecture, and landscape architecture firm working mainly on preservation projects. His public service has included chairing the Landmarks Preservation Board in Boulder, Colorado; and serving on the board and chairing the Public Policy committee of Colorado Preservation, Inc., a statewide preservation advocacy group.

Justice Greg Hobbs

Justice Greg Hobbs

The Water Ditch, Basis of Civilization In the West from the Native Americans On

Justice Greg Hobbs has served on the Colorado Supreme Court since May 1, 1996. He earned his J.D. from Boalt Hall, University of California at Berkeley, 1971, and has an A.B. in History from the University of Notre Dame, 1966. He practiced environmental, water, transportation, and land use law for 23 years before becoming a member of the supreme court. During his legal career, he worked as a law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, an enforcement attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency, a Colorado First Assistant Attorney General for Natural Resources, and a partner with the law firms of Davis, Graham & Stubbs and Hobbs, Trout & Raley. He is Vice-President of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and a co-convener of the western water judges educational program, Dividing the Waters.

Bob Crifasi

Bob Crifasi

Boulder, A Constructed Oasis

Bob Crifasi has nearly twenty five years of water management experience. For the past twelve, he has served as the City of Boulder's Water Resource Administrator for its Open Space and Mountain Parks Department. In this capacity, he sits on eleven ditch company boards, serves as the president of four and manages Boulder's extensive portfolio of ditch rights. Bob also holds Master's Degrees in Environmental Science and Geology from the University of Colorado.

Ed and Betsy Marston

Ed and Betsy Marston

And on the sixth day, He created ditches, and He saw that they were good.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an op-ed syndicate of High Country News. She sends three essays a week to 65 papers throughout the West, and one, years back, was entitled: "The man in the rubber boots" -- about the daily ritual of spreading water out to dry. She is a former television producer for New York's public tv station, channel 13, and has been a journalist in the West for 30 years.

Ed Marston has lived in Paonia, CO., since 1974, where he has published three newspapers and written or edited several books. He has been on the board of his rural electric co-op, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, since 1974. He is currently a downtown re-developer in Paonia and on the board of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce. In a previous life, he was a Phd. physicist and a professor.

Stanley Crawford

Stanley Crawford

Flood, Drought and Difficult People Under Customary Spanish Water Law in Northern New Mexico.

Since 1969 Stanley Crawford has lived with his wife RoseMary in the Embudo Valley of Northern New Mexico, where he writes and farms. He has served as a comisionado or commissioner on a local acequia or community irrigation ditch. His experiences as mayordomo or ditch boss served as the basis of his first nonfiction book, Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico, which won the 1988 Western States Book Award. He is the author of two additional works of nonfiction, and five satirical novels, which have earned him two NEA writing fellowships and a three-year Writing Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation.

Patricia Limerick

Patricia Limerick

A Soft Spot for "Small": Why Little Ditches Have So Much More Charm than Big Ones

Patty Limerick is the faculty director and chair of the board for the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she is also a professor of history. She has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between academics and the general public and to demonstrating the benefits of applying historical perspective to contemporary dilemmas and conflicts. She has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship and the Hazel Barnes Prize, CU's highest award for teaching and research.

John Wiener

John Wiener

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda... What We'll Wish We'd Done with Ditches, Twenty Years From Now

John Wiener is currently working on finding and resolving obstacles to more desirable resource management and better use of climate information, focusing on agricultural resources in Colorado. His graduate degrees are in law and geography. Earlier work has focused on federal coal leasing and energy policy, and common property, indigenous cultures, and resource ownership arrangements. He hopes to continue working on better resource management during accelerating climate destabilization.

Lee Rozaklis

Lee Rozaklis

Ditches and Climate Change: Greater Demands and Earlier Supply (Good News for Spring Crops, Not-So-Good News for Sweet Corn)

Lee Rozaklis has worked for over 25 years with cities, farmers, industries and environmental groups to promote sustainable and environmentally sensitive water management systems consistent with Colorado's water laws. He has assisted the City of Boulder in developing its raw water master plan, instream flow program, water conservation plan and drought plan. He was a co-investigator in a recent study of the potential consequences of climate change on municipal and irrigation water supplies in the Boulder Creek Basin.

Videos and Oral Histories

Videos and Oral Histories

J. Gluckstern, with help from Channel 8 and Red Pine Studios,created a series of seven 2 ½ minute long video essays using the oral and video histories from Carnegie Library that relate to irrigation. His videos were shown continuously at the Library and the Dairy during the Ditch Project show, as well as appearing as promotional pieces at the Library and on Channel 8.

Click any of the following videos to preview the compilation:

Short intro to The Ditch Project, a multi-disciplinary exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Boulder County's irrigation ditches. The exhibition runs from May 9 to July 2009 at the Boulder Public Library, Boulder's Central Park and the Dairy Center for the Arts.


A visual homage to the irrigation ditches of Boulder County. Part of The Ditch Project, a multi-disciplinary exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Boulder County's irrigation ditches.

Film Artist, J. Gluckstern

J. Gluckstern's films and film-related works have been shown in Korea, Mexico and throughout the United States. He's received numerous grants, awards and commissions, among them a professional development fellowship from the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar in 2006, and he's taught film production at the University of Colorado-Boulder since 1999. He's also been an arts journalist since the late 1980s, writing about film and art for many regional and national publications, and received his MFA in media from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007. For the ditch project, Gluckstern will be producing a series of short videos designed to both educate the public about the extensive history of the ditch system in the region and reveal some of the ephemeral and unique beauty the ditches contribute to the everyday environment of the city of Boulder and its surroundings.

Film Series

Avant-Garde Cinema of Water:

Films by Stan Brakhage, Peter Greenaway and others.





Riches of Ditches Tours

Our Riches of Ditches

During the Ditch Project,  Bob Crifasi led tours of Boulder's Ditches. If we can convince him to share these wonderful discussions in a self-guided pamphlet, we will publish them here as soon as possible!


Storytelling: La Llorona

Storytelling: La Llorona

On Mother's Day in 2009, Renée Fajardo and the Chimaltonalli Troupe came to the Boulder Public Library to share the story of La Llorona, a folk tale warning small children away from irrigation ditches.

Through dancing and storytelling, library visitors explored the myths and story behind La Llorona as she was brought to life by one of Denver’s foremost professional storytelling, music and dance troupes. 

La Llorona, or the “weeping mother” (ghost?!)  is sometimes used by parents living near rivers and ditches in the southwest as a cautionary figure. She is used as a warning to keep children safely at home at night, an omen of ill will to those that engage in libations and dangerous behavior. But more than that, she is often misunderstood and mistaken for La Malinche.

Video clips are coming soon!

Renee Fajardo is an attorney by training. After spending several years working with inner city children and homeless families she decided that her first love, writing was a more effective way to use her skills. In 1996, the mother of seven wrote her first children's book based on cultural family foods. She turned her passion for working with children and young adults into a career by storytelling and teaching creative writing workshops and poetry seminars. Today Ms. Fajardo is the co-author of four multi-cultural children's books and is featured in the “Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul 2005” book. As the project director for the Colorado Folk Arts Council, Fajardo programs an award winning series of free cultural events in Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties.

Exhibit Archive

The Ditch Project exhibit at the Boulder Public Library included:


Elementary School Education Programs
In partnership with Curry Rosato, COB Watershed Outreach Coordinator, and participating artists, city staff presented educational material about safety and uses of irrigation water to classes in elementary schools bordering ditches. Artists in the show then helped students create art work about ditches which was then displayed at the Library and other City buildings.

Literature

Literature

A book table at the Boulder Public Library will be set with literature about water and ditches. The Library has several copies of Mayordomo, a book by Stanley Crawford about a year in the life of a New Mexican ditch rider.

Click on any of the following books, available from Amazon.com.




The library recommends the following books as well:

Where to Learn More

Where to Learn More

For more information, please visit the following websites:

Here are some resources on the web which have been really helpful to me.


About this Website

About this Website


Designed by:
Karmen and Alan Franklin
karmen@chaoticutopia.com
alan@thinkpol.net
(720) 364-2655

All content on this site belongs to:
Elizabeth Black
4340 N. 13th St.
Boulder, CO 80304

Reproduction in any form without written permission of the artists is prohibited by law.
© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007
All rights reserved worldwide.

The banners on this website are slices from the cover of Harper's Magazine in 1874, from a special issue on irrigation in Colorado.  The entire images are shown here.


Ditch Riders

Meet a few of the men and women who keep Boulder's ditches flowing. Want to learn about the ditch rider's job? Click here.

Right: Catherine Long-Gates

Bob Carlson

Bob Carlson

Water Commissioner for District 6

In 1980 as a graduate student in Montana, Bob got into the water field when he was hired to help document the first adjudication of Montana's water rights. (They have a lot more water up there. Colorado's first adjudication was in 1882!) He learned about water on the job, moved to Colorado 2 years later, and worked briefly as Water Commissioner on the Grand Mesa, before coming to Boulder and taking the District 6 Water Commissioner job which he has had for 20 years.

"My job is to quantify the water resource as to time, place and amount, and to administer the water resource based on the prior appropriation doctrine," says Bob. The job is 7-days-a-week during irrigation season, and involves checking stream gauges and inflow to reservoirs, calculating who is in and out of priority, turning ditches on and off, and tweaking headgates to get the right amount of water to the right people. "Your schedule becomes the river's schedule," says Bob. "If it rains, you can't take the weekend off, because the river is changing and you have to make changes to your entire system."

Bob works on his computer at least an hour a day, enters data and makes charts of what he thinks is happening, and then ground-checks all the readings to see if it is actually happening that way. "Because of return flows to the creek, a drop of water in Boulder Creek can be used up to 5 times before it hits the St. Vrain River," says Bob. He publishes an annual diversion record each year, documenting water use in District 6. This report is used in court for water transfer cases and in basin-wide analyses.

Boyd Sheets

Boyd Sheets

Deputy Water Commissioner, Ditch rider for Farmer's Ditch, North BoulderFarmer's Ditch, and Boulder & Lefthand Ditch

61 year old Boyd Sheets has been a ditch rider off and on since 1974, when he became the Secretary of Farmer's Ditch. The job on Farmer's fell into his lap 35 years ago while he was working at Mountain View Cemetery, which uses Farmer's water to irrigate. He took over ditch-riding North Boulder Farmer's and Boulder & Lefthand in 2002 when Lee Forsythe died. Between the 3 ditches, Boyd takes care of approximately 60 miles of waterways running from downtown Boulder out to Boulder Valley Ranch and Boulder Reservoir, and all the way out to 95th St. near Longmont. He cleans 16 trash racks, controls the water flow in each ditch, answers "calls" for water from lateral users, and maintains and repairs the main ditch. He also fills Twin Lakes in Gunbarrel and Hayden Lake near the Boulder airport.

Water in these 3 ditches runs from April to October 1 st generally, and requires full-time attention. At other times of the year when the water is not running, Boyd is doing maintenance on the ditches. He combines his ditch-riding job with his Deputy Water Commissioner job, which is full-time in the summer and half time in the winter. As Deputy Water Commissioner, he adjusts ditch headgates depending on flows in the creek and who is in and out of priority. He keeps track of the 20 measuring devices for the up-stream ditches in District 6. He also inspects wells, resolves and documents complaints from water users, and sends complaints that can't be resolved up to the next level of the State Engineers office. "The job's challenging alright, but I've always been interested in water," says Boyd. "Water is pretty critical in this area. We wouldn't be here without it."

Bob Pherson

Bob Pherson

Ditch Rider for Howard, Goodhue, Dry Creek #2, Marshallville, McGinn, South Boulder Cañon and Cottonwood #2 Ditches

82 year old Bob Pherson was born in Victor Colorado. When Bob was 10, his father, a hard-rock miner, moved the family to Boulder, very close to the Anderson Ditch headgate. As a teenager, Bob got a job cleaning the Anderson Ditch from the mouth of Boulder Canyon out to Baseline Reservoir, for 25 cents an hour, which he thought was pretty good pay at the time.

Bob has run his own excavating company for the last 41 years. "At one time I had 7 or 8 guys working for me and 110 wheels on the ground. These days it's just me and one machine," says Bob. Before that, Bob was a construction foreman on road projects, airports and shopping centers. Bob owns shares of South Boulder Cañon, Marshallville and Cottonwood #2 which he uses to irrigate 23 acres of pasture and hay fields for sheep and cattle.

In 1976, Bob became ditch rider of the Howard Ditch, with no training. He must have done a real good job because later, he became ditch rider for 6 other ditches: Goodhue, Dry Creek #2, Marshallville, McGinn, South Boulder Cañon and Cottonwood #2. Bob figures he took care of 45 miles of ditch with more than 30 trash racks, and did all the maintenance for these seven South Boulder Creek ditches for years. "Their headgates are all real close, so I could drive in one gate and check my markers as I crossed each ditch, to tell if there was a blockage upstream," says Bob.

Bob has also served on the boards of the Marshallville, South Boulder Cañon, Howard and Cottonwood #2 Ditches, and has worked under 6 of the last Water Commissioners. These days, however, he is cutting back on his ditch responsibilities and is looking forward to doing some traveling. The City and County are finding that it will take several people to replace Bob.

Bob Clyncke

Bob Clyncke

Ditch Rider for Davidson Ditch and Reservoir Company and Davidson Highline Lateral Ditch

74 year old Bob Clyncke's family has been farming in the Boulder Valley for 113 years. His 80 acre family farm where he raises hay, wheat and cattle is a Centennial Farm. Bob has been ditch rider for 15 years, and takes care of about 15 miles of ditch, between the Davidson and the Davidson Highline Lateral ditches. Park Lake, Blue Heron Lake and the Agitator ditch are all fed from the Davidson ditch. He has been involved with the ditch since 1974, when his father, a long-time Davidson Ditch Board member died.

"I wound up taking care of the ditch because I couldn't find anyone else to do it," says Bob. "Everyone said 'Hey you're doing all the work, you might as well get the money!', and so that's what I did."

Bob used to grow corn, but says that takes more work than he wants to put in these days. "Corn needs water in August, and Davidson is a junior ditch. We are out of priority around the fourth of July usually, and it was just too hard trying to get the yields," says Bob. The hardest part of his job is cleaning the 6 trash racks in Louisville and Lafayette. "People think the ditch is just a garbage disposal and they throw all kinds of trash in there. They don't think about the fact that someone has to pull OUT all the things they throw IN!"

Tim Ostwald

Tim Ostwald

Vice-President, Director of Maintenance, Silver Lake Ditch

Tim Ostwald, now 79 years old, grew up on an irrigated farm, homesteaded by his grandfather in the Pine River Valley, near Bayfield in southwestern Colorado. He learned as a youth how to dig, survey, and "turn a full day" with pick and shovel. Working along side his father, who was also a millwright, blacksmith, and steam threshing machine operator, Tim had plenty of exposure to steel and timber framing, ropes, chains and cables, and all the trappings of machinery, sometimes home-made, and often drawn by horses. Tim grew up witnessing the spirit of cooperation, but also the enmity, which sometimes divides neighbors sharing the same ditch. "I learn something new every time I get my boots wet, but most of what I know about ditches I learned before I could spell college," Tim says.

Tim earned a BS and MS degrees in engineering and physics from the University of Colorado, and worked his entire career in aerospace engineering, including 30 years at Ball Aerospace in Boulder. After retirement in 1989, he became more involved in the Silver Lake Ditch, and in 1995 became Vice-president and Director of Ditch Maintenance.

"The Silver Lake Ditch is unique in that we have a 'zero-leak' policy," says Tim. "We can't tolerate leaks because of our long stretch of ditch through town. We have to fix all leaks so that they never leak again." Tim has accomplished several large improvements to the Silver Lake Ditch, during his tenure. He corrected the gradient of the ditch by digging out the high spots. He installed vernier plates on all the day-lateral headgates, to allow fine-tuning of water flow to day-users. He has installed 3300 feet of liner to fix leaks in the ditch, which is 1/6th of the total length of the ditch. He has replaced 230 feet of the 60 year old pipe that is hanging on the cliffs of Boulder Canyon. He has written a How-to-manual for ditch riders. And he has organized a volunteer pool to accomplish the majority of maintenance work. Last year the Silver Lake Ditch paid for 40 hours of labor, and got 600 hours of free labor from volunteers.

"I have a different time-scale than most people," says Tim. "These days, most people are free tomorrow or next week to do something. But if the ditch is running over, I have to grab my boots and get up there right now and fix the problem."

Catherine Long Gates

Catherine Long Gates

Secretary/Treasurer, Back-up ditch rider, SilverLake Ditch

Catherine Gates grew up hearing about water and enjoying ditches on a 25 acre farm at Long's Gardens, in Boulder. Long's Gardens is supplied by 2 ditches; Silver Lake and Farmers. Catherine has served on the ditch board for 12 years, and has filled in for her father and others when they were ditch-riders. Her father Ev Long was always interested and involved with water. "I've sort of inherited my involvement with water from Dad, whether I wanted it or not," says Catherine. According to family lore, her parents spent their honeymoon hiking around the mountains searching for a dam site. They found Upper Woodland Lake; Ev filed on it and built Skyscraper Reservoir, first using horses, later an Army Weasel and finally the true workhorse, a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon.

Catherine values the way that ditches connect people and bring neighbors together. "Installing a liner on a ditch is like a barn-raising," says Catherine. "You get to know people you would otherwise never meet. Ditches force people to get along because we are all working for a common goal. We all need water."

Catherine feels lucky to have farmed her entire 57 years. She uses ditch water for her main crop, irises, and to water her vegetable garden and trees, as well as land which Growing Gardens leases. She believes that people who grow plants get in tune with the weather and with how precious water is during our scorching dry summers. "I love bringing the water down the ditch for the first time in the spring," says Catherine. "Everything comes to life as the water gets there. The birds start chirping and the dogs come out to watch. The dry cracked ground soaks up the water, and you can feel its life-giving force. It always delights me."

John Ellis

John Ellis

President Butte Mill Ditch, Vice President Jones & Donnelly Ditch

John Ellis has farmed the entire 53 years he has lived in Boulder County. The first ten years were spent following around, learning and helping his neighbor farmers. His father, Martin, was a machinist at Rocky Flats and moved the family here from Ohio when John was 7. His parents grew sweet corn and pumpkins along with blue spruce trees at their Evergreen Acres Farm, now Cure Organic Farm. John owns a 76-acre hay, grain and vegetable farm west of Niwot, a 6 acre peach orchard near Palisade on the western slope, and the land which Anne and Paul Cure farm on Valmont at 75th. He also rents two hay farms on Jay Road. He sells his produce at both the Boulder and the Longmont Farmers' Markets.

Between all these properties, John uses 5 different ditches: Butte Mill, Jones & Donnelly, North Boulder Farmers, Lefthand/Williamson Ditch, and the Grand Canal in Palisade. "I consider ditches to be the lifeblood of the community," says John. "Without ditches there would be no agriculture, and without agriculture there would be no community." John has served on the boards of the Butte Mill Ditch and the Jones and Donnelly Ditch for 20 years. He has been president of the Butte Mill and vice president of the Jones Donnelly ditches for the last ten years. In this capacity, he has ended up as the assistant ditch rider when needed. "I have a backhoe, and when things need to be done, I just do it. It saves time and money," says John.

The most challenging part of his job is dealing with disputes between ditch users. Educating newcomers is also a constant challenge. "Newcomers want to fill in the ditch because they think it is messy and breeds mosquitoes. Or perhaps they want to pump out of it when they don't have rights to use it. Folks need constant education to be aware that ditches are still important and that you must own water rights to use ditch water."

Gene Sawhill

Gene Sawhill

Ditch Rider for Butte Mill Ditch and Jones & Donnelly Ditch

80 year old Gene Sawhill was born in Valmont, as was his father George Sawhill (b. 1896). His grandfather Lewis Sawhill was an early settler in Valmont, moving there in 1891. Sawhill Ponds is named for the family. Gene runs about 40 head of beef cattle and farms hay on his land and Open Space land. He uses ditch water to irrigate his pastures. The Jones & Donnelly Ditch runs into the Butte Mill Ditch, near the Rail Road museum in Valmont. The two ditches run together for the rest of their length. Gene takes care of both ditches.

"My father used to be the ditch rider, and then Clifford Hodson was the president and ditch rider for years," says Gene. "In 1972 I started taking care of the ditch, cleaning it and making sure that we could get the water down it. I could see that things needed to be done, and there were not too many folks wanting to do it, so I just kind of got into it." Gene has been the official ditch rider of the 2 ditches for 12 years. He takes care of 3 1/2 miles of ditch, and believes that the cost of maintaining a ditch is going to keep increasing because of the large liability risks of burning ditches. Using brush-hogs, chain saws and back hoes (instead of fire) to control vegetation along a ditch is much more expensive.

"There is not a lot of farming out here like there used to be," says Gene. "A lot of people used to grow wheat and sugar beets out here. The Butte Mill Ditch used to run a grist (flour) mill in the 1880's. It was called the Housel Mill, and it had a basalt millstone made from rock from Valmont Butte."

Duane Myers

Duane Myers

Ditch Rider, Shearer Ditch

Duane has worked for the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks for the last 14 years as a Water Resource Specialist. In addition to taking care of the Shearer Ditch, Duane surveys, draws up plans and supervises construction of improved diversion structures on Boulder's creeks. He has assisted with building the headgates of the South Boulder and Cañon, the Anderson and the McGinn ditches, so that they allow fish passage up and down the creek. These major projects were funded by a consortium of the City of Boulder, the Ditch Company, Fish &Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited.

Duane grew up on a small farm in Nebraska, served in the Army for 2 years, and worked for the U. S. D. A. Natural Resource Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) in Colorado for 40 years, where he surveyed and built earthen flood retaining dams throughout the state. Duane's retirement from the Conservation Service lasted only 2 weeks, before he came to work for the City of Boulder. "I figured Boulder wouldn't hire me because I was so old, but I guess they thought I could relate better to some of the old-timers," says Duane.

Craig Skeie

Craig Skeie

Water Resources Facility Manager, City of Boulder

For 20 years 52 year-old Craig Skeie has managed the City of Boulder raw water supply, tracked and accounted for water rights for the City, and made source-water decisions daily based on water demands of municipal water users. So what does Craig actually do?

Craig snowmobiles into the Boulder Watershed and takes snow measurements once a month from February to May, to forecast what Boulder's water supply will be for the coming year. Craig also has to snowmobile 4 miles in to Silver Lake about 5 times a week during the winter to change gate valves up at the reservoir. This is because Silver Lake is a large percentage of Boulder's winter water supply, because water demands are constantly changing, and because Boulder can only store one day's worth of treated water. Craig also decides when to fill Barker Reservoir, based on measurements from the creeks flowing in to Barker and calls for water from downstream users in the Platte Basin. During the summer, Craig and his family care-take the Silver Lake watershed and supervise a crew of teenagers who work there. "I was one of those teenagers 35 years ago," says Craig. "That's how I found out about this sweet job. It is the best job ever!"

So what does Craig's job have to do with ditches? Craig's snow-pack measurements and water supply forecasts give ditch companies an idea about what kind of water year to expect. Farmers decide when and what to plant based on what water they think will be available. Craig's management of Barker is inter-related with calls for water from ditches that may be junior or senior to the City's water rights. He has to work closely with the Water Commissioner to make sure enough water is going through the system to satisfy downstream users. Craig also works closely with the Silver Lake Ditch, which has storage rights to Silver Lake Reservoir.

"The one thing I like to tell people is there is no such thing as an average year," says Craig. "There is a lot of variability. A year falls on one side or the other, but it is never average."

Photographer Stephen Collector


As a working photographer since 1975 I bring years of experience to my approach. Over the years I've managed to pursue my personal work as well as providing the service of commercial photography. My passion for my personal work has always been the driving force. My work is showing at the Lieutenant Governor's office at the State Capitol, and at the Arvada Center for the Arts, "Shooting the West." The portraits of ditch riders are all shot in traditional film format, and the prints exhibited are silver gelatin prints traditionally processed, toned and printed in my darkroom.

Stephen Collector's work can be viewed at pBase, and at Tam O'Neil Fine Art in Cherry Creek, CO.

Ditch Art

Over 40 painters, sculptors and photographers are creating art work specific to Boulder's irrigation ditches. Several artists are focusing on special projects they are particularly passionate about: Ken Sanville and East Boulder County Ditches; Stephen Collector and ditch rider portraits; Susan Albers and head gates. George Peters , Melanie Walker , Kristine Smock, and John King will be installing ditch-related sculpture along the Boulder and Whiterock Ditch directly in front of BMoCA and in Central Park .

Right: Heart of the City by Mary Hey.

Susan Albers


HEADGATES :

My approach was to look at these shapes that divert water.

The drawings allow me to notice the geometry, the angles, the materials (concrete, metal, wood) and the placement of diversion structures.

This series explores the many designs implemented by engineers and farmers to distribute
measured amounts of water to desired locations. The diversity of these structures illustrates the unique problem solving solutions reached at various times over the last 150 years. I choose line drawings to simply express the shapes and geometry of the Jones-Donelly headgate complex. This big arrangement of gears, plates, racks and concrete are
all dedicated to distributing the waters of South Boulder Creek.

The paintings I have shown are about flowing water.

The drawing I have shown is about headgates.

Water Flow #1

Water Flow #3

Drawing

Elizabeth Black



Water rules the West. I learned that guiding on western rivers, gardening in our arid climate, and paying attention to battles over western water. 35 years ago, the river I loved and learned to row on was drowned by New Melones Dam, to irrigate California agriculture. Now, my own irrigation water is coveted by the City. Water wars continue.

Many people nowadays do not have a good understanding of water issues or irrigation. People blithely say that water for development along the Front Range will come from agricultural water. Agricultural water is ditch water. And irrigation ditches have radically altered our Front Range environment over the last 150 years. Our Front Range ecosystem, the variety and beauty of our pastoral landscapes, the productivity of our agricultural lands all depend on ditch water. Most people are not aware of what they will lose if our ditches are de-watered for development.

When I learned that the founding of Boulder coincided with the digging of Boulder's first irrigation ditch, I decided to join Boulder's Sesquicentennial celebrations and put together a show about Boulder's ditches. I knew that Boulder's citizens needed to know more about ditches in order to decide whether ditches are important to them. I pictured a show that described irrigation ditches in multiple ways, using art, literature, facts, maps, ecology, history, film, story-telling, and more.

I have organized other group shows in Boulder, but this one is unique in its size, scope, and ability to keep expanding. Don't miss The Ditch Project! I promise that you will discover much you didn't know about your neighbors and neighborhood.

Elizabeth Black's work can be viewed at ElizabethBlackArt.com, or Mary Williams Fine Art in Boulder.

#5667

Colorado Irrigated Fields

Valmont Lakes

Candace Brown



Candace Brown was raised in an environment which encouraged artistic expression. As a child she would watch her mother draw and paint life size animals for school bazaars.

Her father was raised on a farm, so he would draw realistic sketches of animals for her, and her sister excelled in abstract and graphic design.

Throughout her life Candace has lived in areas which foster an appreciation for the natural environment, an Ohio farm, the Atlantic coastline, mountains of Colorado, Mexico.

Between wanting to be a veterinarian and a marine biologist, she challenged herself at being as exact as possible in painting and drawing.

She has participated in numerous art shows throughout Colorado and Texas.

Candace has been a member of Art Associations as well as Graphic Artists Guilds and donates annually to the Humane Society and Horseman Association fund raisers.

Untitled

Bruce Campbell



Through various combinations of welding, painting, carving, and engraving, Bruce Campbell combines painting and sculpture to impart an archetypal, ancient quality and a mystic energy to salvaged iron, steel, wood and stone. The unique shapes and surface patinas, sculpted by time and weather, become an integral part of his imagery, which seemingly emerges from the intricately weathered surfaces. Often his sculptures are incarnated as "beings" which are intended to transcend race and gender, suggesting one human family, and enabling all people to see themselves in the artwork.

Campbell finds most of his material on old farms. There is a circle in which he takes the cast-off "junk" as farms are cleared for development, converts it into art, the art is purchased for the new homes, and the objects return to the farm. The recycled materials speak to the past through their old world craftsmanship and timeworn surfaces, and speak to the future by sending the message that all can share the planet sustainably while continuing to build, create, and foster cultural expression.

Increasingly Campbell is producing public art. In 2009 he will be returning for his third year as a stage designer at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN. ( His work on the Solar Stage, which is framed by two fifteen-foot tall steel drum totems, can be viewed at www.brucecampbellart.com.) In 2009 he will also be installing a public sculpture at a water park in Newark, NJ, and will be utilizing salvaged staircase rails to create a twenty-foot tall freestanding steel helix at the University of Colorado in Boulder. (His work on the CU project is profiled in the July, 2008 issue of Southwest Art Magazine.) He is known in Boulder as the creator of the sculpture in front of the Exeter Building, and has work on display in two Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacies and Centro Restaurant. His work can be found at Envision Galleries in Taos, NM, or at his studio in the country north of Boulder.

Bruce Campbell's work can be viewed at BruceCampbellArt.com, and at Envision Gallery in Taos, New Mexico.

Owl Totem #1

Owl Totem #2

Laura Carpenter



Laura Carpenter has been living and painting in Boulder for 6 years. Laura studied oil painting in Scotland, UK and in Baltimore, MD and she has focused on weather and storms since 2002. Laura has shown at the UMC in Boulder and was up until recently showing at Exhibitrek the gallery. Laura was featured in the February issue of Southwest Magazine as an "artist to watch" and spent January 2007 at a residency program in Vermont. She is teaming up with her ornithologist friend to create a group of artworks relating to the birds living on or near Farmers Ditch.

Laura Carpenter's work can be viewed at LauraBerch.com.

#5

#9

#14

Cha Cha



As an artist, ChaCha's work ranges from steel to paper& ink to clay. Beginning 35 years ago as a calligrapher , she has evolved through graphic design & papermaking to her work in metals. For the past 16 years her work/obsession has been to sculpt, form,pound,fabricate, cast and otherwise create in steel combined with other materials. her techniques include forging, blacksmithing, cutting, and welding but are all based in exceptional original design. Some of her work is playful, whimsical, and very accessible ; other works are are intense and captivating. Frequently her work reveals the hand of a veteran calligrapher expressing itself in the surprisingly malleable world of metals. From ornaments to architectural work to abstract sculpture, her work continues to evolve.

Cha Cha's work can be viewed at Lumina Gallery in Taos, NM, and at the Boulder Arts and Crafts co-op in Boulder CO.

Arrowhead

Bob Crifasi



Utilitarian architecture has long provided photographers with artistic opportunity. From cooling towers to power lines, functional structures with no intended aesthetic mission dot the landscape and become a banal background to the everyday scene. However, when images of these structures are collected together, their unique forms assert interesting visual possibilities.

My goal with these photographs is to bring attention to an overlooked form of modern utilitarian architecture that is central to the commoditization of nature. Gage houses (or 'chart houses' to others) are simple, often hand built structures for housing water flow measuring equipment. They are central to water management as they are sited near the headgates of ditches where unmanaged nature and cultural practices meet. Each structure is unique and expresses a frugal functionality of the builder. I see a certain beauty in these structures that anonymously enable our use of water in the west.

During the nineteenth century, European-American's scrambled to accumulate wealth and resources by taking pelts, minerals, land, and of course water as they moved westward across the continent. Converting public domain natural resources into private wealth was the unstated mandate of the times. Simultaneously as Colorado emerged as a political entity, the doctrine of prior appropriation developed to reward those who first diverted water with legal title to its use. The prior appropriation doctrine made water a tradable commodity. With the right to divert came the right to buy and sell water. However, one big problem quickly became apparent: like all salable commodities, one needed accurate measurement of quantity in order to trade water.

All of us have heard about bushels of wheat and even pork bellies as units of commodity exchange. For water, it is the acre-foot. Easily said, but water's fluid nature poses a special challenge for measurement. For more than 60 years, starting in the mid nineteenth century, engineers struggled invent reliable structures that could accurately measure flowing water. Out of these efforts came devices called "measurement weirs" which provided estimates of water flow. It wasn't until the 1920's that Ralph Parshall, a professor at Colorado State University, perfected a simple and accurate water measurement device that now bears his name: the Parshall flume. Parshall flumes are shaped to allow a person to take just one measurement, water depth, to get an accurate flow reading. These flumes use simple instrumentation to record flow, and the instruments are protected in sturdy weatherproof gage houses. Today, Parshall flumes and their gage houses are found all around the American west.

Gage houses are small buildings about the size of old fashioned out-houses and are found almost everywhere people record water flow. Gage houses come in many rugged shapes, and are an integral, if underappreciated feature of water management in the west. These photographs document a sample of these structures found at historic ditches in and around Boulder, Colorado.

Bob Crifasi is Water Resource Specialist for the City of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Cottonwood #2 Gage House

Caroline Douglas



Creating is a time of joy. My figurative sculptures are evocations of a dream world. Ancient mythology, modern psychology, fairy tales fascinate me, as well as archetypes, nursery rhymes, folk tales and traveling. I am intrigued by stories of the mythic hero who travels inward and the quality of spirit found in the art of primitive cultures. My work is included in the National Museum for Women in the Arts, as well as many private collections throughout the US.

Caroline Douglas' work can be viewed at CarolineDouglas.net.

Bunny

Buff Elting



I am profoundly moved by the endless possibilities of art to reflect and enhance my emotional and physical experiences in the world. Making art is a way for me to question and explore, with curiosity and wonder and a way to offer something beautiful in return.

Buff Elting's work can be viewed at BuffElting.com and at Lydon Fine Art in Chicago, IL.

Transport

Waterways

Jason Emery



Jason Emery was born and raised in Maine. A Coloradan since 1976, he particularly enjoys oil painting "en plein air" throughout Boulder County. He has studied at Scottsdale Academy of Fine Arts, and the Arts Student League of Denver. He is currently represented by Blink Gallery in Boulder.

Jason Emery's work can be viewed at JasonEmery.com and at Blink Gallery in Boulder.

Water Rights #1

Chuck Forsman



Landscape painting is still most often an affirmative tradition and there is a lot to be said for celebrating the beauty of nature. It requires a lot of editing, however. I feel more honest in leaving things messy. I live in a magnificent and troubled natural environment. It seems natural for me to paint the pain along with the wonder. It's my nature.

Chuck Forsman's work can be viewed at RobischonGallery.com.

Aaryn's Fort, #2

Teri Gortmaker



I was raised on a farm in south east Texas by my mother and grandmother. My mother was a ER nurse who worked the 3 to 11PM shift for 35 years so my free time was spent helping my grandmother with whatever needed doing. In the process she taught me that nature in all its forms is a storehouse of endless surprises and beauty. I carry this love for the land with me always, so it follows that I love painting outside "on location" as often as possible or from life in the studio when its not. Pastel is my first choice. I love the way the dusty sticks feel in my hand and the directness of the application. I get excited just looking at all those wonderful colors standing in rows, like a bouquet from the garden, waiting to dance on the paper. I paint because I am endlessly excited about the process of translating what I see and feel about the world around me in to expressive form. Whether I am painting people, flowers, or landscape, the fun is in capturing the miracles.

Teri Gortmaker's work can be viewed at TeriGortmaker.com.

A Green Stream

Bear Creek Feedin' Time

Where the Ditch Meets the Road

Sherry Hart



"Transformation" is such an overused word these days, but I can't think of a better one to describe my work and my process. I find an object; it could be a shell or a bone or something man-made. Bowling pins, fan blades, and iron, a horn, a mannequin hand, toys, wooden animals have all been used. This object has attracted my attention and wants to become something. So I just ask it who it wants to be, and begin. This art is my interpretation of its answer.

I am an artist who lives on a tiny farm ("The Art Farm") surrounded by 3 ditches. When the farmers get carried away with flooding their fields, I will get a spontaneous flood on a part of my property. Many times I have call the ditch master, pleading to "turn it off!" I also live in fear of a 100 or 1000 year flood, that the water will be diverted to the farmers' ditches and although I don't live in a flood plain, that I will be vulnerable. The piece I do will be an altar or a "protective piece" that speaks to this situation.

Eight Auspicious Symbols

Mary Hey



I've been working with pastels and oils for almost 15 years, many of them studying under master painters. My paintings focus on design and the mysteries of color harmony, and I especially love abstracted landscape. Last year I was chosen by the Art Students League of Denver for "20 Years Impact, Two," showcasing people who studied at the ASLD and achieved artistic success. Boulder and Whiterock Ditch runs right through the neighborhood I've lived in for most of my life. To me, painting is like fishing: sometimes you catch one, and sometimes you don't. But there's never regret, because to paint outside (and to stare at water) is pure aesthetic joy.

Mary Hey's work can be viewed at Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery.

Heart of the City

Close to the Heart

Elizabeth Jenny



I create both representational and abstract works of art. As I work, I try to capture the subject's essence. In the process of providing a representative sketch I draw on my feelings or intuition regarding a subject as well. With an eye to formal art concerns, I create with paint dynamic color interactions and design, along with singular image originality.

Elizabeth earned a master's degree in design and photography from The American University, Washington D.C. in 1988. Since then she has worked as a graphic designer, a painter of fine art and as a college instructor of commercial and fine art. Elizabeth exhibits and sells her paintings in Boulder, Denver, and Santa Fe and she also currently teaches art classes through the Boulder Valley School District.

Elizabeth Jenny's work can be viewed at ArtsResource.org.

Heron #1

Heron #2

John King



John King lives in Lyons and has been working with the river stones that travel down the river past his house for 5 years. He has discovered that the stones enjoy swimming in the current and flying in the air. John is the creator of the Sculpture Trail in Lyons. He has created much installation art in the Trail and around the area. He would like to bring swimming stones to the Ditches of Boulder.

John King's work can be viewed at JohnKingArts.com.

Snapdragon

Kevan Krasnoff



Water
Whether it's the Boulder County ditches, north shore Pacific of Kauai, the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Murphey's Lake, Chasm Lake, my own Hayden Lake, the Mediterranean or Tahoe
I seek out water to immerse in
The power the union the phenomena.
The fact that Boulder County ditches weave through this area
and provide a cool/cold quick plunge during the summer months
is a subtle benefit not of their primary purpose or lost on my enjoyment
on a hot august day
Thank you ditch digger

The DITCH....
As a verb--to ditch, or be ditched is quite different from the noun ditch--which from hard labor, hydro-calculation and gravity, brings the water of life to the fields and pastures of planet Earth.
Ditch.... dirty, magical, exposed, hidden, trashed, treasured
Invaluable essential
Free ditch, or not
All about
Water

Kevan Krasnoff's work can be viewed at Krasnoff.com.

#5

Immersion

Watching the Ditch Go By

Ann-Marie Kuczun



Water has always played an important part in my life, whether living near, using or viewing it. Whether observed from ground level or from the air, water is a force of nature that is never looked at the same way twice. My exploration of wild or tame rivers and waterways consists of studying nautical maps, making on-site color notations, flow movement, weather conditions and collecting samples of sand and vegetation of the water's surrounding terrain to provide me with enough data to help create my work. My curiosity of where my drinking water came from started in "The Never Summer Mountains" of the Colorado Rockies, continued with travels throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, and now given the opportunity to investigate how the food I eat interacts with irrigation ditches in my hometown completes my water circle.

Ann-Marie Kuczun's work can be viewed at ArtistsRegister.com.

South Boulder Ditch #1

South Boulder Ditch #2

Sombrero Marsh Eastward

Ann Luce


The human figure speaks its own language , it is a metaphor for the heart and soul. The curve of a person's back, shoulders, hands, and face seem to speak about his or her inner thoughts, fears, worries, peace and even joys. They tell stories. And this is what I try to paint.

In addition to painting, Ann Luce is the owner of Alarion Press.

Cleaning the Ditch

Silver Lake Ditch Pipe Repair

Cement Workers

Carrie Malde



To me, landscape painting is a reflection of - or a metaphor for - interior life: a celebration, a retreat, a difficult path, a quiet moment.

I find my subjects in nearby places, where I have spent many hours walking and looking, where I know the names of the trees, the flowers, and the birds. Consequently, all the work originates in the foothills near my home in Boulder, in the Indian Peaks area near my cabin above Ward, or in Weld County, where I go as often as possible.

Although I often draw outdoors, the finished work is always done in the studio from photographs, sketches, and memory. The paintings and drawings are not intended as faithful reproductions of a scene, but as an exploration of the familiar in search of the exotic, the mysterious, and the beautiful.

Davidson Ditch, Bridge on South 68th St

Davidson Ditch Near the Headgate

Davidson Ditch, Footbridge on the Mesa Trail, May

John Matlack



I am proposing, as my contribution to the Ditch Project, to photograph, in black and white infrared and color infrared, film-based images of our very own iconic industrial-age electrical power plant, located at 63rd street and Arapaho Blvd, in eastern Boulder. I will take photos both from the air and on the ground, hopefully showing the many ways in which water is used at that facility. I may move these images forward into some prints and drawings.


I am an artist whose work has functioned, in its various phases, like photography and digital imagery, through aerial perspectives and the breakdown of space. My paintings, drawings, prints and photographs inevitably explore landscape and memory as well as illustrating the impact and intrusion of technology.

John Matlack's work can be viewed at SparkGallery.com.

Power Plant #1

Power Plant #2

Power Plant #3

Michael McCrea



My work is the simple process of searching for and making photographs with a 6x9 pin hole camera. I am interested in a kind of in between world that may not register in our usual visual experience. This solitary work lets me tune me eye and listen to my intuition as I look for a picture I can care about. With the pin hole camera, there is very little difference between seeing the landscape with my eyes and taking a picture.

There is no view finder. The camera feels like it is inside me.

Children's Grave

Community Ditch from Marshall Reservoir

Silver Lake Shadows

Maria Neary



I love to paint and collage. I love to tell a story with my artwork.

My background as an animator, continues to inspire and influence me. As an animation artist, I would first get a script, then create a storyboard (small sketches) of rough ideas and after getting the go ahead, animate the script/story. It's that putting together of words and images that interests me.

Here I am, thirty years later, finding that I need to tell my own story. I use text and script in my paintings and deliberately keep some of it illegible. I want the viewer to interpret the piece and create their own story.

The word HOME inspires me...it must be because I am in transition. Birds and flying haunt me...I guess they are trying to find their way home.

I enjoy working on both large canvases and smaller mixed-media, paper pieces. I am inspired by abstract expressionism. I start each painting by putting layers upon layer of paint on the canvas. When I am content with the layering, I start to create the story on top of the abstract painting. I love watching it evolve.

I do not approach it with any preconceived notion of how the finished piece will look. The words inspire the image and I find that the painting unfolds as I work.

I gave myself a challenge at the beginning of 2008, to spend the year painting within a grid and watching how my work evolved and where it would take me. Presently, I am ripping into old maps and layering them back into a map of my own world, which becomes the starting point for a new painting.

I have lived, taught art classes and exhibited in Boulder since 1978. A few of my favorite things (other than being in my studio) are: mountain biking, cross-country skiing, road trips, teaching art and early morning hikes with Tug.

Maria Neary's work may be viewed at BlinkGalleryBoulder.com.

Silver Lake Ditch, Detail #2

Silver Lake Ditch, Detail #3

Silver Lake Ditch, Detail #4

James Pedersen



James Pedersen creates expressive watercolor landscapes and has been doing so for more then 40 years. His work has been in dozens of juried shows and earned over 20 awards including an Artist-in-Residency in the San Juan National Forest. He has been featured in Southwest Art Magazine, The Artists' Magazine, and the summer 1998 issue of Watercolor Magazine. An active art educator, Pedersen has taught adult watercolor workshops in more than a dozen cities and towns. Last year's schedule included workshops in Boulder, Moab, and Hydra, Greece.

James Pedersen's work can be viewed at PedersenArt.com.

Community Canal Series #2

Community Canal Series #4

Community Canal Series #6

George Peters and Melanie Walker



In our works we explore aspects of air and atmosphere. Water and air act in similar flow patterns. The Boulder ditches provide a life blood network of water to the Boulder valley allowing agriculture to take root in an otherwise dry and arid prairie grass environment. Without the ditch network, Boulder would not have developed. We are fascinated by both the history and the hidden aspects of this vital waterway network.

George Peters' and Melanie Walker's work can be viewed at Airworks-Studio.com. Follow their blog at AirworksStudio.blogspot.com.

The following images are a proposal for an on-location kinetic sculpture. It has not been built yet, and may change a little between now and installation. It is inspired by the historic photo of the current wheel that is in Boulder's Central Park.

Wind Wheels, #1

Wind Wheels, #2

Jill Powers



Jill Powers' intriguing fiber panels and vessels are made of plant materials that have been harvested, cooked, cast into shapes, hand painted, and stitched. Her favorite material is a mulberry bark fiber. Jill is also interested in using local fibers and materials collected along Boulder's ditches. Issues related to water in the environment are reflected in her sculptural and installation work. Jill shows her work internationally, and it has been written about in the NY Times. Her work won Best of Show in the Millennium Show at the American Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta.

Jill Powers' work can be viewed at JillPowers.com. She is represented in Santa Fe by the Jane Sauer Gallery and in Los Angeles by the Del Mano Gallery. She is a member of the National Paper Makers Organization and the Art Department faculty at Naropa University.

The Universe is Speaking Through the Meadowlark

The Universe is Speaking through the Waterstrider

Precious Earthly Fluids and Water - A Controlled Substance

Wendy Rochman



Making paper with natural inclusions is central to my intention of honoring Earth through art. Paper is biodegradable, recyclable, and can be a source of energy after use. I make paper entirely from earth materials, in a natural setting at my Rocky Mountain studio in the woods. I love making and using paper as a medium because it is infinitely pliable. It can be bent, curled, folded, twisted, crumpled, cut, torn, molded, layered, woven and embossed. By merging a combination of these actions, I shape and create my pieces.

Nature has always been my most compelling subject of interest. Throughout the 40+ years that I have been making and teaching art, I have practiced and experimented with numerous media, including printmaking, photography, watercolor and weaving. No matter what medium I used, my inspiration has always been the same: the intricacies of nature, from her broadest to her most infinitesimal creations.

In the Goodhue Ditch series I explore the interaction of humans with nature. Nature sets the scene for the movement of human societies, then human societies manipulate nature to meet their needs, then nature responds to remind us that she's still the boss. Sometimes the scale of her response is terrifying, but in the case of the Goodhue Ditch, nature has responded in the most elegant and graceful manner, as is often her way.

Wendy Rochman's works can be viewed at her website, WendyRochman.com.

Eldorado Marshall

Goodhue Overview

Winter Ditch Matriarchs

Chandler Romeo



Chandler Romeo has a long family history in Colorado's Front Range region. Her grandparents immigrated from Italy to Marshall, Colorado in the late 1800s, moved to Louisville in the early 1900s, then moved to Denver where her father was born and raised. She lived in Boulder in the 1960s and 1970s, graduated from Colorado State University with a BFA in ceramics, and has lived and worked in Denver for the past 25 years. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and the AFKEY Award from the Denver Art Museum's Alliance for Contemporary Art. Ms. Romeo has exhibited her work throughout the region in art centers and museums including the Nicolaysen Museum in Casper, Wyoming, the Dairy Art Center in Boulder, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, Foothills Art Center in Golden, the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, the Museum of Outdoor Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art-Denver. Her work is in several corporate and public collections, including Kaiser Permanente, Westword, Red Rocks Community College, and the Denver Art Museum, as well as many private collections. She is represented locally by the Sandra Phillips Gallery, Denver.

"What we see when we view the landscape of the eastern plains is never pure, never a pristine wilderness. Traces of human intervention are evident everywhere in the landscape, even in the most remote places on the prairie. These interventions provide an opportunity to create art about the western landscape and our relationship to it. Subtle natural forms (river beds, low rolling hills, dry creeks, fault lines and bluffs) combined with manmade forms (roads, fields of wheat, corn and alfalfa, earthen dams to capture water, holes, trenches and clear cuts) provided inspiration for my art."

Chandler Romeo's work can be viewed at The Sandra Phillips Gallery in Denver and at ArtistsRegister.com.

Ditch 3

Ken Sanville



I have lived in Colorado since 1974. My training is as a commercial photographer. I have worked exclusively in the photographic field for over thirty years. I opened Ken Sanville Photographic Services, Inc. in February of 2001. Although I work in the commercial field, my passion is fine art photography. The Ditches of Boulder County project is especially exciting for me since I have been drawn to and have photographed the ditches for many years. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my images knowing that this project will help enlighten residents about a myriad of water issues in Boulder County.

Untitled #1

Untitled #13

Weeds Print #3

Charmain Schuh



Charmain Schuh received her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Schuh has been involved in the Colorado art scene since 1983 as an artist and as a professional arts administrator. She has worked as a curator, designer, registrar, program director and grant writer throughout her career. at the Denver Art Museum, The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and The Dairy Center for the Arts. She has supported local artists by showcasing their work through exceptional exhibitions.

Ditch #1

Ditch #2

Green Ditch #1

Dawn Howkinson Siebel



I have been an artist my entire adult life, although my mediums have changed over the years. I began in the theatre, changed to batik, then watercolor, now oil painting and assemblage. For many years now my work has addressed the intertwined themes of memory and influence. The work I will create for the Ditch Project will be assemblage. The Howard Ditch, Boulder's 2nd oldest, flows within a couple hundred feet of my house. A small drainage canal that flows into it runs literally through my backyard. One day I "rescued" a crayfish trapped in a puddle in the drying canal. I had never thought of the wildlife sustained in the ditches until then.

I will only know what my submission to the Ditch Project will be after I begin exploring the ditch. I am interested in the water itself, and perhaps the hidden composition of it. I want to collect samples and see what sediment appears. I want to look at it through a microscope and perhaps get chemical readings. I am interested in making the invisible visible.

Dawn Siebel's work can be viewed at DawnSiebel.com and at the Blink Gallery in Boulder, Colorado.

Division of Water

Anne Shutan



Anne Shutan creates one of a kind pieces of sculpture, furniture, and entrance doors, affirming the sensuous nature of wood. Shutan's work is sought by collectors around the country who know they are buying treasures that will be around for generations. After studying the fundamentals of her craft for several years, Shutan opened her own studio in Colorado in 1984 and has been expanding her skills and talent in creating unique works in wood ever since.

Anne Shutan's work can be viewed at AnneShutan.com.

Whitewave

Untitled

Kristine Smock



I go to the irrigation ditch for inspiration and it brings to mind some questions...

Why were the ditches built, what is their purpose, why did I barely notice them until this project came up?

Looking toward a ditch in the country side in Boulder county, I found arrow straight lines of water running out into the fields and pastures. Lined with sturdy fences and big warning signs. In the liquid canals were the reflections of the sky and country side. There is a contrast between the geometric human dug waterways, and the flowing beauty of the surrounding areas. The movement of the water, the life in the canals and the abrupt interference with nature interest me. I imagine the ditches to be like a liquid stream of untold stories. and untrapped energy.

Painting outside is a way for me to learn about my environment. It requires that I hold really still for awhile. Inspecting my surrounding and I translate my vision with paints. Looking at ordinary scenes and thinking about transforming them into something else can spark the impetus of creativity for me. and I ask myself, "where would we be without the ditch?"

Kristine Smock's work can be viewed at ArtsResource.org.

Boulder Feeder Canal

Kite #1

Kite #2

Richard Varnes



Richard Varnes is long time Boulder photographer best known for his black and white portraits of the men and women who, for him, defined the core of the Boulder community. "Portrait of Ev Long" is from this series.

Richard Varnes' work can be viewed at VarnesPhotography.com.

Ev Long

John Waugh



I grew up on a lateral of the Silver Lake Ditch in North Boulder. Though often a source of childhood imaginary floods and grand diversion projects, I was repeatedly reminded of the importance of the water to those whose "water day" it was and that any tampering with the headgates would lead to an undesirable meeting with "O.M.D." Old Man Davis, the ditch rider. Springtime brought the wonderful adventure of burning the "lateral" from the main headgate at Fourth Street and Linden to our end of the line at Broadway and Kalmia. Gas cans and shovels were the ordinance of the day and all members on the lateral joined in to witness the thick yellow smoke and the leaping flames associated with ditch cleaning. Only occasional conflagrations would encroach into the adjoining pastures, causing a short uproar of swatting and swearing as the errant flames were beaten into submission by eager and waiting volunteers.

My cousin and I, both lean and nimble at around age 10, were pressed into service to patch "the pipe" in the canyon. The Maxwell and Oliver flume hangs high from the granite cliffs of Boulder Canyon on the north side of Boulder Creek and carries the water of the Silver Lake Ditch to its cut through the Elephant Buttress on it's way to Boulder. Frequently in those days, the flume became the ill served target of high powered rifle toting vandals that reveled in the clang a 30.06 slug as it punched open a spigot in the wall of the three foot diameter pipe across the canyon. For several years, until we were too big to uncomfortably fit through the half gravel filled tunnel, we were dispatched into the darkness and spider webs armed only with a putty knife and a can of patching tar to seal up any light leaks (water leaks from the other side). Each of us crawled through about two hundred feet of the rusty black iron pipe that curved around the mountain face with only the light from the targeted holes to guide us.

For years I lived on the Silver Lake Ditch, floated the Farmers Ditch with my cousins, fell in the Anderson ditch running through Pioneer Cemetery in the dark, waded in the Boulder and Whiterock Ditch with the "hippies" in Central Park and illegally caught big trout by moon light on the Enterprise Ditch where it enters Baseline Reservoir.

This project seemed like a great opportunity to contribute to the community understanding of the ditches in Boulder by taking part in this re-photographic survey.

I have enjoyed the new ditches I have seen on this project and the new understanding I have gained from of "The Ditches of Boulder".

John Waugh is a commercial and fine art photographer from Boulder, Colorado.

John Waugh's work can be viewed at JohnWaugh.com.

Maxwell Pitch

Oliver Flume and Maxwell Ditch

History



Historical information, pictures, and maps outlining the development, form, and uses of Boulder's ditches.

Right: A postcard granting water rights to the Howard Ditch, courtesy Howard Ditch Company.


Anatomy of a Ditch


The Anatomy of a Ditch

What does every ditch have?

A Water Right


A Water Right

A water right is a property right which has 4 parts:

  1. A fixed quantity: measured in cubic feet per second (cfs).
  2. A priority date: the date when work began to divert the water.
  3. A "beneficial use": water must be applied, and not wasted. Use must be continuous.
  4. A diversion point: the place where water is taken from a particular stream.

Right: This postcard was sent to George Chase, president of the Howard Ditch, in 1882, to confirm the ditch's water right, following the appropriation hearings held in Boulder the previous winter. Courtesy Howard Ditch Company.

A Ditch Company


A Ditch Company


Ditches with multiple users are generally operated by a Ditch Company. Most ditch companies are private non-profit corporations with a president, a board of directors, by-laws, annual meetings, and shares allocated according to the amount of irrigable land each user has "under the ditch".

Right: Lower Boulder Ditch is number one in priority, being the very first ditch on Boulder Creek. One share of Lower Boulder water, worth $50 in 1883, is now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. From Lower Boulder Ditch Company collection.



Water Users


Water Users

Water users are the bedrock of a ditch company. Users put irrigation water to beneficial use on their land, a basic requirement of the water right. They also provide the money and labor to maintain the ditch, to hire the ditch rider, and to keep the water flowing. Ditches require constant annual maintenance. Without active water users, ditches fall into disrepair and can no longer transport water safely.

Above: Silver Lake Ditch users haul rubberized liner up the mountain and down the ditch to repair leaky areas in 2005.

A Ditch Rider


A Ditch Rider

A ditch rider takes care of the ditch during the irrigation season. He/She opens and closes the headgates, forks debris out of the ditch, and patches leaks. A ditch rider deals with muskrat holes, floods, irate neighbors, kids building dams, unhappy water users, and more. A calm demeanor and good problem solving skills are job prerequisites. "Ditch riders" get their name because they used to ride their horses along the ditch's length to check for problems.

Above, from left to right: Duane Meyers, Schearer Ditch; Gene Sawhill, Butte Mill Ditch; Boyd Sheets, Farmer's Ditch

Co-operation


Co-operation

Irrigation requires disciplined cooperative effort and rewards it well. Ditches rely on cooperation:

Right: Cooperation is the big idea that makes the whole system run. Its importance cannot be over-emphasized. Left Hand Ditch meeting, Altona Grange, 2009. Annual ditch meetings are a fine example of co-operative, grass-roots democracy at work.

A Diversion Dam and Headgate


A Diversion Dam and Headgate

To get water out of the creek and into the ditch, several things are needed where the ditch begins.

  1. A diversion dam keeps a constant water level at the headgate, so that a set amount of water will always be available to the ditch intake.
  2. The headgate structure and trash rack keep excess water, branches and trash out of the ditch.
  3. The headgate valve regulates the amount of water flowing into the ditch. It is chained and padlocked in position, so it cannot be tampered with.
  4. The spillway allows excess water to return to the creek.

A Measuring and Recording Device


A Measuring and Recording Device

Colorado's system of water law requires precise measurement of how much water each ditch is taking from the creek. Every ditch has a measuring device, usually a Parshall Flume, installed near its headgate. A recording device keeps track of how much water is going through the flume and down the ditch.

Above: Water Commissioner Bob Carlson checks the Stevens Recorder in the Boulder & White Rock recording house, to ensure that the ditch is taking only their legal allotment. A float in a measuring pit is connected to a pen which marks the water level on the roll of paper.

A Main Ditch


A Main Ditch

Most Boulder ditches are unlined earthen channels. Ditches typically drop 1 to 5 feet per mile, to keep water running well.

Right: Main channel of the Anderson Ditch through Colombia Cemetery. Ditches and their laterals have the right to cross private land, and ditch companies have the right to access the entire length of a ditch to maintain and improve the ditch. This easement right has been in force since before Colorado was a state.

Laterals


Laterals

Laterals are small ditches that carry water out of the main ditch and distribute it to the various users. They vary in size, and have headgates, which the ditch rider sets to give each its fair share.

Laterals may have their own organizational structure, with a lateral chairman organizing an annual cleaning and the users' watering schedules.

Right: The headgate valve on the left controls the Super-Phostical Lateral of the Howard Ditch. The other controls the main Howard Ditch. The name "Super-Phostical" probably is a colloquial use of the Latin fossicula, which means "Small Ditch". Frederick Chase probably named the Super-Phostical. He was a Yale University professor and son of George Chase, a Boulder pioneer and first stockholder of the Howard Ditch.

Engineering Feats


Engineering Feats

It requires ingenuity and daring to move water across the Front Range. Our landscape is crisscrossed with ridges, cliffs, creeks, and flash floods. Engineering learned in the gold mines of California and Colorado came in handy when Boulder's pioneers built some of the structures along Boulder's ditches.

Left: Lining ditches can help control large leaks and seeps. Linings are made of concrete, Gunite, or rubberized fabrics. Since 1990, the Silver Lake Ditch has lined 1/6th of its length with rubberized fabric, to stop leaks in the Canyon Park and Knollwood areas.

Right: Tunnels were dug through hard-rock ridges, to secure a safer way for the water through a cliff-zone. Enlarging the Community Canal Tunnel, ca. 1909. Photo courtesy of FRICO collection.

Bottom: Flumes were used by Boulder's junior ditches (Community Ditch and Silver Lake Ditch) to traverse steep canyon walls and convey water out of the creek at a point higher than other more senior ditches. Originally these flumes were made of wood and leaked badly. The wood has since been replaced by steel pipe. The Silver Lake Ditch originally had 5 wooden flumes traversing the cliffs of Boulder Canyon. Photo by Ev Long.

The Shape of a Ditch


The Shape of a Ditch

Why don't ditches go in straight lines?

Ditch water flows downhill, using gravity. Ditch builders wanted to keep as much land as possible "under the ditch" because only land on the downhill side of the ditch could be watered. There had to be enough drop to the ditch so the water would flow, but not too much, or less land would be "under the ditch". As a result, many ditches ended up closely following curvy contour lines on maps.

Right: The South Boulder Foothills Ditch follows the contour lines along the side of South Boulder Creek.

Siphons and Crossings


Siphons and Crossings

Many Boulder ditches use siphons to cross creeks, highways, railroads, and other ditches.

Over the years, many flumes and pipes have been replaced with siphons. A siphon is a pipe that is buried across and under an obstacle like a creek. As long as the proper gradient is maintained between the inlet and outlet of the siphon, unpressurized ditch water will flow through it.

Left: The fish-screen-roller on Lower Boulder Ditch is unique. The metal mesh roller allows water and debris to pass, but keeps grass carp confined to one section of the ditch, and out of the creek. During the summer the carp graze to keep the ditch clear of weeds. In the fall, the carp are herded together and netted, then transferred to a pond to over-winter. In the spring they are released back into the ditch.

Middle: An Overchute is a structure that carries a creek OVER (rather than under) a ditch channel. A good example is at the intersection of Four Mile Canyon Creek and the Boulder & White Rock Ditch. Here, a concrete tray carries the normally tiny flow of Four Mile Canyon Creek over the top of Boulder and White Rock Ditch.

Right: In 1953 Farmer's Ditch installed Boulder's biggest siphon under North Boulder Park, after a child drowned in the ditch in the Newlands neighborhood. This $28,000 project eliminated 3900 feet of leaky ditch. The siphon goes from Ninth & Maxwell underground to Ninth & Delwood. Clipping courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.



Ditch Design and Construction

Ditch Design and Construction


The Roots of Colorado Irrigation

The Anasazi: Colorado's first irrigators


The Anasazi: Colorado's first irrigators

From 1995 to 2003, Ken and Ruth Wright of Boulder helped excavate four flat "dirt piles" at Mesa Verde National Park. The Wrights discovered that the Anasazi were Colorado's first public works' engineers. The "dirt piles" are actually filled-in water storage ponds which the Anasazi dug in drainages around 750AD and dredged frequently, using sticks, antlers, baskets and stones. Over the years, these ponds silted up, but instead of abandoning them, the Anasazi dug ditches and diverted waters into the ponds from further upstream on the drainage.

Right, Clockwise from top:

Anasazi at Mesa Verde depended on corn, beans and squash to feed their large populations. How could thousands survive in an area with average annual rainfall of 15 inches?

The Wright Paleohydrological Institute team gathers evidence from a 16-foot deep excavation trench at Morefield Reservoir. Sediment layers, pollen samples, pottery shards and anoxic soils that could only have existed in water saturated conditions prove a reservoir existed at this site for more than 350 years.

Because of these reservoirs, Mesa Verde populations survived climate change in 900AD, when the entire southwest became much drier. However, an extremely severe drought from 1135 to 1180 caused the abandonment of the reservoirs. The Anasazi then depended solely on water from springs until another drought in 1275 caused them to abandon Mesa Verde for the more certain water supplies of the Rio Grande. By 1300, Mesa Verde was completely deserted. From Citizen's Guide to Colorado's Water Heritage, Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

The Acequia tradition from New Mexico


The Acequia tradition from New Mexico

Acequias, the Hispanic version of "irrigation ditches", arrived in Colorado decades before the gold rush. Acequias were often the first form of government in the Southwest. Then, as now, building, maintaining and sharing a ditch required organization and rules.

Acequias are well designed to deal with drought. As Colorado grapples with the conflicting demands of climate change, urban water needs and "eating locally", we may yet find answers to modern water dilemmas in the venerable acequia tradition.

Right, clockwise from the top:

The word "acequia" has its roots in the Arab word "as-Saquiya", which means "the Water Bearer".

La Acequia de la Gente de San Luis is the oldest continuously operating irrigation ditch and water right in the State of Colorado.

Colorado's acequias have relied on a system of reparto -historic water-sharing principles that call for dividing water for the greatest community benefit. In a drought, acequias rotate the scarce water between all users, and give priority to people producing crops over people using water for pasture or industry. Construction and maintenance of the acequia is a shared duty, and water is viewed as a community asset upon which everyone depends. Reparto allows for regional variation in water-sharing principles, recognizing that different acequias may need different solutions. Acequia Madre Pueblo, San Juan. Colorado Historical Society, (CHS.J1365 William Henry Jackson).

As late as 1905, Boulder Water Commissioners were using acequia principles to allocate scarce water between ditches. Water Commissioner William Hodgson.

The California Forty-Niners


The California Forty-niners: the West's first water engineers and lawyers

First-in-time, first-in-right

California Forty-niners developed the West's first rough water law. They applied the same "First-in-time" rule to water that they did to their gold diggings. Water or gold belonged to the first man to stake a claim.

Right, from top to bottom:

"Hydraulicking" was the most devastating kind of mining used in California. Water was directed into an ever-narrowing channel, through a large canvas hose, and out a giant iron nozzle, called a "monitor." The extremely high pressure stream was used to wash entire hillsides through enormous sluices. The "slickens" tailings were dumped back into rivers, causing widespread flooding throughout the Sacramento Valley. Photo courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento CA. Stereo #1645

To stake water claims, miners "posted notice" by tacking up signs along the creek. Others could divert available water from the same stream, but their rights were junior to the first man to "post". This is a mining claim sign for the Mattie Lode, Left Hand Canyon, 1910. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

The 1849 California Gold Rush provided on-the-job engineering training to thousands of gold seekers. Every gold-extraction process required water to wash dirt from the heavier gold ore. Fueled by gold fever, the California '49ers dug miles of ditches and built massive flumes to move water to their claims. In 10 years, they learned a great deal and brought this expertise to the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush. Here, hydraulic mining on the Klamath River shows creative water engineering used by the 49'ers, including a current wheel lifting water into a flumes and pipes. Photo courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento CA. Call #2008-1640.


Gold!


Gold!

In 1859, major gold discoveries in Gold Hill, Idaho Springs, and Black Hawk brought thousands of fortune seekers to the Front Range. These first settlers had to figure out how to feed themselves and supply the booming mines from our "desert". The first thing they needed was a reliable and plentiful water supply. So miners turned to farming, and built Boulder's ditches using water-wrangling skills learned in California.

Right, top: Stephen Long, the first American explorer of Colorado's Front Range labeled our area "The Great American Desert." In 1820, his men struggled to find potable water on the Colorado plains. Buffalo chips were their only fuel and game was scarce. Long's advice was to avoid the Front Range entirely. Shown: Stephen Long's map from his 1820 expedition. Courtesy National Archives, Map # NWCS-077-CWMF-US62-sheet 1 of 2, 1820. 

Right, bottom: Marinus Smith rolled into Boulder from Illinois in June 1859. He was a veteran of the California gold fields. This time, he decided, he would make money by supplying miners, not being one. Smith immediately acquired 220 acres of rich bottom land along Boulder Creek, in what is now the Goss-Grove and Highland Lawn neighborhoods. With four friends, he set about digging the Smith-Goss Ditch. Water was let into the ditch during the summer, and Marinus officially filed on it November 20th, 1859. Marinus had been in Boulder only 5 months. Marinus Smith, from Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Boulder's First Ditches


Boulder's First Ditches

Ditch construction: 1859, the beginning

Short ditches first

Boulder's first irrigation ditches were close to creeks, short, and hand-dug. Lower Boulder Ditch and Smith-Goss Ditch were the first. Each claimed water for 200 acres, the size of a small farm in 1859. Howard Ditch with 1000 acres worth of water was the first ditch on South Boulder Creek in 1860.

Go with the flow

Settlers searched for ways to make ditch-digging easier. Boulder's creeks have alluvial fan characteristics, with multiple braided channels. Most channels only carry water during major flood events. Pioneers called these dry channels "dry creeks", and used them as routes for irrigation water.

The Boulder and White Rock Ditch was originally called the Dry Creek Ditch, and follows the alluvial channel of the Boulder Slough, through downtown Boulder. Dry Creek #2 Ditch follows a similar alluvial creek channel off of South Boulder Creek.

Right, top: Fort Collins farmers repair a ditch. From History of Larimer County Colorado, 1911, Ansel Watrous. 

Right, bottom: Alluvial fans form at the base of mountains where fast-flowing streams meet relatively-flat surfaces of broad valleys.

Bigger and Longer Ditches


Bigger and Longer Ditches: the 1860's and '70s

By 1862, the bottomlands in Boulder were spoken for and settlers were homesteading higher ground. They were clamoring for water, because without it, their land was worthless. Groups of landowners cooperated to raise the capital and labor to build more ambitious ditches such as Anderson, Jones & Donnelly, Farmers, North Boulder Farmers, McGinn, Wellman, Green, South Boulder & Bear Creek and East Boulder Ditch.

Right: Boulder County News, January 1874; and an ad for Colorado Irrigation, courtesy of Greg Hobbs Collection.

What rules would Colorado follow?


What rules would Colorado follow?

In 1861 when the Colorado Territory was created, the eastern states followed Riparian Law from England. Only property owners bordering a stream could use its water on their own land.

Colorado pioneers wanted to do things differently. Our arid landscape demanded a different approach. Ditches were springing up right and left. By 1864, there were already 36 Boulder ditches. The law was playing catch-up with reality on the ground.

From 1861 to 1876, constitutional conventions and legislatures worked hard to come up with new western rules for water, called the Colorado Doctrine.

The Colorado Doctrine: A fusion of three philosophies

The Colorado Doctrine is a complex fusion of three different philosophies from three diverse Colorado communities of the 1860's.

YOU DECIDE:

Which philosophy (Radical agrarianism, Acequia traditions, or First-in-time) produced each of the following parts of the Colorado Doctrine?

  1. The water of Colorado belongs to the state.
  2. People can claim a right to use the water. The first-in-time to claim the water is the first-in-right, and has the most senior rights to the water.
  3. Water must be put to beneficial use.
  4. Ditches have the right to cross other folks' lands, to get water to farms away from the creek.

Right, from top to bottom:

Landed gentry, who already owned large tracts of the best land along streams, benefited from Riparian Law. Photo courtesy of FRICO collection.

Radical agrarian populism from farmers on the plains focused on democratizing water to spread the wealth. It rejected aristocratic control of water by the few who owned land along the creeks, and encouraged ditches to spread water across the land to the many. Photo courtesy of FRICO collection.

Acequia traditions from Southern Colorado focused on water sharing, and using water to the greatest community benefit. Water belonged to the entire community. Acequia Madre Pueblo, San Juan. Colorado Historical Society, (CHS.J1365 William Henry Jackson).

First-in-time from the Colorado gold-fields focused on claiming and developing water, so that it was reliable. Water was a private property right. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection, the Nellie Mine.


 

Early Ditch-Digging Technology


Early Ditch-Digging Technology: How to dig a ditch

As longer, wider ditches were built on the Plains, buck scrapers and slip scoops were used to move earth. These horse-drawn contraptions--a great improvement over a shovel--allowed a man with a team to move larger quantities of earth a greater distance. But they were very hard to control, enormously heavy to dump, and of limited use in rocky soil.

The Slip scoop has been used since medieval times to move earth. The single handle was later replaced by two handles for better lateral control of scraping, sliding and dumping the load into a pile.

The Buck Board was a horse-drawn board used to scrape and push the soil from a high spot into the low spots, smoothing and leveling the ground.

The driver stood on the buckboard's tail board until ready to dump the soil. He pushed down on the handle as the equipment moved forward to load it. He held the handle down while the soil was being transported.

He unloaded the buckboard by lifting up on the handle. A shallow spread was made by lifting the handle slightly and a deeper spread by pushing the handle farther forward.

Above, from left to right:

The Slip Scoop. Courtesy of American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Slip scoop used to dredge Archer Canal on Alameda Avenue in Denver, ca. 1904. Photo courtesy of Colorado Historical Society, Lillybridge Collection, CHS L-1108

The Buck Board. Courtesy US AID Handbook (Village Technology Handbook).

The Fresno Scraper


The Fresno Scraper: A Great Leap Forward

James Porteous emigrated from Scotland to Fresno California, and immediately saw the need for a better earth-moving device to built canals in the Central Valley. He invented four generations of scrapers, each better than the last, until he hit upon the final design of his Fresno Scraper.

Fresnos were used across the West and around the world to build canals, ditches, roads, railroads, dams and reservoirs. They were the forerunner of modern earth-moving equipment, and transformed the back-breaking labor of earth-moving.

Right, top: The Fresno Scraper.  Courtesy of American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Right, bottom: The Fresno was used in Boulder to build Community Canal (pictured), to improve and extend other Boulder ditches, and to build many reservoirs.  Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Branch library for Local History, Boulder CO.

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

1930's: Dust Bowl Drought


1930's: Dust Bowl Drought

In Colorado, a big drought like the 1930's Dust Bowl Drought is usually followed by many water construction projects. Farmers and cities try to find more reliable sources of water, so they will be ready for the next time.But in the 1930's, the "easy" work, the projects which local resources could fund, had already been built. East Slope water was already fully developed.

The nearest unclaimed water was west, over the Continental Divide on the Colorado River. There was lots of water there. The problem was getting it across the Divide.

Right, clockwise from the top left:

Delph Carpenter's copy of the Colorado River Compact. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 gave our state rights to 25% of the entire flow of the Colorado River. Delph Carpenter, a Greeley water lawyer, is called "The Father of Interstate River Compacts". He conceived, promoted and completed seven interstate water compacts, including this first. Courtesy of Colorado State University Water Resources Archive, Fort Collins CO.

Top right: Fraction of Colorado in Drought from 1890 to 2007.  In the 1930's, severe drought hit Colorado again. Many farmers gave up and stopped trying to raise crops. Graph courtesy of Colorado Climate Center.

Bottom right: Construction of the Moffat Tunnel.  Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO) had tried to build the Moffat Tunnel and bring West Slope water through the divide in 1909, but the project was beyond their financial abilities. They went bankrupt. Bringing water through the divide requires great expertise and deep pockets. In 1928, Denver built the three Moffat tunnels for $15.6 million and 28 deaths. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Western History Collection, #Z-50.

The Feds Bring West-Slope Water to Boulder Ditches


The Feds Bring West-Slope Water to Boulder Ditches


 The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Colorado Big Thompson (C-BT) Project

By 1935, the necessary elements for a big water project were in place.

The drought provided the needed catalyst. Charles Hansen, editor of the Greeley Tribune mobilized the northern Front Range in support of the Colorado Big Thompson Project (C-BT)

5000 property owners, double the required number, petitioned to create a conservancy district. Portions of seven counties, including Boulder, joined together in 1937 to form the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, to be the local agent and to repay the Feds for the C-BT Project. They assessed a 1 mil ad valorem tax on all properties within the district.

Top and lower left: The C-BT Project gathers up to 310,000 acre-feet of water annually from the West Slope in reservoirs near Granby, and then sends it through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park into a string of East Slope reservoirs and canals, where it is distributed to farmers, cities and industrial users. Newspaper clipping courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.  Link to Map: http://www.ncwcd.org/images/maps/Main_C-BT.jpg

Lower right: C-BT construction began in 1938 and was completed in 1957. In 2002, 65 years after it began, NCWCD finally paid off their share of project costs. Photo courtesy of Northern Water.

More Drought Pushes City/C-BT Partnership


More Drought Pushes City/C-BT Partnership

At first, the City of Boulder decided to stay out of the NCWCD, but rapid growth and another drought made the City think twice. In 1953, Boulder voters approved a $1 million bond to pay back taxes to NCWCD, and finance construction of Boulder Reservoir, which was finished in 1955.

The Boulder Feeder Canal, Boulder Reservoir and the Boulder Supply Canal are all part of the C-BT system, and were the last part of the system to be built.

Boulder Reservoir holds 13,270 acre-feet of water.

How big is 1 acre foot of water?


An acre-foot of water will cover a football field in a foot of water. It will supply a family of four with water for a year.
1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons


How does Boulder use its C-BT water?


C-BT water use: 50 years of change


In 1957, 85% of C-BT water was owned by agriculture, and 15% was owned by cities.

In 2007, 64% C-BT water is owned by the expanding cities and towns in Northern's boundaries.

(See chart to the right.Data courtesy of Northern Water.)

Ditch Construction Now


Ditch Construction Now

Today, everyone is trying to get the most out of every drop of water in Boulder.

Still there is not enough water for projected population growth.

Right, clockwise from the top:

In 1955, Ev Long used his Dodge Power Wagon and climbing ingenuity to replace five leaky wooden flumes on the Silver Lake Ditch with 835 feet of steel pipe hanging off the canyon cliffs. Ev drove the Dodge and Farm-all tractor (both pictured) across the creek and used them to winch pipe sections into place from bolts he drilled into the cliff face. Pieces of the old wooden flume can be seen on the ground. Photo by Ev Long.

With urbanization and greater liability risks, fewer Boulder ditches are burning to control vegetation. Instead, they use mechanical control and herbicides.

Bottom left and right: Irrigation diversion dams can be major obstacles to fish traveling up creeks. Ditches in Boulder have been installing fish ladders at their diversion structures, to improve habitat along the creek. South Boulder & Canon Ditch diversion, BEFORE (Bottom left)

Now fish can swim up the little rapid over the dam any time of year. South Boulder & Canon Ditch diversion, AFTER (Bottom right)

Cleaning the Enterprise Ditch with a backhoe. Although backhoes and small tractors have made ditch maintenance easier and faster, much work is still done by hand. Photos courtesy of City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Uses of Ditches: Then and Now

Uses of Ditches: Then and Now


In Boulder's early days, ditch water was primarily used:

The USES of ditch water have stayed the same. The USERS have changed.

Hay was the 19th century equivalent of petroleum: It kept the transportation system going. In 1859, Marinus Smith sold a wagon-load of hay to miners in Black Hawk for the princely sum of $400.

Right: Loaded mules on a snow covered slope going toward Nellie Mine. Huge amounts of feed were needed by animals supplying the mining district in Boulder's early days.  Photo courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Far right: Today, water is still Liquid Gold. Through a complicated water transfer, Eldora Mountain Resort uses Howard Ditch water for snow-making. Photo by Ken Papaleo (c) The Rocky

Who owns ditch shares today?


Who owns ditch shares today?

150 years ago, all users of ditch water were private property owners. Today, every incorporated ditch taking water from Boulder Creek has one or more cities or large institutions owning a significant number of shares.

Boulder, Louisville, Lafayette, Longmont, Superior, Erie, and Broomfield have been buying ditch shares for decades. They go to court to shift ditch water into municipal water treatment plants to supply their rapidly growing populations. This has reduced flows in many ditches.

Source: Data reported from individual ditch companies.


Many large institutions now own ditch shares


Many large institutions now own ditch shares

A ditch company changes when the majority of its shares are owned by an institution. Large institutions can bring much needed cash and expertise. However, management styles and the balance of power change when staff or bureaucracies take over from ranchers and farmers.

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.

How to lift water out of a ditch


How to lift water out of a ditch

2000 years ago, Arabs invented the noria, a machine for lifting water out of channels. The noria was a technological break-through, because it did not need human or animal power to make it run.

The noria uses the water's current to turn the large lifting wheel. Small compartments along the outer edge of the wheel dip into the water and fill. As the wheel turns, the water in the compartments is lifted up to the top of the wheel where it discharges into a tank or pipe.

Current wheels were used in Boulder and Grand Junction to lift water into flumes, but there is no record of their long-term use. Perhaps they were fussy machines which did not stand up well to the fluctuating water levels in Colorado's mountain-fed streams and ditches.

Right, clockwise from the top left: A Noria at Hama, Syria, built in 900AD. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lifting Wheels on the Gunnison River, 1886. From Harper's Weekly, Greg Hobbs Collection.

Current Wheel in Boulder, Boulder & White Rock Ditch, Central Park, ca 1900.  Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.



Agricultural Uses of Ditch Water: Now


Agricultural Uses of Ditch Water: Now

The centrifugal pump has changed the way that Boulder County farmers use ditch water today.

With a pump, a farmer can do things today that he couldn't do 150 years ago, like:

Centrifugal pumps were perfected by 1851, but there was no easy way to power one on a farm at that time.

It was not until rural electrification in the 1940's that pumps came into common use.

A snap shot of Boulder County Farms in 2000

(from USDA)

Only 30 farms produce vegetables for sale (636 acres total)

Boulder County Farms by Size


Right, clockwise from the top left:

Centrifugal pump driven by a steam-powered threshing machine, USGS Water Supply and Irrigation Paper #1, 1896. Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Diagram of centrifugal pump.

Mike Munson opens an irrigation window in a collapsible plastic pipe, to water a zinnia field. Despite the lack of rain, Munson Farms had a better than average year because of abundant irrigation water. Daily Camera Photo, Chris Grassnick, 2008.

Cure Organic Farm uses a pump and drip system to water parsley and kale with the Jones & Donnelly Ditch.

Cure Organic Farm pumps ditch water from a cistern.

Industrial Uses of Ditch Water: Then


Industrial Uses of Ditch Water: Then

In the 1860's, as more farmers had successful wheat harvests, grist and flour mills sprang up across Boulder. These mills were hydro-powered, and used ditch water to turn grindstones, and grind wheat into flour.

"A good stream of water from the Farmers' Ditch supplies the mill with a water power many times the capacity necessary to do the work, and hence much of the water is allowed to escape through a waste gate. A 17 inch Lefell wheel, with a fall of water of 28 feet, exerts as much power as a 22 horse engine. But 2 pair of burrs are in use, each having a diameter of 3 1/2 feet, and capable of grinding 125 bushels of flour per day of 18 hours work." --Boulder County News

Right: Yount Mill was powered by water from Farmers Ditch, via a wooden flume. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Industrial Uses of Ditch Water: Now


Industrial Uses of Ditch Water: Now

Xcel Energy is the main industrial user of ditch water in Boulder today. Xcel uses ditch water to cool and condense steam at the Valmont Station at 63rd near Arapahoe.

The Valmont Station generates enough power for 169,500 homes on average. Valmont Station is Xcel Energy's most efficient power plant, using coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

5000 gallons of ditch water are needed to generate all the power for an average home for a year.

Xcel Energy uses their Wellman, Leggett, East Boulder, Enterprise, Jones & Donnelly and Dry Creek #2 shares to fill the Valmont Lakes with the necessary ditch water.

Right: Valmont Station.  Photo courtesy of Xcel Energy.

Household Uses of Ditch Water: Then and Now


Household Uses of Ditch Water: Then

It sounds very strange to us today, but in Boulder's early days, ditch water was considered pure and suitable for household use. Very few people had hand-dug wells, and those who did often found the water in them too alkali to drink or water stock with.

Well into the 1900's, people living out of town were entirely dependent on ditch water for household use. A 1905 water case describes household use of ditch water in the County:

"I have a cistern holding about 80 to 85 barrels. One filling of that cistern from the ditch will last my house maybe 2 months. I have filled it 4 times this winter. I have sometimes watered stock from the cistern... Were it not for water in this ditch, I would have to go to Boulder Creek a mile and a half distant for water..."--W.S. Groesbeck , Wm E Hodgson

"I had a good well from which I used water but we preferred the ditch water." --Peter M Housel 1905

Ditches did not just serve farmland; they were also Boulder's first household water system. Laterals from Anderson Ditch, Farmers Ditch and Silver Lake Ditch carried ditch water to every house in many city neighborhoods.

For many years, small ditches ran along Boulder's streets. In addition to supplying household water, these little cobblestone channels provided water for stock and trees, and helped keep the dust down.

Household Uses of Ditch Water: Now

We no longer use water directly from ditches for household purposes. But ditch water continues to recharge aquifers which supply household wells in Boulder County. Water levels in wells generally rise in April when the ditches start flowing, and drop in November after the ditches stop.

Without recharge from irrigation ditches, many wells in the County would produce less water, of lower quality.

Right, from top to bottom:

Women gathering water from Slack Ditch, near Marshall. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Downtown Boulder street lateral, c. 1896, 2400 block of Broadway. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Ditches as Public Amenities: Then


Ditches as Public Amenities: Then

In 1907 Boulder's citizens convinced Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the foremost landscape architect of his time, to come out to Boulder and tell them how to improve their town. Olmsted spent 8 days in Boulder and fell in love with the town's irrigation ditches.

Olmstead published a 106 page report, outlining his recommendations. 8 pages of his report were devoted to ditches. He believed that Boulder's ditches provided a unique opportunity for civic improvement and beautification.

"If the inherent beauty of the water of the irrigating channels were supplemented by such treatment as would bring out and enhance the natural associations of refreshment and abundance that are inseparable from them and would re-enforce their intrinsic charm, these channels alone would serve to make Boulder a place of high civic beauty." --Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., 1910

Olmstead's suggested improvements included

In the last century, Boulder has addressed only one of Olmsted's plans: a bike path along two blocks of the Boulder & White Rock Ditch. However, further out of town, Greenways trails now follow the Wellman Canal, and portions of Farmers and Boulder & White Rock Ditches.

Above: Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., Landscape Architect and a section of his map of Boulder, showing a proposed boulevard along the Boulder & White Rock Ditch, from Folsom to 47th Street. Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.  Photo courtesy of City of Boulder Landmarks Department.

Ditches as Public Amenities: Now


Ditches as Public Amenities: Now

Today, Boulderites are generally very fond of ditches, and everyone has a story to tell about "their" ditch. Perhaps it is the flash of silver water out of the corner of your eye as you drive down 30th or memories of tubing down Farmers Ditch on a hot day. The public has no "right" to these pleasures, in the way that others have a right to the water. Never-the-less, in Colorado, moving water is a miracle, and it touches our hearts.

"When are you turning the creek back on? The kids want to play in it." --Question to ditch rider Bob Pherson

Right, above: Two children canoeing in Farmers Ditch at Concord and Maxwell, ca 1910. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Right, below: Dogs cool off in Silver Lake Ditch. Photo by Joshua Lawton, Daily Camera

Water Wars

Water Wars, Then and Now


In 1882, two groups of farmers each claimed rights to the water in the St. Vrain River.

Reuben Coffin (shown, top) and his neighbors lived on the St. Vrain near Longmont. (Photo courtesy of Longmont Museum.)

Samuel Arbuthnot (shown, middle) and his neighbors lived on Left Hand Creek near Haystack Mountain. (Photo courtesy of Donlyn Arbuthnot.)

Their dispute over water was immortalized in the Coffin V. Left Hand case, which set water law across most of the western United States.

"Houses have been built..., the soil has been cultivated, and thousands of acres have been rendered immensely valuable, with the understanding that appropriations of water would be protected." Colorado Chief Justice Samuel Elbert (shown, bottom,) 1882 (Photo from Hall's History of Colorado Volume I)

Today, water wars continue in the South Platte River Basin.

Coffin V Left Hand


Coffin V Left Hand

The Coffin V Left Hand Ditch case was filed in Boulder District Court on November 23, 1880. At first it looked like an ordinary water dispute. But Coffin's side was using Riparian Law to support their claims, and Left Hand Ditch was using the new "First-in-time, first-in-right" common law of the West.

"First-in-time, first-in-right" was a rule made up by early settlers as they figured out how to live in this arid land with limited water supplies. It was born in the California goldfields where men staked claims for gold and water.

"Riparian Law" originated in soggy England and was the law of the US government, so far away back east. Riparian Law allowed people living along a stream to use its water on their land, but they could not harm their downstream neighbors by diverting water.

The Coffin V Left Hand case went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. In 1882, the Court decided to follow where the people of Colorado had led. "First-in-time, first-in-right" became Colorado law 23 years after Boulder's first ditch was dug. This case set water law for most of the Western United States and became known as the Colorado Doctrine or Prior Appropriation.

Coffin V Left Hand: The Story

The Left Hand Ditch started in 1860, as a small ditch off Left Hand Creek.  One very dry summer, Left Hand Creek dried up and the ditch users went up to its headwaters just west of the present-day Peak-to-Peak Highway. They found a low ridge separating their dry creek from the very wet South St. Vrain River. They dug a ditch from the St. Vrain to bring water over to Left Hand Creek, and filed for rights to the St. Vrain. Through the 1860's and 70's, they enlarged their ditch, and eventually built a dam to divert even more St. Vrain water into the Left Hand Ditch.

In June 1879, farmers near Longmont were disturbed to find NO water coming down the St. Vrain River to their land. They went upstream to investigate, and found the Left Hand Ditch taking all of "their" water over into Left Hand Creek. They tore out part of the dam (some say dynamite was used), and went home happy.

The next day Left Hand farmers woke up to find NO water in their ditch and were very unhappy! They went up and rebuilt the dam, and left "a sufficient force of men to keep the ditch full of water."

Some kind of confrontation took place when the St. Vrain farmers returned to tear out the dam a second time. Guns may have been involved. However, by July 3rd, the Left Hand Ditch was preparing a law suit against the St. Vrain farmers for damage to the dam. The rest is history.

Above, left: This hand drawn map is one of the original documents of Coffin V Left Hand Ditch, at the Colorado State Archives. A few original documents from the Coffin V Left Hand case can be seen at the Colorado State Archives, filed under case #885, #1103 and #1203.

Above, right: The headgate of the Left Hand Ditch on the South St. Vrain, where the famous confrontation took place.

Technology Changes Everything


Technology Changes Everything

Fast forward 60 years to the 1940's and rural electrification. In 1949, a Colorado wheat farmer invented central pivot irrigation.

Suddenly it was easy to pump huge amounts of groundwater and use it to irrigate fields. In the 1950's and '60s thousands of wells were drilled along the South Platte, and pumping approached 75 billion gallons a year.

Wells rapidly pumped groundwater out of the South Platte aquifer. Surface-water users cried foul as their rivers and ditches shriveled.

Right: Central pivot irrigation equipment.

Far right: Central pivot irrigation in Kansas. Image courtesy of NASA

Appropriating Groundwater


Appropriating Groundwater

Originally groundwater was not treated as part of Colorado's Prior Appropriation system. But the invention of large irrigation pumps changed that.

Calls for Water


Calls for Water

In 1969, the Colorado legislature recognized that groundwater and surface water are linked. They passed the Water Rights Determination and Adjudication Act, which required wells to follow the Prior Appropriation Doctrine like everyone else.

The State Engineer administered the 1969 Act, and many well users decided to comply with it. They bought water rights and submitted permanent augmentation plans to replace water they were pumping out of the aquifer. An augmentation plan lets a junior well-user pump water even if he is not in priority, because he will replace the water later and not harm senior users.

Other well users relied on the State Engineer's sketchy annual approval program, which limped along until the next big drought.

In 2002, the worst drought in recorded history hammered Front Range water resources. Calls for water by senior surface-water users started early and were incessant. Well-users who hadn't already locked up augmentation water couldn't find a drop of affordable water. Then surface-water users challenged the State Engineer's annual approval program.

Prior Appropriation and the South Platte Baisn


Prior Appropriation and the South Platte Basin

Finally, Colorado's Supreme Court decided that the State Engineer had exceeded his authority. The Court said all wells had to follow the Prior Appropriation Doctrine and have a permanent court-approved augmentation plan. They had to get in line for water like everyone else had been doing for decades. The Legislature gave them three years to do it.

But there was little water to get in line for. Available water was gobbled up by booming cities. Water, which sold for $100 a unit in 1965, was going for $12,000 a unit in 2002. Between huge legal costs and sky-high water prices, many well-users without augmentation plans went bankrupt.

The result has been a tragic loss for some farm families in the South Platte basin. Hundreds of wells are no longer operating. Thousands of acres are out of production. Some have argued that the Prior Appropriation Doctrine should be scrapped. But Colorado water law does not allow a junior water-user to injure a senior one. Colorado's Legislature and Court have decided that Prior Appropriation protects senior water users such as Boulder's ditches and cities, and must be upheld.

Click here for a Chronology of Well Regulation on the South Platte.

Right: Drought. Brian Brainerd, The Denver Post

Measurement

Measurement


Learn how water in ditches is tracked and recorded.

Illustrations from Colorado as an Agricultural State, by William E Pabor, courtesy Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

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.

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

The solution: The Parshall flume


The solution: The Parshall flume

Ralph Parshall, a Colorado State University professor, started work on measuring flow in 1915. Six years later he filed for a patent on his "Parshall Flume," a measuring device based on the Venturi effect.

Parshall's invention, simple to calibrate, self-cleaning, with wide flow ranges, revolutionized water management around the world. Suddenly it was possible to enforce water laws. Flow in ditches and creeks could be measured accurately. Water in ditches could be divided equitably between various users.

Today, the Parshall flume is still the most widely used measuring device throughout the world--and along Boulder's ditches.

The Parshall flume uses a simple depth measurement of water flowing through a fixed known constricted throat to calculate flow.

The narrow throat of the flume produces a differential head which is proportional to flow rate. The relationship between depth and flow is exponential. For each throat width there exists a simple exponential equation of the form: Q = kH^n where Q is the flow in cubic feet per second, H is the depth in feet and k and n are constants that depend on the size of the flume.

Right, clockwise from the top:

Ralph Parshall's diagram of his flume.  The Improved Venturi Flume, Fig 20 p 44, Courtesy of  Colorado State University, Water Resources Archive

Ralph Parshall taking flume measurements, 1946.  Courtesy of  Colorado State University, Water Resources Archive

Letter to Dry Creek Davidson Ditch, 1937  Boulder Water Commissioner Thomas Platt required Boulder ditches to install Parshall flumes in the 1930's..  Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local HIstory, Boulder CO

The Stevens Recorder


The Stevens Recorder

Engineer J. L. Stevens patented the "Stevens recorder" in 1915.

How it works:

A clock movement precisely advances a strip chart. At the same time, a float in contact with the water surface activates a marking stylus which reproduces the float's vertical movement on the strip chart. Stevens recorders do not need electricity or daily monitoring. Their charts become part of the legal record. Many are still in use throughout Boulder, although some have been replaced with digital or telemetry units.

The result:

Maximum water yield

Combining a Parshall flume with a recording device makes it possible to track each ditch's water use for an entire season. Today, we manage our water system for maximum efficiency with the help of these two inventions.

Every Boulder creek and ditch has at least one measuring and recording device today. Our water commissioner uses these measurements to figure out how to use every drop of water coming down Boulder Creek multiple times before it leaves our water district.

Right: A Stevens Recorder. Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

How is water measured today?


How is water measured today?

This page from Bob Carlson's calendar shows how a water commissioner tracks flow, to get maximum use out of our scarce water.

How Does Xcel Energy Use Ditch Water?

How Does Xcel Energy Use Ditch Water?


The Valmont Station generates enough power for 169,500 homes on average. Valmont Station is Xcel Energy's most efficient power plant, using coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

Today, Xcel Energy is the main industrial user of ditch water in Boulder. Xcel Energy uses ditch water to cool and condense steam at its Valmont Power Generating Station at 63rd near Arapahoe. Five thousand gallons of ditch water are needed to generate enough power for an average home for a year. Boulder was chosen as the site for the station in 1922 because of plentiful coal from Louisville and Lafayette, available water, and a growing power demand from nearby cities and mines.

Photo courtesy of Xcel Energy.

The Valmont Lakes


The Valmont Lakes

The Valmont Lakes are actually three lakes which have gone by many names over the years. Two dams form the reservoir: one on the northeast corner of the lakes east of Valmont Butte, and one on the west side.

Former names include Pancost Lake, Owens Lake, Leggett Reservoir, Weisenhorn Lake, Hillcrest Reservoir, and Harlow Reservoir.

Xcel Energy stores water in Valmont Lakes to use to generate electricity.

1926 Drumm wall map, courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Ditches Used by Xcel Energy


Ditches Used by Xcel Energy

Storage rights and ditch shares in Hillcrest, Wellman, Leggett, East Boulder, Enterprise, Jones & Donnelly and Dry Creek #2 fill the Valmont Lakes with water necessary to run the station.

The Wellman Canal and the Leggett Inlet bring Boulder and South Boulder Creek water to Valmont Lakes.

Left: The Leggett Inlet at 63rd, near the Ecocycle drop-off.

Right: The Leggett Inlet headgate on South Boulder Creek, just north of Arapahoe, behind the Subaru dealership.

How Does the Valmont Power Station Work?


How Does the Valmont Power Station Work?

The Valmont Power Station burns coal in a huge furnace called a boiler. The walls of the boiler are made of water pipes. The boiler heats the water in those pipes and turns it to steam. The steam drives a turbine which generates electricity. Then raw ditch water is used to cool the steam inside the pipes back to water. This condensing process creates a vacuum which pulls the steam through the turbine. The process takes place in a closed loop system which cycles continuously.

The three lakes which make up the Valmont Lakes complex are separated by dikes and connected by channels. Ditch water is pumped out of the lake on the right (Hillcrest), into the plant where it is used to re-condense steam running the turbines. This process transfers heat to the lake-water. The warm water is returned to the Leggett-Owens Lake (on the left), and cools off as it slowly circulates back to the south lake, where it begins the process again.

Wildlife at Valmont Station


Wildlife at Valmont Station

Lake water is warmed as it is used to generate power, so parts of Valmont Lakes do not freeze. Water-birds flock to the lakes, because they are often the only open water along the Front Range in winter.

Historically, ospreys and pelicans did not nest in Eastern Colorado. With the development of reservoirs, both species are now found in Boulder County. In 1998, the first nesting pair of ospreys in Boulder set up housekeeping at Valmont Lakes.

Other Wildlife Links for Valmont Lakes:

Xcel Energy Owl Cam at Valmont Station.

Bill Schmoker's photos of Boulder County birds

Right: Ospreys nesting.  Photo courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Valmont Station by the numbers


Valmont Station by the numbers

How Does CU Boulder Use Ditch Water?

How Does CU Boulder Use Ditch Water?


CU uses shares of Anderson Ditch and Smith-Goss Ditch to water 100% of its main Boulder campus, and most of the East Research Park and Newton Court. A Toro Network 8000 sprinkler program integrated with a weather station at Franklin Field uses state of the art irrigation controls to apply old-style ditch-water in new-style ways. CU estimates savings of $440,000 a year from using ditch water instead of treated City-water.

In 1876, CU received 10 shares of Anderson Ditch with the land donated for the original campus.

Right, top: The CU Quadrangle in 1898, with an Anderson Ditch lateral in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

Right, bottom: The same place 110 years later. Anderson Ditch water has turned the campus into the lush area it is today. There is still a small lateral running along the far side of the sidewalk.

Flood Irrigation


Flood Irrigation

CU used flood irrigation on campus until 1988. Each night, water flowed across lawns from concrete-lined laterals which were blocked with sandbags or masonite gates. Galvanized funnels slid into the ditch and fed 10" canvas hoses, which stretched across the lawns to deliver water to far corners. Today, many old laterals remain as historic features of Norlin Quadrangle.

Right: Laterals on the CU campus.

Varsity Pond


Varsity Pond

Today, 4 separate headgates supply CU's irrigation system. The Varsity Pond section starts on College Ave in front of the Colorado Bookstore, and passes under Broadway and over the waterfall next to the Broadway bike path.

Anderson Ditch water is aerated in a series of drops on its way down to Varsity Pond, which stores 3 days worth of irrigation water.

Right: Waterfalls in the Varsity Pond section.

Pumps


Pumps

CU uses variable speed pumps, which are extremely energy efficient. No pressure reducer is required, because pump speed changes as water demand changes.

Inside the pump-house, water is aerated, ozinated, and bacterialized to maintain high water quality. Organic fertilizer (fish emulsion, sea-weed, and humic acid) is added to the irrigation water every 2 months, to feed the lawns and flower beds.

Above: Inside the Varsity Pond pump house.

Sprinklers


Sprinklers

CU's uses the Toro 8000 system to its fullest capacity, and is cited as an example of water efficiency in Toro's trainings.

Right: A map showing CU's sprinker system. Photo courtesy of Ryan Heiland, CU Facilities.

Radio Control

The Ditch Project - 150 years of ditches: Boulder's Constructed Landscape - Radio Control

Radio Control

All 50,000 sprinkler heads in the CU system are controlled by radio from a computer in a small room off Folsom Stadium. A weather station at Franklin Field constantly updates the computer, which changes water schedules based on temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and relative humidity.

Ryan Heiland closely follows weather forecasts, and tweaks the Toro 8000 system to pre-water in anticipation of heat waves. This raises soil moisture profiles so plants withstand heat stress better.

Right: Ryan and his equipment.

CU ditch-water system by the numbers


CU ditch-water system by the numbers

Water Development Timeline

Timeline of Boulder, Colorado, Water History

1803

1804 to 1806

1806

1820

1833

1838

1842 - 1846

1848

1849

1852

1857

1859

1860s

1860

1861

1862

1863

1864

1865

1867

1868

1869

1870

1870s-1880s

1871

1872

1873

1875

1876

1879

1880s

1880

1881

1882

1885

1887

1888

1890-1894

1890

1893

1894

1900

1902

1904

1905

1906

1906

1907

1910

1911

1917

1919

1921

1922

1923

1930s

1936

1937

1940s

1947

1948

1950

1953-1956

1953

1954

1955

1960

1962

1963

1963-1967

1969

1970

1971

1973

1974-1978

1980

1981

1985

1986

1990

1991

1997

1998

2000

2001

2002

2008

2010

Then and Now

A Re-photographic survey of Boulder's Ditches

The Anderson Ditch and 5th Ave


The Anderson Ditch and 5th Ave

View of the 1300 block of 5th Street looking south from Anderson Ditch. A number of adults and children are in the unpaved street. ca. 1900.  Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Randy Zahn. 1900: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 207-17-56 PHOTO.

The Anderson Ditch near Columbia Cemetery


The Anderson Ditch near Columbia Cemetery

Cowboys on both sides of the Anderson Ditch, with the cemetery in the background (neg. #612)(S-880) Views of Columbia Cemetery, also known as Pioneer Cemetery and Park Cemetery, showing cowboys herding cattle. 1880-1899.  Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Randy Zahn. 1800s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 207-18-48 PHOTO.

Boulder and White Rock Ditch Headgate


Boulder and White Rock Ditch Headgate

The old head gate of the Boulder and White Rock Ditch, earlier the Beasley Ditch, in the area that is now Central Park, earlier called Cigarette Park. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Randy Zahn. 1800s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 207-3-49 PHOTO.

Boulder Canyon: Cascade in Winter


Boulder Canyon: Cascade in Winter

Winter view of water, with ice, or completely frozen, cascading out of a floodgate on Silver Lake Ditch and down the hillside at about 1st and Pearl Streets in the mouth of Boulder Canyon. 1880-1909.   Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John Waugh. 1800s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 215-1-34 PHOTO.

Boulder Canyon, Colorado and Northwestern RR


Boulder Canyon, Colorado and Northwestern RR

View from above of the wagon road in Boulder Canyon crossing the tracks of the Colorado & Northwestern Railroad with the flume of Silver Lake Ditch on the canyon wall above. 1880-1893. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Charlie Manlove. 1800s: Ira Duane Kneeland, 1862-1950 (Boulder, Colo.) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: 540-1-5 Photo. #1

Boulder Valley Ranch


Boulder Valley Ranch

Overlooking Boulder Valley Ranch and the tail pond of the newly completed Farmers Ditch. 1859.  From previously unpublished expedition sketches by Henry W Elliot, Hayden Expedition, USGS Digital Archives.

2008 photo by Elizabeth Black. Sketch by Henry Elliot from the Hayden Expedition.

Bridge over the Beasley (Boulder and White Rock) Ditch


Bridge over the Beasley (Boulder and White Rock) Ditch

Construction of a bridge over Beasley (Boulder & White Rock) Ditch at 14th Street between Arapahoe and Canyon Blvd., with gas storage tanks, 1930. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by John Waugh. 1930: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: 511-5-7 PHOTO.

Boulder and White Rock Ditch from Sunset Hill


Boulder and White Rock Ditch from Sunset Hill

View of Boulder taken from Sunset Hill looking east toward Valmont Butte in the distance with the fair grounds in the middle distance. A group of people is seated on the eastern slope of Sunset Hill in the foreground. Boulder and White Rock Ditch flows just below them. The Boulder and White Rock (also spelled Whiterock) earlier was the Beasley Ditch. 1890-1899. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown. 1890s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-1-24 PHOTO.

The Butte Mill


The Butte Mill

Butte Mill Headgates, looking East. November 11, 1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville. 1909: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BM1 Folio #787

Construction of Sunshine Reservoir


Construction of Sunshine Reservoir

Construction of Sunshine Reservoir, 1890. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection

2008 photo by Ellen Gager. 1890: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-4-23.

Control Gates on the Wellman Feeder Canal


Control Gates on the Wellman Feeder Canal

Views of the control gates on the Wellman feeder ditch which brings water to the steam powered Valmont Electric Power Plant. Main feeder ditch and piling below highway bridge, April 17, 1925. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Randy Zahn. 1925: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 214-2-47 PHOTO #1.

A Current Wheel


A Current Wheel

Current-style waterwheel, looking southwest towards the Flatirons . ca. 1900. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Elizabeth Black. 1900: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-4-27 PHOTO #1

Davidson Ditch Flume


Davidson Ditch Flume

Davidson, Stretch of Flume looking East. ca 1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville. 1900s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: 706-B D7 Folio 712 From Scrap Books.

Davidson Ditch Headgate


Davidson Ditch Headgate

1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville

The Farmer's Ditch at 10th and Dellwood


The Farmer's Ditch at 10th and Dellwood

A new bridge over the Farmer's Ditch. January 1951. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Charlie Manlove. 1951:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 511-5-8 PHOTO #8

Farmers Ditch from the top of Mapleton School


Farmers Ditch from the top of Mapleton School

Looking east from the school tower. Left distant is Valmont Butte. Left center is the Giffin-Klingler house, built in 1891. Courthouse and Central School in center. Farmer's Ditch at the right. 1895. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown. 1895:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-2-19 PHOTO.

Goat Rock


Goat Rock

Railroad tracks near Goat Rock in Boulder Canyon. View of track running beside Boulder Creek in Boulder Canyon at the spot called Goat Rock. Maxwell and Oliver flume is visible along the cliff face and going through a tunnel in Goat Rock. A carriage is on the toll road in the foreground. 1900 or 1901. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown. 1900s: Lloyd E. Nelson (Boulder, Colo.) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 218-2-11 PHOTO

Goodhue Ditch Diversion Dam


Goodhue Ditch Diversion Dam

Diversion Dam and Headgates Looking South. June 8, 1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville. 1909:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: GH1 Folio # X685

Howard Ditch Diversion Dam


Howard Ditch Diversion Dam

Howard Ditch Diversion Dam and Headgate, looking west. November 5, 1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville. 1909: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: H2 743

The Jones and Donnelly Headgate


The Jones and Donnelly Headgate 

2008 photo by Elizabeth Black.  Historic Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Looking East from the Mouth of Boulder Canyon


Looking East from the Mouth of Boulder Canyon

Looking East from the mouth of Boulder Canyon, with narrow gauge railroad tracks crossing a bridge in the foreground; left center are Weist Mill with Colorado State Mills behind it, ca. 1880. View looking east from the mouth of Boulder Canyon with a railroad bridge in the foreground and Yount Mill in the middle distance left, with Weist Mill in front of it and Anderson Ditch flowing on one side of the tracks, Boulder Creek on the other.  Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John McKenzie.1800s photo by Louis Meile (neg. #2387/35mm) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 218-2-2 PHOTO #1

Looking North from Flagstaff Mountain


Looking North from Flagstaff Mountain

Views of the entrance to Boulder Canyon, looking north from Flagstaff Mountain. Visible are Yount Flour Mill, house on Douty Placer, Atlas and Delano Mill, Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium, Farmers and Silver Lake ditches.  Between 1883 and 1911.  Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John McKenzie.1800s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-2-44PHOTO #3

Mapleton School


Mapleton School Victory Garden

Views of Mapleton School children in several World War I victory gardens near the school. One garden was along Farmer's Ditch. Here, students seed in rows in the garden. 1920.  Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Randy Zahn. 1920: Edwin Tangen (Boulder, Colo.) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: (neg. #803)

Maxwell Pitch in Boulder Canyon


Maxwell Pitch in Boulder Canyon

Maxwell Pitch in Boulder Canyon. Wagon on the wagon road alongside the C&N railroad tracks with Silver Lake flume leaking water and Maxwell Pitch above it. 1890s. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John Waugh. 1890s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 218-2-17 Photo #6

Mouth of the Canyon, Looking North towards Red Rocks


Mouth of the Canyon, Looking North towards Red Rocks

The mouth of Boulder Canyon looking north toward Red Rocks, with the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium in the distance at right. Brierley Farm, Red Rock Home, Yount Mill and the Marshall Gold Extraction Works are behind the rolling stock of the Colorado & Northern, which sits on a spur in the foreground. Between 1898 and 1904. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John McKenzie. 1800s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: (neg. #2432) BHS 218-2-1 PHOTO

Norlin Quadrangle at the University of Colorado


Norlin Quadrangle at the University of Colorado

Laterals of the Anderson Ditch flow through the Norlin Quadrangle at the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado. 1898. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Elizabeth Black

North Broadway at the Hilltop lateral of the Silver Lake Ditch


North Broadway at the Hilltop lateral of the Silver Lake Ditch

Norwood Lateral of the Silver Lake Ditch Crossing Broadway. 1938.  Photo courtesy of Silvia Pettem.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown.

Pulpit Rock


Pulpit Rock at the Mouth of Sunshine Canyon

View of woman standing on a rock, with the Pulpit Rock in the background as well as Green, Bear and Flagstaff Mountains, Silver Lake Ditch and part of Dakota Ridge. 1890-1910. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Charlie Manlove. 1800s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-4-19.

Silver Lake, Anderson and Farmers Ditches from Flagstaff Mountain


Silver Lake, Anderson and Farmers Ditches from Flagstaff Mountain

Library of Congress Panorama. 1908.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown. 1908. Library of Congress.

Silver Lake Ditch and Red Rocks


Silver Lake Ditch and Red Rocks

Flume below Red Rocks 1900-1920. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Charlie Manlove. 1900s: Louis B. Meile, 1858-1935 (Boulder, Colo.) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-4-20 PHOTO Photo 1.

Silver Lake Ditch Looking Down Sunshine Canyon


Silver Lake Ditch Looking Down Sunshine Canyon

Sanitarium, Pulpit Rock and Sunshine Canyon Road. Mapleton Avenue, with newly planted maple trees, is in the distance and Silver Lake Ditch is in the foreground. 1896. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John Waugh. 1896:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 223-1-7 PHOTO #3

Silver Lake Ditch near Goat Rock, or Elephant Buttress


Silver Lake Ditch near Goat Rock, or Elephant Buttress

View of track running beside Boulder Creek in Boulder Canyon at the spot called Goat Rock. Maxwell and Oliver flume is visible along the cliff face and going through a tunnel in Goat Rock. A carriage is on the toll road in the foreground. 1900 or 1901. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Christopher Brown. 1900s photo by Lloyd E. Nelson (Boulder, Colo.) Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 218-2-11 PHOTO

South Boulder Canyon Headgate


South Boulder Canyon Headgate

November, 1909. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville

Tally Ho above Maxwell Pitch


Tally Ho above Maxwell Pitch

Lyman's Tally Ho Stagecoach on Maxwell Pitch in Boulder Canyon above Silver Lake Ditch flume (also called Maxwell and Oliver flume.) 1890-1899. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by John Waugh. 1800s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 217-1-24 PHOTO #2 (S-2755) neg. #676

Valmont Power Plant


Valmont Power Plant

Valmont power plant from the south edge of what was formerly called Weisenhorn Lake, with Arapahoe Road in the foreground and the tracks of the Colorado and Southern Railroad running along the water's edge. 1931 or 1932. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Ken Sanville. 1930s: Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 214-2-48 PHOTO #1 (Tangen photo #12687)

The Yont Flour Mill


The Yont Flour Mill

Yont Mill with two women standing on a bridge over the Farmer's Ditch. View of Boulder from Boulder Canyon. Before 1900. Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

2008 photo by Elizabeth Black. 1800s:Local call number at Carnegie Branch Library for Local History: BHS 208-2-30 PHOTO #2.

About the photographers

Meet the photographers who made "Now" possible:

Elizabeth Black



Water rules the West. I learned that guiding on western rivers, gardening in our arid climate, and paying attention to battles over western water. 35 years ago, the river I loved and learned to row on was drowned by New Melones Dam, to irrigate California agriculture. Now, my own irrigation water is coveted by the City. Water wars continue.

Many people nowadays do not have a good understanding of water issues or irrigation. People blithely say that water for development along the Front Range will come from agricultural water. Agricultural water is ditch water. And irrigation ditches have radically altered our Front Range environment over the last 150 years. Our Front Range ecosystem, the variety and beauty of our pastoral landscapes, the productivity of our agricultural lands all depend on ditch water. Most people are not aware of what they will lose if our ditches are de-watered for development.

When I learned that the founding of Boulder coincided with the digging of Boulder's first irrigation ditch, I decided to join Boulder's Sesquicentennial celebrations and put together a show about Boulder's ditches. I knew that Boulder's citizens needed to know more about ditches in order to decide whether ditches are important to them. I pictured a show that described irrigation ditches in multiple ways, using art, literature, facts, maps, ecology, history, film, story-telling, and more.

I have organized other group shows in Boulder, but this one is unique in its size, scope, and ability to keep expanding. Don't miss The Ditch Project! I promise that you will discover much you didn't know about your neighbors and neighborhood.

Elizabeth Black's work can be viewed at ElizabethBlackArt.com, or Mary Williams Fine Art in Boulder.

Christopher Brown



Christopher Brown has been a Boulder photographer for 35 years. His fine art prints of the western landscape are well known in Colorado and are in many private, corporate and public collections in Colorado. He was the first photographer to receive a commission in Colorado's Art in Public Places program, for his series: "The Hydrologic Cycle: Studies of Water" which hangs on the Boulder campus. He is in the Open Studios art tour each year, and shows regularly in Boulder, and is recognized for his impressionistic, painterly interpretations of the Western American landscape which for many redefine their notion of photography as an art form. He is recognized by his peers as being a master printer, and has taught many photography workshops at his Boulder studio. He recently completed a portfolio of prints of Boulders Open Space and Mountain Parks lands which the City acquired, and some of which will hang in Boulder's Sister City Dushanbe's Cyber Cafe. His affection for Boulder's landscape, his penetrating vision and a love for water in both the urban and natural environment will be a real asset to this project.

Chris Brown's work can be viewed at ChrisBrownPhotography.com

Charlie Manlove



I take pictures
must be a photographer
maybe
I guess
Charlie Manlove

John McKenzie



I am the Executive Director of the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a non-profit association of ditch companies throughout Colorado. I am involved with agricultural and water issues and live on the farm in Boulder County that has been in my family since 1893. My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Flash 20 camera that required 120 film and I am still using 120 film today with my Fuji GW690III 6 X 9. The camera, a non-SLR, with only one lens, and one without a light meter requires some extra effort to get good shots but the process is rewarding. I enjoy using taking pictures of people working, playing, and just going about their everyday activities.

John McKenzie is the Executive Director of DARCA, the Ditch and reservoir Company Alliance.

Ken Sanville



I have lived in Colorado since 1974. My training is as a commercial photographer. I have worked exclusively in the photographic field for over thirty years. I opened Ken Sanville Photographic Services, Inc. in February of 2001. Although I work in the commercial field, my passion is fine art photography. The Ditches of Boulder County project is especially exciting for me since I have been drawn to and have photographed the ditches for many years. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my images knowing that this project will help enlighten residents about a myriad of water issues in Boulder County.

John Waugh



I grew up on a lateral of the Silver Lake Ditch in North Boulder. Though often a source of childhood imaginary floods and grand diversion projects, I was repeatedly reminded of the importance of the water to those whose "water day" it was and that any tampering with the headgates would lead to an undesirable meeting with "O.M.D." Old Man Davis, the ditch rider. Springtime brought the wonderful adventure of burning the "lateral" from the main headgate at Fourth Street and Linden to our end of the line at Broadway and Kalmia. Gas cans and shovels were the ordinance of the day and all members on the lateral joined in to witness the thick yellow smoke and the leaping flames associated with ditch cleaning. Only occasional conflagrations would encroach into the adjoining pastures, causing a short uproar of swatting and swearing as the errant flames were beaten into submission by eager and waiting volunteers.

My cousin and I, both lean and nimble at around age 10, were pressed into service to patch "the pipe" in the canyon. The Maxwell and Oliver flume hangs high from the granite cliffs of Boulder Canyon on the north side of Boulder Creek and carries the water of the Silver Lake Ditch to its cut through the Elephant Buttress on it's way to Boulder. Frequently in those days, the flume became the ill served target of high powered rifle toting vandals that reveled in the clang a 30.06 slug as it punched open a spigot in the wall of the three foot diameter pipe across the canyon. For several years, until we were too big to uncomfortably fit through the half gravel filled tunnel, we were dispatched into the darkness and spider webs armed only with a putty knife and a can of patching tar to seal up any light leaks (water leaks from the other side). Each of us crawled through about two hundred feet of the rusty black iron pipe that curved around the mountain face with only the light from the targeted holes to guide us.

For years I lived on the Silver Lake Ditch, floated the Farmers Ditch with my cousins, fell in the Anderson ditch running through Pioneer Cemetery in the dark, waded in the Boulder and Whiterock Ditch with the "hippies" in Central Park and illegally caught big trout by moon light on the Enterprise Ditch where it enters Baseline Reservoir.

This project seemed like a great opportunity to contribute to the community understanding of the ditches in Boulder by taking part in this re-photographic survey.

I have enjoyed the new ditches I have seen on this project and the new understanding I have gained from of "The Ditches of Boulder".

John Waugh is a commercial and fine art photographer from Boulder, Colorado.

John Waugh's work can be viewed at JohnWaugh.com.

Randy Zahn



I have seen a lot of the world as I ventured out of Boulder, returning always looking to find new ways to see the community in which I live. 30 years here, I have seen many changes, some I like, some concern me for the reason of wanting to protect what it is that drew me here and kept me here. None of that matters, I know. But it remains cool for us all to be reminded of what our landscape was before us. I am sure that my awareness of Boulder as a community will grow as I become a part of this project of sharing want we see.

Natural History

Boulder's Constructed Landscape:

150 Years of Irrigation Ditches

150 years of water development have constructed the Boulder Valley landscape.

This exhibit explores Boulder's constructed landscape.

Right: 1890, Westminster, William Henry Jackson photo. Courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection, #WHJ 1596 Inset: 2009, Westminster at Sheridan and US 36

A Land Without Trees

A Land Without Trees

What would our landscape look like without the rows of cottonwoods marching across the plains?

Look at these three pairs of "Then & Now" photographs. What changes in the natural environment do you see? What do you think caused the changes?

Top: Overlooking Boulder Valley Ranch, 1869 and 2008

The Boulder area was once part of the "Great American Desert." It was a land dominated by vast expanses of short-grass prairie. By 1869, Farmers Ditch was just finished, and ended at the tail-water pond pictured above. From previously unpublished expedition sketches by Henry Elliot with the Preliminary Field Report of the US Geological Survey of Colorado and New Mexico, 1869 (Hayden Expedition), USGS.

Today trees, irrigated pasture, ponds and housing developments fill what used to be xeric grassland. Can you find the irrigation ditch? Hint: Where are the biggest trees?

Middle: Anderson Ditch at 5th, 1900 and 2008

Why aren't there any trees in the photograph taken in 1900? 

Historic photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Bottom: Goodhue Ditch Headgate, 1909 and 2008

Why is the creek narrower now? Why are there so many more trees now? 

Historic photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

Our creeks have changed

Our creeks have changed.

Normally, a river becomes wider the further downstream you go, as more tributaries add water to the stream. But Boulder's creeks become narrower as you travel downstream across the plains.

This is because our creeks are now part of an intensively managed water system. Upstream dams in the mountains store water for later use. Each successive irrigation ditch diverts more water from the creek and leaves less water in the creek. Cities divert water into treatment plants to supply homes and businesses. All this has drastically changed the character of the creeks around Boulder.

Source: Reflections in a Stock Pond, Robert Crifasi, Sept 2005

Characteristics of Boulder's creeks

Characteristics of Boulder's creeks
Before white settlement and now

Then

1885 photo of Boulder Creek, showing braided channels, courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection, Pooley, P-1734

Water impoundment pattern: Beaver dams were the only impoundments along the creek. Beavers were almost wiped out by the mountain men in Colorado in the 1820s.

Flow pattern: A huge snow-melt peak in the spring would drop rapidly to almost nothing the rest of the year. Occasional rains would bring the creek back up.

Flood pattern: Annual spring floods and infrequent monsoon events scoured channels frequently. Floods carried large amounts of debris which plugged channels and toppled trees.

Channel pattern: Broad shallow channels probably developed on the plains, becoming wider as one went downstream. The creek had multiple braided channels and changed channels from time to time.

Sediment pattern: Spring floods and thunderstorm events carried large amounts of sediment through the creek system (west to east), replenishing nutrients, filling creek channels and then down-cutting new channels in the same or different locations.

Vegetation pattern: It is believed that native willows and a few trees, primarily Plains Cottonwoods, were present in riparian zones on the plains.

Riparian pattern: The riparian zone was confined to the creek and its multiple channels.

Now

2009 photo of Boulder Creek, showing more trees, channel narrowing, introduced plants and encroaching development.

Water impoundment pattern: Multiple upstream and downstream reservoirs (Gross, Barker, Valmont Lakes) catch the spring run-off and store it.


Flow Pattern: A smaller peak in the spring drops more slowly to a higher summer-time irrigation flow. Winter flows are diverted to storage. Minimum flows are maintained on a few streams. Occasional rains still affect creek levels.

Flood pattern: Spring flooding is rare. Infrequent monsoon events are the primary times that channels are scoured, trees are uprooted and debris is swept out of riparian areas.

Channel pattern: A single well-defined channel stays in the same location. The channel generally narrows from vegetation encroachment as one goes downstream, as all types of diversions take more and more water from the creek.

Sediment pattern: Sediment from the mountains is caught behind Gross Reservoir, Barker Dam and Silver Lake Dam. Much of the sediment coming into Boulder Creek is from sanding and salting roads in the winter. Creeks are down-cutting their channels, as less sediment comes into the system.

Vegetation pattern: Large numbers of trees crowd creek channels. Exotic species predominate in many areas. Creeks become more choked with vegetation the further one goes downstream.

Riparian pattern: The riparian zone spreads from the creek out along irrigation ditches and into laterals, irrigated fields, and waste ditches.

An "Unnatural" Landscape

Look at these two photographs again.100 years separate them.

Above: Goodhue Ditch Headgate, 1909 and 2009.  Historic photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO.

During the last century, Gross Reservoir was built upstream. Large spring floods and sediment no longer came downstream. The creek eroded its channel deeper. The ditch company built a diversion dam because its headgate was suddenly above the creek level. Exotic species such as green ash and crack willow colonized South Boulder Creek. Taken all together, this explains why the creek is narrower now, and why there are so many more trees today.

Are you less fond of Boulder Creek, knowing that it is not "natural"?

Do you want the creek to return to its "natural" state?

What are you willing to give up to make that happen?

Our lakes have changed...

Our lakes have changed...

Estimates are that only 13 teeny lakes totaling nine acres existed around Boulder before white settlement. The lakes were old oxbows of remnant channels, or the rare low spot between hills, such as Jewel Mountain Lake.

Today, 1127 acres of lakes dot Boulder's landscape. 99% of them are man-made. (One is pictured on the lower right.) Most of them are filled with ditch water.

Jewell Mountain Lake (shown, upper right) is one of the few natural lakes which predate white settlement. This lake on Rocky Flats Open Space, holds water part of the year because of run-off from surrounding hills.

...and changed our ecosystem too.

...and changed our ecosystem too.

Approximately 1/3rd of Boulder lakes are gravel pits which have backfilled with groundwater seeping in from the creek. The remaining 2/3rd are reservoirs built to store irrigation and drinking water, and are filled by irrigation ditches.

Gravel-pit ponds exposed to air experience greater evaporation than if the water had remained underground as groundwater. Building lakes and reservoirs can cause a net loss of the total amount of water in the system. As our globe warms and summer temperatures increase, we will continue to loose more water to evaporation. Expect an increase in summertime humidity along the Front Range, and a decrease in water available for agriculture and cities.

Photos courtesy of City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks

What is missing on the historic map?

What is missing on the historic map?

These two maps show the same area, but at different points in time.

Compare the number of lakes and ponds between the two maps.

1888, Water District 6 Map

There may have been two very small marshy "lakes" in 1888, when this map was made:

2009, City of Boulder Open Space Map

This map has color coded our new lakes by quarter-century, based on their construction dates and when they first showed up in aerial surveys.

Open Space Lakes

Open Space Lakes

84 percent of Boulder's modern lakes are considered permanent water bodies. 16 percent are ephemeral.

Why do farmers build reservoirs?

Why do farmers build reservoirs?

Boulder's run-off peaks in June. However, crops need most of their water in July and August. Early settlers soon learned that ditches, especially junior ditches with short seasons, were not able to supply crops with water when needed. So by the 1880s, settlers started building reservoirs to store the run-off for use later in the season.

Photo of corn at McKenzie Farms, Boulder, courtesy of John McKenzie.

Plant communities have changed

Plant communities have changed.

Originally, the Boulder Valley was covered in short-grass prairie. Irrigation ditches changed that. Now water-loving riparian plants follow the lines of irrigation ditches and spread across the Boulder Valley into irrigated fields.

Non-native plants, also called "exotics," thrive along ditches. Sometimes exotics are 90% of the species in plant counts.

Some of these exotic species have been here for over 100 years. Does that make them "natural" or "native?" How long do they have to live here before they are considered "native?"

Right: Brown above, green below the Davidson Ditch, Cherryvale Rd.

Different plant communities live above and below ditches

Different plant communities live above and below ditches.

Above a ditch: Xeric short-grass prairie

Below a ditch: Cottonwoods, willows, pasture grass, crops, ornamentals, more

Below, Left: Xeric plant community. Photo courtesy of Christopher Brown.

Below, Right: Riparian plant community.



Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse: A case study

Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse

(Zapus hudsonius preblei)

A case study

Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. This species of mouse is unique to the Colorado Front Range and Wyoming. They live along streams and ditches and forage in grassy meadows. They eat mainly seeds, hibernate up to 8 months a year, and are good swimmers. Development along creeks has probably caused their populations to decline. However, some human actions have benefited the mouse.

Biologists have found higher densities of mice along man-made irrigation ditches than along nearby “natural” creeks. The highest concentration of Preble’s mice in the Boulder Valley is now found along the East Boulder Ditch. The City of Boulder has installed an “overpass” boardwalk on the Bobolink trail so that humans will not disturb mouse-trails running from the East Boulder Ditch to the creek. Mouse-sized “cat-walks” were installed in irrigation culverts under Highway 36, to help the mice travel along the ditch.

If endangered mice prefer man-made ditches, does that mean that ditches should be managed like creeks?

Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse is Object of the Month for May at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Please click here to learn more!

Right: Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse. Photo courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Ute ladies'-tresses: A case study

Ute ladies'-tresses: A case study

Ute ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis) is a small perennial orchid protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Boulder Valley contains Colorado's single largest known population of the orchid.

Ute ladies'-tresses are native to wetlands. Today however, over 80 percent of the orchid plants on City of Boulder Open Space land are found in irrigated hay meadows. Without irrigation, these meadows would become short grass prairie--too dry for orchids.

When the orchid was first listed as a threatened species, Open Space managers thought that grazing would further harm it. They banished the cows. But without grazing, weeds such as Canada thistle proliferated and the orchid populations dropped. When land managers allowed grazing to resume, the thistle infestation was reduced, and the orchid reappeared.

In Boulder Valley, survival of the Ute ladies'-tresses orchid now depends upon human intervention through both irrigation and grazing. Does this dependence on humans make the orchid less native?

Right: Ute ladies'-tresses in bloom. Photo courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Animal communities have changed

Animal communities have changed.

Many wild animals in Boulder have come to depend on irrigation ditches and reservoirs supplied by ditches.

Riparian animals such as the muskrat, mink, beaver, heron, and other water birds depend on bodies of water for food, homes and safety. Irrigation ditches and reservoirs have become prime habitat for many of these species in Boulder.

By depending on man-made structures so much, are these creatures less wild or less native? Do we now have a responsibility to maintain the structures upon which these animals depend?

The 1127 acres of man-made ponds and lakes near City of Boulder Open Space lands are now part of the Central Flyway, which migratory birds use, traveling from the Arctic to South America.

Historically white pelicans, osprey and bald eagles were almost never spotted over the Front Range. With the development of reservoirs, that has changed. Today, osprey and bald eagles are nesting around Boulder Reservoir and Valmont Lakes. White pelicans are commonly seen feeding in Boulder County.

Are these birds "invasive" if they didn't used to live here?

Right, clockwise from the top: White pelican feeding; Owl in cottonwood; Coyote hunting; Mink swimming; White pelicans flocking; Heron feeding; Duck diving.  Photos courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Ditches have a mixed impact on Boulder's fish populations

Ditches have a mixed impact on Boulder's fish populations.

Negative Impacts: In the past, ditches diverted most of the water out of our creeks and dried up sections completely. Many native species of fish probably were wiped out. Amazingly, some native fish survived.

Positive Impacts: Ditches have helped fish survive by filling reservoirs, which provided more fish habitat to non-native stocked fish, as well as natives.

Right, from the top:

Duck and painted turtles, photo courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Fish ladder on South Boulder Creek, at a ditch diversion.  Today ditch companies are installing fish diversions on check dams to help fish travel up and down the creek more easily.

Fantastic Fish of Boulder, courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Our wetlands have changed

Our wetlands have changed.

150 years ago, wetlands were mainly found along creeks in the Boulder area. Now, they are spread across the landscape, along ditches and laterals and into irrigated fields and drainage collection areas.

Some changes:

Wetlands are now found in irrigated fields, in drainage collection areas, along irrigation ditches and laterals, and around man-made lakes.

New places to find wetlands:


Left to right: Riparian plants in East Boulder Ditch; Wetlands below irrigated fields; Leaking Silver Lake Ditch pipe, wetlands below

Maps of Ditch Dependent Wetlands

Maps of Ditch Dependent Wetlands

This map shows wetlands found in fields which are directly irrigated by the Davidson Ditch. Without irrigation water, many of these wetlands would disappear.


This map shows wetlands in a field that is NOT irrigated by the ditch. Most of the wetlands below the ditch are from water seeping from the unlined ditch.

Source: City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, Bob Crifasi, Water Resource Administrator

Our water table has changed

Our water table has changed.

Irrigation ditches and reservoirs raise the water table throughout Boulder.

Boulder's unconsolidated, rubble-y soil acts like a large sponge and soaks up water from ditches and reservoirs. Ditch companies figure on loosing a third of their water to seepage, and another third to "wetting the ditch".

This water is not "wasted." It recharges the groundwater, feeding deep-rooted trees and wells on its journey back to the creek, a journey that can take months or years.

How are you benefiting from a nearby ditch or reservoir?

New Mexico State University's Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Science Center has studied the effect of ditches on groundwater. The graph on the right shows how the Alcalde Ditch directly affects the groundwater level, which rises in the monitoring wells after the ditch is turned on.

7 days after the ditch started, groundwater levels in the Alcalde monitoring wells began to rise. The groundwater levels continued to rise until mid-August when the ditch began to drop, and then generally declined until the onset of the next year's irrigation season.

Right, clockwise from the left:

Many people who live below ditches are familiar with ground-water changes.

Enjoying recreational trails, photo courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Graph of Alcalde Ditch use, Source: Fernald, A.G., T.T. Baker, and S.J. Guldan. 2007. Hydrologic, Riparian, and Agroecosystem Functions of Traditional Acequia Irrigation Systems. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. 30(2):147-171.

Groundwater and return flows

Groundwater and return flows

Only part of the water in an irrigation ditch is consumed by growing plants. The rest seeps into the ground surrounding the ditch, or flows out the bottom end of an irrigated field into a borrow ditch. It then percolates down into the groundwater system, and slowly (in feet per day) makes its way back to the creek. This returning water is called the Return Flow.

Our Water Commissioner counts on return flows through the groundwater system to put water back into the creek for other downstream users.

The phenomenon of return flows explains how a drop of water can be used many times before it leaves our District. It also explains how our Water Commissioner can expand a 10cfs flow in Boulder Creek into a 15cfs net yield to water users.

Why does the Lower Platte now carry water in the summer?

Why does the Lower Platte now carry water in the summer?

Answer: Because of return flows from groundwater.

The groundwater system is a very efficient underground reservoir, since underground water does not evaporate. Seepage from ditches has built up the groundwater reservoir in the Platte basin over the last 150 years. Now, water from this groundwater reservoir flows back into the Platte further downstream and supplies ditches out east.

Back in 1859, the Platte River didn't have enough water in it to fill any ditches out east. As upstream irrigators near Boulder and Fort Collins saturated the aquifer, return flows to the Platte grew until there was enough water to supply ditches lower down on the Platte. This is why major canals east of Greeley generally have junior appropriations relative to most ditches closer to the Front Range.

Photo top courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Above: Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District publication Dec. 17 1979.

Natural History Timeline

Natural History Timeline of the Boulder Valley


13000 BC
9500 BC to 1850AD
500 BC
1492
1539
1600s
1650
1620
1680

1700s
1776
1793
1804
1820s
1823
1830
1859
1860
1862
1863
1864
1869
1872
1873
1874
1875
1870s
1884
1885
1887
1890
1893
18941897
1898
1900's
1906
1908
1910
1919
1920s
1924
1927
1929
1933
1937
1938
1939
1943
1945
1954
1955
1957
1958
1959
1960's
1962
1965
1967
1970
1972
1973
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980s
1986
1987
1990
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1998
1999
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
20062008
2009
2011

Maps

This series of historic maps, made possible in part by the Honorable Greg Hobbs, shows the historical development of Boulder's historic landscape. From early explorers to negotiations over appropriations of the Colorado River, these maps outline the geographical history of Colorado.

Right: Hayden's Geologic Map of Northern Central Colorado

Stephen Long's Expedition, 1820

Stephen Long's Expedition, 1820

In 1819, Major Stephen Harriman Long led a group of explorers towards the Rocky Mountains along the Platte River. Only a few Europeans had seen the river before, including Etienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont in 1714. The United States had just obtained the Platte in the Louisiana Purchase from France. Long's job was to explore and define the U.S.'s new border with Spanish lands to the south. From Council Bluffs, Iowa, the party followed the Platte's course westward until they reached a tall range that Long named the Rocky Mountains. From there, Long headed south. In the process, he spotted one of the tallest peaks in Colorado, which would later be named after him.

Long's map of the region shows the Boulder Valley as the western edge of a Great Desert. Delivering the map, he reported that lands here were "unfit for cultivation and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture."  One interesting mistake Long made: he shows water west of Longs Peak flowing north into the Columbia River, rather than south into the Colorado drainage.

Stephen Long's map from his 1820 expedition is courtesy of the National Archives, Map # NWCS-077-CWMF-US62-sheet 1 of 2, 1820.

Explore Stephen Long's Expedition Map

Map of the Upper California, 1841

Map of the Upper California, 1841

Two decades after Long's party explored the Platte River basin and deemed it a dry wasteland, another group set out to explore the American West from the west coast. In 1841, the United States Exploring Expedition, led by Charles Wilkes, sailed through the South Pacific, down to Antarctica and up the west coast of North America. The expedition produced this map of "Upper California" along the way. Notice the headwaters of some rivers, like the Cache la Poudre, are less than accurate. Most of the western interior at this time was largely unknown. A vast area is labeled "Great Sandy Plain", the dreaded equivalent of "Here There Be Dragons" to early settlers.  

Wilkes continued exploring the Pacific and finally circumnavigated the globe back to New York in 1942.  The specimens he collected on his four year expedition became the basis for the Smithsonian's collection.  Wilkes was known as a harsh disciplinarian, and may have been the real-life basis for Herman Melville's Captain Ahab.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection.

Explore the Map of the Upper California

Fremont's Route, 1845

Fremont's Route, 1845

While the Wilkes expedition was returning to New York, a surveyor named John C. Fremont was planning an expedition of his own. That summer, Fremont met a man named Kit Carson on a Missouri riverboat. Carson, an experienced frontiersman, led Fremont down along the Front Range of the Rockies in 1842. This map is a product of their trip.

At that time, the only EuroAmerican settlements north of Spanish lands were Fort Laramie, Fort St. Vrain, and Bent's fort.  EuroAmericans present at the time were primarily engaged in fur trapping and trading with the natives. The fur trade, which sent beaver pelts back east to make fashionable hats, almost wiped out the beaver and had a significant impact on Colorado's rivers.  

An interesting note: Fremont "found" Raton Pass and shows it as the direct route to Santa Fe.  Two years later, the U. S. would invade Mexico over Raton Pass during the Mexican-American War

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection



Explore Fremont's Route Map

An Explorer's Daily Distance, 1845

An Explorer's Daily Distance, 1845

This map, based on Fremont's map, shows the approximate distances Stephen W. Kearney's 1845 expedition party traveled each day. Traveling on horseback, 30 miles a day was considered excellent mileage, especially if one was also making cartographic observations and drawings. The same route used by these explorers would soon be followed by pioneers in wagon trains, driving oxen at an even slower pace. These pioneer trails would later be replaced by fast-moving stage coach lines, railroads, highways and freeways. No matter the style or speed of delivery, each succession of immigrants would come to depend on the limited water supplies of the American West.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Explore Fremont's 1845 Daily Distance Map

Map of Kanzas and Nebraska Territory, 1855

Map of Kanzas (sic) and Nebraska Territory, 1855

This map shows the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, organized into the "Kanzas" and Nebraska territories following the Missouri Compromise. The creation of these new American territories by the Kansas-Nebraska Act ignored the Fort Laramie treaty, which recognized much of the land in the high plains as belonging to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes. The boundary between the two territories, which split right through Colorado along what is now Boulder's Baseline Road, followed the 40th parallel, also known as the Mason-Dixon Line. This division allowed Kansas to decide on their own to join the free states or the slave states in the years leading up to the Civil War. Kansas ultimately chose to be a free state.

Note that on this map, CU's main campus would be in Nebraska, while Willams Village and the President's residence would be in "Kanzas".

Map courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

Explore the Map of Kanzas and Nebraska Territory

War Department Explorations and Surveys, 1858

War Department Explorations and Surveys, 1858

While the conflict between the North and South was heating up, the US government made exploration of the American West--and its untapped wealth of resources--a top priority. Much of the land acquired in the Spanish American War was uncharted.  In 1858, the War Department sent Lieutenant Joseph Ives on a steamboat up the Colorado River. His job was to test the navigability of the river and to scout for potential railroad routes across the southwest.

Ives' ship, the Explorer, struck a rock in Black Canyon, so the party continued east by mule and on foot, as far as the Hopi Mesas. While producing detailed maps of the river's course through the Grand Canyon, the party failed to recognize the main Colorado River heading north through Marble Canyon to Lees Ferry and beyond. On this map, Ives shows the Little Colorado River as the only source of the Colorado River.  The Colorado River upstream through Utah and Colorado remained entirely unknown, until John Wesley Powell put that last piece of the puzzle in place in 1869.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Explore War Department Explorations and Surveys Map

Hayden's Triangulation Map of Colorado, 1877

Hayden's Triangulation Map of Colorado, 1877

From 1867 to 1871, the United States Geological Survey sent Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden out to map Wyoming and Colorado. Using the tallest peaks, Hayden triangulated the distances between major landmarks, producing the first accurate, detailed maps of Colorado, which became a state in 1876. The Hayden team had to climb many of Colorado's peaks to establish these benchmarks, and so became Colorado's first "Peak Baggers".

The Hayden Survey passed through Boulder in 1869.  Sketches by Henry Elliot, the expedition artist, are some of the earliest images of what our county originally looked like.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Explore Hayden's Triangulation Map of Colorado

Hayden's Drainage Map of Colorado, 1877

Hayden's Drainage Map of Colorado, 1877

This drainage map is one of the many maps prepared by the Hayden Survey after establishing baseline distances. It is the first systematic, state-wide map of Colorado's water resources.  However, by the time this map was published, almost all of Boulder's ditches had already been built, and the Boulder Creek drainage was almost fully appropriated.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection


Explore Hayden's Drainage Map of Colorado

Hayden's Geologic Map of Colorado, 1877

Hayden's Geologic Map of Northern Central Colorado, 1877

This geologic map was the most colorful result of the Hayden Survey. It shows various geological formations in north central Colorado, including the Laramie Formation, the Fox Hills Sandstone, and the Dakota group, neatly layered along the edge of the Boulder valley. The volcanic Valmont Butte stands out as a flat reddish oval, while alluvial deposits mark out the branches of Boulder creek. The dots along the shores indicate the potential for placer mining, while the red dots indicate (potentially) gold-bearing formations.

Western lands were viewed as opportunities for extractive industries, as this map clearly shows.  There were no National Parks or National Forests yet.  "Conservation" and "Environment" were unknown concepts.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Explore Hayden's Geologic Map of Colorado

Boulder City and County, 1881

Boulder City and County, 1881

Once the government had mapped Colorado's natural resources and paved the way for settlement with the 1862 Homestead Act, settlers flocked to the Boulder valley. This 1881 map served as both a guidebook to Boulder and an advertisement for real estate. A variety of inset maps show the layout of downtown Boulder and many nearby mining towns.  

The names of homesteaders across the county appear in the main section of the map, on the sections of land they owned. Many of these homesteaders were the earliest irrigators in the valley. Their names live on today as the names of Boulder's ditches, which are shown as dotted lines on the map.  It is no accident that Leggett, Goodhue, Davidson, and Leyner were all listed as subscribers on the bottom this map.  They had all built ditches, had land and water to sell, and hoped to attract new immigrants to buy it.

EXPLORE: This map is available for viewing in high and super (broadband strongly recommended) resolution.

Map courtesy of the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, and the CU Norlin Library Archives.

Explore 1881 Boulder City and County Map

Explore this map in super-high resolution (broadband recommended) -- click here.

Explore 1881 Boulder City and County Map - Maximum Resolution

Trouble viewing this particularly huge map? Click here to scale down a little.

Plat of Water Districts No 5 and 6, 1888

Plat of Water Districts No 5 and 6, 1888

This 1888 map of the watersheds of Boulder County is part of a series of maps prepared by the Colorado State Engineer to identify ditches and help manage water. Farmers had already dug the majority of Boulder's ditches by this time, bringing water to previously-arid steppes and mesas. However they had yet to start storing the water they had diverted. Only a few small reservoirs had been built in the area by the 1880s. These lakes, which stored water drawn from the St. Vrain River, are shown in blue, north of the town of Longmont.

Map courtesy of the Bob Crifasi Collection

Explore Plat of Water Districts No 5 and 6

Boulder's Forests and Ditches, 1905

Boulder's Forests and Ditches, 1905

At the turn of the 20th century, the development of Boulder's landscape was in full swing. While earlier maps focused on resources like coal and precious metals, this 1905 map shows the development of oil in Boulder. Also appearing are new railroads, pipelines, and reservoirs. Barker Reservoir, shown on the map just east of Nederland, was only proposed, and did not start construction until a year after this map was published.

This is the first map to show National Forest Service land in Boulder County.  The Forest Organic Act created the National Forest system in 1897, and the U. S. Forest Service was created in 1905.  Private land ownership in our mountains predates the establishment of the Forest Service.  This is why there are private in-holdings and jagged boundaries to our National Forests and Parks. 

Map courtesy of the Bob Crifasi Collection.

Explore Boulder's Forests and Ditches

Water Development on Boulder Creek, 1907

Water Development on Boulder Creek, 1907

By 1907, Boulder's farmers were starting large-scale water diversion projects. This map, created by the Eastern Power Company, shows proposed water storage and diversion developments on Boulder Creek. Reservoirs that were already constructed by this time are shown in red, while plans to build and expand other reservoirs are shown in orange. The large yellow section in the northwest corner of the map indicates the glacial headwaters of Boulder Creek, which the city of Boulder "desired" for its watershed. (By 1929, the city had it all.)  Many of the proposed lakes and diversions shown would eventually be built.

Map courtesy of the Xcel Energy Collection, Randy Rhodes.

Explore Water Development on Boulder Creek

Colorado River Compact, 1922

Colorado River Compact, 1922

In the 1920's California was demanding more water to support Imperial Valley agriculture and cities like Los Angeles. The Prior Appropriation Doctrine says the first to claim and use western water has rights to it.  Slow-growing states like Colorado were afraid that fast-growing California would claim all the water in the Colorado River first.  They wanted to lock-up some water for their own future growth.

It took a Greeley water lawyer named Delph Carpenter to envision the solution. Delph is called "the father of the interstate water compact"; he wrote 7 of them in all.  This map is from the 1922 negotiations between the Upper Basin States (CO, UT, WY, NM) and the Lower Basin States (CA, AZ, NV).

Note that this map includes several proposed water projects which were not built until much later, including Glen Canyon Dam (1956), the Salt River Project (1925-1996), and Boulder Canyon Reservoir (AKA Hoover Dam, 1931).  With Glen Canyon "on the books" at least 33 years before construction started, it is unlikely that the Sierra Club could have ever defeated this project, although they did briefly try.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Explore Interstate River Systems Map

Colorado River Basin Graphs, 1922

Colorado River Basin Graphs, 1922

In 1922, the Colorado River Compact divided the waters of the Colorado River among seven states. This chart was used to estimate irrigation and other water requirements of the American West. The waters were divided at Lee's Ferry in Arizona into the upper and lower basins.

Note that the water apportioned in the Compact was done in specific numbers of acre-feet, rather than as percentages of water flowing down the river annually.  This fact continues to impact us today.  While the negotiators of the Colorado River Compact were aware of a severe drought in 1902, they still assumed that a specific number of acre feet would be coming down the Colorado.  The number they chose turned out to be the highest annual flow rate in approximately 14 million years.  The river has not had that much water in it since then.  

This is why, today, the subject of renegotiating the original Colorado River Compact keeps coming up, and is so contentious.

Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Platt's Drainage Basin Map, 1966

Platt's Drainage Basin Map, 1966

By the 1960s, the Bureau of Reclamation had completed most of the major water development projects in the American West. The Moffat tunnel and Colorado Big-Thompson Project brought water from the western slope of the Rockies to the Front Range, joining the natural snowmelt which supplied the South Platte River. Before reaching the Platte, however, this water funneled into a complex system of ditches and reservoirs to support acres of farmland, and growing metropolises.

This detailed map, drawn by Thomas L. Platt in 1966, shows the entire drainage basin of Boulder County, from the Continental Divide to the Platte River, including creeks, rivers, ditches, and lakes. Thomas Platt was Water Commissioner in Boulder for over 25 years and was a highly respected commentator on water issues.  The Daily Camera quoted him frequently.

Explore the color version of this map, used for the "Our Ditches" page, in high resolution by clicking here

Map courtesy of the Bob Carlson Collection

Explore Platt's Drainage Basin Map

Explore Platt's Drainage Basin Map (color)

Water Master Plan of Boulder Creek Basin, 1985

Water Master Plan of Boulder Creek Basin, 1985

By 1985, Boulder Creek had become part of a highly managed, complex water delivery system.  This straight-line diagram combines geography, graphics and history to convey massive amounts of functional information about our management of the creek.  The wider bands on the diagram indicate creeks, while straight lines refer to ditches and canals. The circles represent lakes or reservoirs, which store the water feeding into the system from the spring runoff, until it is called for. 

Map courtesy of the City of Boulder Utilities.

Explore Water Master Plan of Boulder Creek Basin Diagram

Colorado Historic Average Annual Streamflows, 2003

Colorado Historic Average Annual Streamflows, 2003

Colorado is called "the Headwaters State", and this modern map shows why.  This map shows both graphically and spatially the amounts of water flowing out of Colorado through the eight river basins in the state. The Colorado River is by far the largest. Boulder Creek is shown at center, delivering 50,050 acre feet of water annually into the St. Vrain and South Platte Basin.  Map courtesy of the Honorable Greg Hobbs Collection

Our Ditches

Anderson Ditch


Anderson Ditch

Established: October 1 1860

Priority Number: 4

Acres under ditch: 425 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek



In 1859, 47 year old Jonas Anderson arrived in Boulder with his wife and two sons, Erick and Jonas, Jr., from Sweden. An accomplished stone mason, Jonas Sr. settled on 160 acres just south of the fledgling town of Boulder. In 1860 he and
Marinus Smith, a neighbor, dug the Anderson Ditch, which diverted water from Boulder Creek at the first possible place after the creek’s plunge down from Boulder Canyon. The ditch wound through the neighborhoods west of Broadway, over University Hill, and past Green Mountain Cemetery.

In the early 1870s,
Marinus Smith gave 10 valuable shares of Anderson Ditch water to the fundraising efforts being mounted to convince the territorial legislature to locate the newly planned university in Boulder. Smith and Anderson, and more than 25 citizens, raised the astounding sum of $16,656.66 to bring CU to Boulder in 1876, the same year the territory of Colorado became a state.

Jonas Anderson Sr. bought land close to the foothills and developed a
stone quarry. He built many houses in the growing city of Boulder, including two next to each other in the 700 block of Walnut where his son Jonas Jr. and grandson Fred lived. The Boulder City Herald on July 2, 1890 told of a new depot built in Boulder with stone from the Anderson quarry, so beautiful as to satisfy the “most fastidious cranks of which no city in Colorado can boast of or produce a greater supply.” Jonas Sr. ended his days suffering from cancer that ate away his jaw. He died in 1894 at 82, just months after being declared insane because of senility. Oddly, his son, Jonas Jr. was also senile before he died in 1919, but by then his condition was spared the stigma of madness.

Today only a small number of Anderson Ditch shares remain in private hands. 1/3rd of Anderson water is owned by CU and used to water the campus. Almost 2/3rds of the remaining shares are owned by the City of Boulder.


Jonas Anderson.


Jonas Anderson Sr. is buried next to the Anderson Ditch in Columbia Cemetery. His headstone, and that of his son Jonas Jr., were moved a little downhill recently, because they were in danger of falling into the ditch. Written on his son's headstone is “Company D, 3rd Colorado Cavalry.” Yes indeed, this sweet-looking little old man's son was one of the participants in the Sand Creek Massacre.

Stock Certificate courtesy of CU.

Portrait Jonas Anderson courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection


Andrews and Farwell Ditch


Andrews & Farwell Ditch

Established: June 1 1864

Priority Number: 11

Acres under ditch: 815 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek via New Dry Creek Carrier

Andrews & Farwell is one of several ditches that come off Dry Creek. Dry Creek was originally just that: a dry creek channel in a gully that headed back north to Boulder Creek. But early pioneers realized that if they dug a short section of ditch from South Boulder Creek across some low hills, they could dump South Boulder Creek water into Dry Creek, and use it as a carrier to get water to new places. Once Dry Creek has water in it, other farmers dug ditches off of it, including Cottonwood #2, Leyner Cottonwood, Lewis H Davison, and Dry Creek Davidson.


Andrews & Farwell measuring weir, looking northeast.

Boulder and White Rock Ditch


Boulder & White Rock Ditch

Established: November 1 1873

Priority Number: 35

Acres under ditch: 7500 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

James Jackson Beasley was a 28 year-old married Missouri farmer and father when gold was discovered in Colorado. In the spring of 1860, he drove a large herd of cattle from Missouri out to Denver, and sold them off. Over the next six years he made 3 more trips back to “the States” to bring more herds out across the plains.

He brought his family out to Colorado in 1863, and lost one son on the journey west. He made enough money trading stock to buy a 240 acre farm near Longmont in 1871. The very next year he began the survey for the Boulder and White Rock Ditch, to bring water to his land. The ditch was completed two years later at a cost of $16,731. Beasley went on to acquire another 960 acres of land, much of which he passed on to his children. He and his son after him served as presidents of the Boulder & White Rock for many years.


Boulder & White Rock Ditch System.


Beasley Family portraits.

Map courtesy of the Boulder and Whiterock Ditch Company.

Portraits courtesy of the Longmont Museum.

Boulder and Left Hand Ditch


Boulder & Left Hand Ditch

Established: December 1, 1873

Priority Number: 36

Acres under ditch: 4000 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Boulder & Left Hand Ditch shares the headgate in downtown Central Park with Boulder & White Rock Ditch and North Boulder Farmers Ditch. The three flow together down the old channel of the Boulder Slough to 21st Street, where Boulder & White Rock divides off. The remaining two ditches wind through the Goss Grove neighborhood, pass the Dairy, dive under Circuit City and Target, and then re-emerge behind Earl’s Saw Shop. At Foothills Parkway and Pearl, the two ditches divide, but continue traveling together, side-by-side for several more miles, before they go their separate ways.

Boulder & Left Hand owns the Twin Lakes Reservoirs in Gunbarrel, and Hayden Lake near the Boulder airport. Boulder & White Rock Ditch carries Boulder & Left Hand water into Hayden Lake, where it is stored, and then released later in the season into Boulder & Left Hand Ditch. Boulder & Left Hand carries water to farms out as far as Longmont, to 287 and Plateau Rd, and to Hwy 52 and 79th.

Our complex interrelated water system makes it possible for Boulder & Left Hand users to access water from North Boulder Farmers Ditch and Six Mile Reservoir. They can also use C-BT water via the Boulder Supply Canal. Access to multiple water sources gives farms more certainty in our arid land.

Why do Boulder & Left Hand and North Boulder Farmers run parallel for so many miles? Why go to all the back-breaking labor of digging two separate ditches when one ditch could water the whole area?

According to Richard Behrmann, the answer has to do with limitations in water measuring technology in the 1870s. At that time, there was no accurate way to determine how much water a lateral headgate was taking. The sizes of headgates could be regulated, but that was just half of the equation. The flow going through a particular sized headgate would still vary widely. Farmers knew this intuitively, from their own experience. And so they knew that their upstream neighbors could be taking more than their share of water.

This is why the Boulder & Left Hand Ditch decided to dig their own separate ditch, just uphill from the more senior North Boulder Farmers Ditch, to guarantee that they could get ALL of their own water out to their users, way out east.


This piece of binder paper is the 1967 agreement between Boulder & Left Hand and Boulder & White Rock, to build the divider gate at 21st Street. The ditches had worked together well for a long time, their boards and shareholders overlapped, and business could be conducted with a handshake and without lawyers.  Scan courtesy of Boulder and Left Hand Ditch Company.

Boulder Supply Canal


Boulder Supply Canal

Established: 1955

Once called the Boulder Feeder Canal, the Boulder Supply Canal transports water from the Big Thompson/Windy Gap Project into Boulder Reservoir. The water begins its journey as the headwaters of the Colorado River before it is first stored in a series of interconnected high mountain lakes: Grand Lake (Colorado's largest natural lake), Shadow Mountain Lake, and Lake Granby (Colorado's second-largest reservoir). From there, the water travels underneath Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide through the Alva B. Adams tunnel, into a series of reservoirs and canals, before finally spilling into Boulder Reservoir.


Boulder Creek Supply Canal at Boulder Reservoir. Photo courtesy of Jim Shelley - City of Boulder. via BASIN.


Butte Mill Ditch


Butte Mill Ditch

Established: March 1, 1865

Priority Number: 22

Acres under ditch: 1200 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek



The Butte Mill Ditch is actually called “The Butte Irrigating and Milling Company”, and was originally built to power a grist mill, which ground wheat into flour. John DeBacker, a Belgian millwright, dug the ditch and began construction of the mill on the north side of the road about three-quarters of a mile east of the town of Valmont. He ran out of money in 1865, and Judge Peter Housel went into partnership with him.

Housel traveled to Omaha and purchased the milling equipment while DeBacker finished building the mill. In 3 months, Housel returned with the machinery, which they installed. The mill was a success. Farmers came from as far away as Fort Collins with their wheat. Twenty-two feet of water from the ditch powered a 24-inch double turbine wheel which drove the burrs. Judge Housel bought out DeBacker and then sold the mill and ditch to George Sawhill. Like most of Boulder’s early mills, it burned down, but the millstones, made of Valmont basalt are still at the Sawhill home.

23 year old Peter Housel came from Pennsylvania to Colorado in 1859. For three years he worked at the Horsfal Lode, Gold Hill’s richest diggings, and then settled in the Boulder Valley. He was elected Boulder's first county judge in 1862, re-elected in 1864 and eventually served as a trustee for the Denver and Boulder Valley Railroad. He served as custodian of the land upon which the city of Boulder was built.


The Jones & Donnelly Ditch and the Butte Mill Ditch are “sister” ditches. Jones & Donnelly dumps water into the Butte Mill, which carries its water out to farmers further east. The 2 ditches also have overlapping boards of directors, and many of the same shareholders. Butte Mill generally follows Valmont Road out to 75th, where the tail water flows down through a neighboring farm and back to Boulder Creek.


Judge Peter Housel, 1889.

Stock certificate and map courtesy of City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Portrait of Housel courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.


Community Ditch


Community Canal

Established: June 6 1885

Priority Number: 35

Acres under ditch: 22100 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

"Lying between Denver and Greeley is an extent of choice farm land of over 200,000 acres, adapted to general farming, market gardening or fruit culture. This land is now much of it arid and unproductive, needing only the application of water to make it produce bountifully. Large crops of sugar beets, alfalfa, wheat, oats, tomatoes, cantaloupes and fruit can be raised wherever reservoir water is obtainable." (1907) (Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Western Archives Collection.)

This was the rationale for a 1902 purchase of the Community Canal from the original owners, the Charles Toll family. This purchase involving a number of land development companies over the years was made with an eye to turning a substantial profit. Sadly for the investors, this was not the case. Their speculative assumptions were trumped by a lack of expertise and a lack of funds. Many years later, after numerous bankruptcies and reorganizations, a consortium of farmers and investors called FRICO developed a better business model consisting of private/public partnerships designed to maintain and grow the water portfolio.

These early investors, using South Boulder Creek as a water source, made improvements to Coal Creek ditch and Community Canal and to the entrance and outlet of Marshall Lake which both ditches were designed to fill. Early investors knew that 'stored water is stored wealth' and that reservoirs could provide critical irrigation needs later in the season when creeks and ditches had dried up. Coal Creek ditch has since been abandoned, but South Boulder Creek continues to supply water to Marshall Lake today via the Community Canal. From there the water is delivered to the towns of Louisville, Superior and Broomfield, and to individual shareholders all the way to Frederick.



Above: Workers dig a tunnel for the Community Canal. Photo courtesy of FRICO.

Today the Community Canal is a very small part of a much larger FRICO irrigation system, accounting for only 6 percent of the total 8,000 shares in FRICO. The whole FRICO system serves municipal and agricultural needs in Louisville, Broomfield, Superior, Northglen, Thornton, South Adams County, Brighton, East Cherry Creek Valley, and the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.


Map courtesy of FRICO.


Cottonwood #2 Ditch


Cottonwood #2 Ditch

Established: April 15 1863

Priority Number: 6

Acres under ditch: 3000 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek via New Dry Creek Carrier

Cottonwood #2 was actually built before Cottonwood #1, and is sometimes referred to as the Original Cottonwood. Cottonwood #1 has since been combined with the Leyner ditch, and is now known as the Leyner-Cottonwood.

"It was now time for me, 12 years old and large for my age, to take a hand at irrigating in the fields. The water rights of Cottonwood Ditch were among the earliest and most valuable in the state and we and our neighbors who owned it were never in need of water for irrigation."

--Ernest Mondell Pease, ca 1871


This photo of the Cottonwood #2 gauge house is an art piece by Bob Crifasi, showing as a part of the Ditch Project.

Davidson Ditch


Davidson Ditch

Established: April 15 1872

Priority Number: 26

Acres under ditch: 7152 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

"There are few people in Boulder County who do not know this bluff old pioneer, and all who know him cannot help but like and respect him." -Daily Camera: May 19, 1892

William Davidson was one of Colorado's earliest and most industrious pioneers. When Boulder was settled in 1859, the town was made up mostly of men who came to mine. Davidson and partner Samuel Breath established Boulder's first grocery and mining supply store in the log cabin they built on the northeast corner of 11th and Pearl. This later became Boulder's first hotel, the "Boulder House".

After discovering the Niwot mine, Davidson launched the first and largest milling and mining enterprise in Colorado. In 1870, he built his farm on 600 acres in east Boulder. Joining other prominent Boulder men such as Mr.'s Teller, Loveland and Welch, he formed the Davidson Coal and Iron Company, which owned over 7,000 acres of land adjacent to his. Water was critical to mine the coal and iron this land contained and to provide agricultural capability. Tapping South Boulder Creek at the mouth of the canyon, an eleven-mile "canal" was built along the northern slope of the Marshal bluffs and across what was later named Davidson Mesa, continuing north and east through Boulder Valley. This $13,000 investment in Davidson ditch offered a rare opportunity not only to mine, but to create and market arable land in Boulder County. The subsequent improvements to his own farm made it one of the finest in this area at the turn of the century.


William A. Davidson.  Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.

Newspaper clipping from Boulder County News, Jan 2, 1874


Dry Creek Davidson Ditch


Dry Creek Davidson Ditch

Established: May 1 1863

Priority Number: 7

Acres under ditch: 1805 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek via New Dry Creek Carrier


Dry Creek Davidson Headgate.

This place has changed very little in the last 100 years, perhaps because it has been farmed continuously.

William A. Davidson built the Davidson-Dry Creek Ditch, as well as the Davidson Ditch. When you read his biography, you can understand how this extremely energetic and prolific man could say of constructing the six mile long Davidson Dry Creek Ditch, “Work of construction occupied but few days.”

This pay receipt for work on Davidson-Dry Creek illustrates why your mother would threaten you with growing up to be a ditch digger, if you did not pay attention in school.


William A. Davidson. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.

Dry Creek #2


Dry Creek #2 Ditch

Established: May 1 1864

Priority Number: 9

Acres under ditch: 2375 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

Boulder’s settlers searched for ways to make ditch-digging easier. Boulder’s creeks have alluvial fan characteristics, with multiple braided channels. Most channels only carry water during major flood events. Pioneers called these dry channels “dry creeks”, and used them as routes for irrigation water. Dry Creek #2 Ditch uses an old remnant channel of South Boulder Creek, as its course.

In 1905, Boulder pioneer George F. Chase testified in court:

“I have farmed since ‘59 on the South Boulder 3 miles east of town. This ditch, Dry Creek #2, runs through my place. This ditch isn’t a ‘made’ ditch all the way through. The water is let into an old channel, and goes down through all these farms. Probably that’s the reason it’s named Dry Creek.”

The fact that some Boulder ditches follow old alluvial channels has implications for flood-plain modeling and planning. The old channel has remained viable, with the ditch in place, and flood-waters will flow down it again in a major flood event.

Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History



Dry Creek #2 Ditch headgate.


East Boulder Ditch


East Boulder Ditch

Established: April 1 1862

Priority Number: 5

Acres under ditch: 1115 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek


Almost 90% of East Boulder Ditch shares are owned by Xcel Energy today. Xcel uses East Boulder Ditch to fill Valmont Reservoir. They also transport other shares of water which they have bought from Dry Creek #2, Jones and Donnelly, and Enterprise Ditches, through East Boulder Ditch and into Valmont Reservoir.

East Boulder Ditch was also known as Pancost Ditch in its early days. Charles S. Pancost was an early Valmont farmer and probably helped construct the ditch. Pancost grew prize-winning wheat and started a vineyard.

Pancost also built the first recorded reservoir along South Boulder Creek sometime around 1863. Originally, the area was probably a swampy slough, which he enlarged and filled with East Boulder Ditch. Pancost Lake had a decreed water right for 93 acre feet, which would have made it about the size of Viele Lake. Pancost used the reservoir for raising “sun-fish” which he sold to miners, turning a tidy profit.

Pancost Lake is now buried under Leggett-Owens Reservoir, and is part of the Valmont Lakes complex. The lake has been expanded several times and has gone by many names over the years: Pancost Lake, Owens Lake, Leggett Reservoir, Harlow Reservoir, and now Leggett-Owens Reservoir. This challenged Boulder’s premier map-maker, Henry Drumm, as you can see in his 1926 map. He had a hard time fitting all the names and decrees in.

East Boulder Ditch traverses the hills surrounding Sombrero Marsh on three of its sides. Seepage from the unlined earthen ditch recharges the groundwater and flows down into the marsh, replenishing its wetlands.


East Boulder Ditch is “ground zero” for the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse. The banks of the ditch boast the highest endangered mouse densities in Boulder County. This has presented a big problem for the ditch company: they are caught between a mouse and a hard place.

Ditches require constant maintenance, to keep the channel clear and to be able to transport water safely. However, it is very difficult to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and perform regular ditch maintenance at the same time. Without maintenance, ditches eventually fill and become unusable. The mouse habitat would disappear. But the maintenance itself can damage habitat and mice. Stay tuned, as this conundrum continues to play out in Boulder.

Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Enterprise Ditch


Enterprise Ditch

Established: February 1 1865

Priority Number: 12

Acres under ditch: 1880 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

In 1909, there was still not an accurate and easy way to measure water; the Parshall flume had not been invented yet. There must have been some terrible never-ending arguments about the division of water.

As a result, a state employee, perhaps a water commissioner or a State Engineer photographed headgates, measuring flumes and divider boxes along South Boulder Creek ditches. He meticulously annotated our landscape 100 years ago. We have used his photographs extensively in our re-photographic survey, and much more could be learned from them. I am eternally grateful to this un-named man’s compulsively meticulous habits. He has enriched our Ditch Project.



He titled this photograph “Enterprise Ditch, Division Box near E. B. Wilson’s, Looking N.E., picture taken Nov. 9, 1909.” There is a small sign on the side of the division box in the photograph. The “E” stands for “Enterprise.” “11” means the 11th structure he photographed. The numbers below are the date he took this photo, near E. B. Wilson’s turkey pen, just before Thanksgiving, a century ago. Thank you!

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Enterprise Ditch has gone through some big changes over the years. Originally, the ditch flowed through land now covered by both Hillcrest and Baseline Reservoirs. The branch of the Enterprise that went through Baseline still emerges from the northeast corner of Baseline and continues on down-ditch. The other branch that went through Hillcrest has been re-routed to skirt the side of the Valmont Lakes, and continue to its terminus.

Stock certificate courtesy of Xcel Energy.


Farmer's Ditch


Farmers Ditch

Established: October 1, 1862

Priority Number: 14

Acres under ditch: 3000 originally



“We hereby sirtify that the cost of building and compleating the Farmers Ditch for the first three miles ?? about completed will be Twenty five hundred dollars. And judging from the cost of the work already done, the cost of building and compleating the remaining ?? miles will be Three Thousand Dollars being a total of Five Thousand five hundred dollars.”

J A Tourtellot, Treas & Director
Jerome Thomas, Sect & Director

Farmers Ditch was the biggest most ambitious ditch of its day. J. A. Tourtellot and Jerome Thomas built the 8 mile long ditch for $5500. This was a huge sum in its day, but North Boulder farmers were eager for ditch water. Within 10 years, the company had paid off its debt.

Farmers Ditch was the first source of water for most of the City of Boulder, delivering water to residences down 7 laterals through town. It also supplied water to power a flour mill near the present-day Justice Center.

Farmers Ditch installed the largest siphon in Boulder, under North Boulder Park in 1953. This siphon eliminated 3300 feet of leaky ditch which had turned the park into a swamp, and freed up 16 building sites.

On average, Farmers Ditch is turned on in early May, and is run until mid-September, or about 112 days. 

Clipping and letter courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Goodhue Ditch


Goodhue Ditch

Established: June 1 1873

Priority Number: 29

Acres under ditch: 5425 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek


Detail from the Goodhue stock certificate.

Abner’s wife Clara was stockholder #1 on the Goodhue, which was originally called the South Boulder & Rock Creek Ditch.

Abner Goodhue was born in Canada in 1832, but spent his youth in Minnesota. As a young man, he traveled throughout the west and worked with Buffalo Bill Cody in the late 1860’s, supplying buffalo meat to the railroad crews.

Around 1870, Goodhue passed through the Rock Creek Station, a stage stop near present day Broomfield, with 100 head of horses. The owners were anxious to sell the station, because the new railroad was cutting into their business. In 1871, Goodhue bought the station and settled down. 

In 1873, Goodhue and his neighbors worked together to hand dig the 20 mile-long South Boulder and Rock Creek Ditch, and the 10 acre Goodhue Reservoir #1. They enlarged and extended the ditch in 1875 and 1885, filing for more water, adding 2 laterals, and enlarging the ditch. The name of the ditch was eventually changed to the Goodhue Ditch.

By 1896, Goodhue owned 1440 acres. He specialized in horse breeding, and raised cattle as well. He died in 1912, shortly after building a lovely Craftsman style bungalow for his wife Clara and 3 sons. Clara and her sons continued to run the farm and ditch company for another 12 years, but a drought and national “farm crisis” did them in. The bank foreclosed on their farm in 1924.

The Goodhue Ditch has about 400 users and 2 major laterals. The north lateral goes out to Erie and the south lateral to Broomfield. The Goodhue fills Sterns Lake and Waneka Reservoir in Lafayette.

Abner Goodhue.

Stock Certificate and photo courtesy of Boulder County Open Space Department.

Green Ditch


Green Ditch

Established: September 15 1862

Priority Number: 13

Acres under ditch: approximately 5-600 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Green Ditch diverts for irrigation. On average, Green Ditch is turned on about April 30, and is run until about October 11 depending on water demands, or about 152 days. In dry years the ditch has run for as little as 102 days and in wet years it has run for as long as 203 days. George C. Green was a large property owner in the area on the 1881 map of Boulder.

George C. Green's land, as shown on this 1881 map.
Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Howard Ditch


Howard Ditch

Established: April 1 1860

Priority Number: 1

Acres under ditch: 1925 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

The Howard Ditch is named for Norman Ross Howard, a Boulder pioneer who came to Colorado by ox team in 1859, looking for gold. After a short stint in the mountains near Idaho Springs, he settled on 160 acres along South Boulder Creek near Baseline Road, and plowed a small ditch from the creek down to his fields.

Three partners on his ditch included his neighbors, A. G. Burke, Mrs. Mary Hake, and George F. Chase. Chase came to Boulder in the ‘59 Gold Rush, and built the first two-story log house in the city. He was instrumental in the building of the Congregational Church downtown, and according to the Daily Camera, “was one of the enterprising pioneers who helped…secure the University of Colorado to Boulder.” Chase’s farm was where Flatirons Golf Course is today.

The Howard has one major lateral called the Super-Phostical. This lateral was probably originally named the “super-fossicula”, meaning “small upper ditch,” by Frederick Chase, George’s son. Frederick was a Yale University professor of astronomy who settled back in Boulder when he retired from teaching. Over the years, the Latin name has probably been colloquialized into “Super-Phostical.”

Today, users of Howard Ditch water include the cities of Lafayette and Louisville, Flatirons Golf Course, which fills its lake and waters with the Howard, Burke School, Boulder Open Space, Eldora Mountain Resort, and several small private owners.

Stock certificate courtesy of Howard Ditch Company.  Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Jones and Donnelly Ditch


Jones & Donnelly Ditch

Established: May 1 1860

Priority Number: 3

Acres under ditch: 360 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

The Jones & Donnelly Ditch is named for two early Valmont settlers: T. J. “Tommy” Jones and Edward Donnelly, who both owned farms in the area. Serving only 360 acres, it was probably a small hand-dug ditch built by a couple of property owners.

Today, Xcel Energy owns about half of Jones & Donnelly shares and uses them to fill the Valmont Lakes. The remaining shares are very valuable to farmers, because they can provide late season water to crops. Jones & Donnelly water rights are “senior” to many other ditches. This means that they can usually keep their ditch running well into the fall, long after the creek drops and cuts off other “junior” ditches.

The Jones & Donnelly Ditch and the Butte Mill Ditch are “sister” ditches. Jones & Donnelly dumps into the Butte Mill, which carries its water out to farmers further east. Jones & Donnelly water allows farmers such as CURE Organic Farms to raise late season vegetables for the Farmers Market. The 2 ditches also have overlapping boards of directors, and many of the same shareholders.

According to the History of Clear Creek and Boulder Valleys, Colorado, Tommy J. Jones (1820-1897) had “always lived on the border” and was “a true type of the pioneers of the West.” Born in Illinois, he moved west to Nebraska for a few years. Then, with his wife and 3 children:

“he took the Pike’s Peak gold fever, and came to this country arriving in Boulder the 14th of May, 1859, with the wagon loads of goods, which he sold off immediately, and went to mining in Gold Run. Returned in the fall of that year, and the following spring brought out his family and went to Gold Dirt, where he sold goods, and built the big Gold Dirt Hotel. But, before going to the mountains, in July, 1859, he took up his Valmont ranche, to have something to fall back on, and he fell back to it in 1862, where he is living at present, most of the time keeping the only hotel of the place, having, also, a valuable farm that has never known the ‘ornament’ of a mortgage.”

This building was originally the stage stop and boarding house of T.J. "Tommy" Jones, in Valmont. It was built of whip-sawn lumber, ca. 1860.


The Donnelly homestead at the base of Valmont Butte, 1893. 

Photos courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Leggett Ditch


Leggett Ditch

Established: May 1 1868

Priority Number: 30

Acres under ditch: 5145 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Leggett was once two separate structures: Leggett Ditch and Revolution Ditch, which are now the same physical structure. Leggett ditch diverts for irrigation and storage in Panama Reservoir. On some old maps, the Leggett ditch is called the Charity Ditch. Jeremiah Leggett was a Boulder pioneer.



Jeremiah and Augusta Leggett settled on land belonging to Porter Hinman, Augusta’s father, in 1866. Stone, History of Colorado, Vol IV. Portrait courtesy of Ann Dyni. Advertisement from the 1881 map of Boulder, map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Leyner Cottonwood Ditch


Leyner-Cottonwood Ditch

Established: April 1 1865

Priority Number: 13

Acres under ditch: 7055 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek via New Dry Creek Carrier



The Leyner Cottonwood Ditch started out as two ditches: the Leyner Ditch and the Cottonwood #1 Ditch. Both ditches were supplied by the Dry Creek Carrier Ditch, which diverts South Boulder Creek water over into the Dry Creek drainage. In 1899, the two ditches decided to consolidate into one, to move all the water into the higher Cottonwood Ditch, and to abandon the lower Leyner Ditch.

The ditch is named for Peter A. Leyner, who immigrated to the United States from Bavaria when he was 10 years old. His family settled in Ohio, and Peter worked at farming, shop-keeping and real estate. He married Maria in 1859 when he was 27, and 3 months later headed out to Colorado by ox team with his bride, to seek their fortunes.

They first settled in Left Hand Canyon, where they grew vegetables to supply the miners. In 1863, they moved out to the Boulder Valley and rented a farm from William Davidson. In 1865, they finally were able to buy their own 160 acre farm. Leyner immediately started construction of his ditch and filed for water rights. Over the next 15 years, he bought more land until he had over 700 acres, most of which was under irrigation.


Peter A Leyner and Maria Duke Leyner
The Leyner family home on 107th and Jasper Rd, ca 1878 

Stock Certificate courtesy of Leyner Ditch Company.  Photos courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Lower Boulder Ditch


Lower Boulder Ditch

Established: October 1, 1859

Priority Number: 1

Acres under ditch: 14,980 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Lower Boulder Ditch was the very first ditch to file for water on Boulder Creek. They beat Marinus Smith by one month. Marinus may have dug his ditch first, but Lower Boulder was the first to file, and in Colorado, the filing date is what counts. Lower Boulder has the most senior right in eastern Colorado.

Lower Boulder has been expanded and lengthened over the years. Today it is 32 miles long, and flows out past Frederick to just north of Fort Lupton. Lower Boulder is also now part of the C-BT system, and carries C-BT water out to the South Platte. Lower Boulder Ditch Company built Baseline Reservoir, starting construction in 1911. They also fill several reservoirs in Weld County.

Lower Boulder water is very valuable, since it is #1 in priority; many cities have bought shares and transferred them out of the ditch and into their municipal treatment plants. Only about one third of the original acres remain under the ditch.


Lower Boulder Ditch stock certificate, courtesy Lower Boulder Ditch Company.


This immense minutes book from the Lower Boulder Ditch Company is 4 inches thick, and covered in red and gold tooled leather.  Photo courtesy of John Waugh.


Marshallville Ditch


Marshallville Ditch

Established: June 1 1865

Priority Number: 14

Acres under ditch: 2275 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek



The Marshallville Ditch is used mainly for agriculture today, growing hay, alfalfa, grain and pasture grass. 10 Shares of the ditch were bought by the city of Louisville and transferred out of the ditch into the Louisville treatment system. The ditch is also used to fill Teller Lakes.



Early shareholders of the Marshallville Ditch include some well known names in Boulder: Tim Shanahan (Shanahan Ridge), Albert Viele (Viele Lake), and Margaret Dunn (Dunn-DeBacker house near the Mesa Trail). Other early shareholders included O. C. Coffin, Thomas Barnes, William Grossbeck, Robert Montgomery, Simon McGann, and H. S. McGilvery.


Colorado’s entire water system has always been based on a specific measured amount of water going to each user. However, at first there was not an accurate way to measure water. In 1922 Ralph Parshall invented a simple measuring flume that changed everything. Over the next decade, the State Engineer began requiring that all ditches in Colorado install measuring flumes. These documents outline the Marshallville’s compliance with that requirement.

Map courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History. Stock Certificate and minutes courtesy of Marshallville Ditch Company.

McGinn Ditch


McGinn Ditch

Established: May 1 1860

Priority Number: 2

Acres under ditch: 1925 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

“I used to get a call every three weeks from the nuns or the father out at the abbey. The nuns would call and say,’ Father Ed is taking all the water that we are supposed to have.’ And then I would get a call from Father Ed who was in charge of the cemetery. ‘Do something about those damn sisters! They pulled my block out and I can’t dig, the ground is so hard.’ They had the same water right you see, but they were quarrelling over how to divide it up.”

--Bill Suitts, President of the McGinn Ditch, 1972-2005

The McGinn Ditch starts close to where the Turnpike crosses South Boulder Creek, and heads northeast to 75th Street. When is crosses 75th, the McGinn becomes the Burke-Hodgson Lateral, a carrier ditch which delivers McGinn water further east. The Burke-Hodgson lateral eventually runs into the Davidson Ditch. There, the two ditches join and become the Agitator Ditch. The Agitator Ditch has no water rights of its own. It acts as a carrier ditch for Davidson and McGinn water. It ends in Bullhead Gulch, and any tail water flows down the Gulch and back to Boulder Creek.

The City of Boulder is the main owner of McGinn shares, which are valuable because they are very senior water. Louisville and Lafayette are still buying up shares of McGinn water. Water remaining in the ditch is used for agriculture on City Open Space, at the old Benedictine Abbey property, the Suitts property, and Anderson Farms. It also fills several ponds. The McGinn typically runs from May 1st to early October.


From the minutes of the McGinn Ditch Company, June 6th, 1888. Shares in the ditch company were given to the Benedictine Abbey, in exchange for work on the ditch. Two brothers, John and Edward McGinn were the original owners of the McGinn Ditch, along with the Benedictine Abbey and John DeBaker.

Minutes courtesy of City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.


New Dry Creek Carrier Ditch


New Dry Creek Carrier

Established: unknown

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

This ditch is a bit of plumbing that takes South Boulder creek water over to ditches on Dry Creek. It does not have its own water right. Rather it transports water for other ditches, and they are the ones with rights to South Boulder Creek water. The Dry Creek ditches together maintain the New Dry Creek Carrier Ditch. Originally, this ditch flowed through land now covered with Baseline Reservoir. When the reservoir was built, the New Dry Creek Carrier was re-routed. Cottonwood #2, Leyner Cottonwood, Davidson-Dry Creek, Andrews Farwell, and Lewis H Davidson ditches all use the New Dry Creek Carrier.


The New Dry Creek Carrier Ditch as it is diverted past Baseline Reservoir. Photo by Jon Hurd.


North Boulder Farmer's Ditch


North Boulder Farmer's Ditch

Established: June 1 1862

Priority Number: 11

Acres under ditch: 2600 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

North Boulder Farmers Ditch shares a headgate on Boulder Creek with the Boulder White Rock Ditch and the Boulder Left Hand Ditch. North Boulder Farmers diverts for irrigation. A portion of the shares have been bought and transferred to Boulder and Left Hand and the cities of Boulder and Nederland.




North Boulder Farmers starts in Boulder’s Central Park. North Boulder Farmers, Boulder & White
Rock
, and Boulder & Left Hand all share this same headgate, which is due east of the Broadway
Bridge over Boulder Creek.

Painting by Elizabeth Black.

Shearer Ditch


Schearer Ditch

Established: June 1 1860

Priority Number: 4

Acres under ditch: 801 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

Schearer is an unincorporated ditch which was owned by the single property owner that owned the land it irrigated. It is now owned by Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks and used to irrigate their agricultural lands. There is mention of an H. T. Shearer in some early Boulder documents. On the 1888 District 6 map this ditch may have been named the Doggett Ditch.



Duane Myers, Ditch Rider for the Schearer Ditch

Silver Lake Ditch


Silver Lake Ditch

Established: February 28 1888

Priority Number: 48

Acres under ditch: 1000 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

Silver Lake Ditch, the last ditch built in Boulder, was conceived by George Oliver and James P. Maxwell, who owned property on the high dry mesas of North Boulder. They were late to the water game, but they knew the rules well. There was little water left in the creek for their junior ditch, so they had to develop a new water source. They also needed a ditch which was quite high above the town, to be able to get Boulder Creek water to their land.

Construction began in 1887 when Maxwell dammed first Silver Lake, and then Island Lake, just below the Arapaho Glacier. Ditch construction began in 1888, with 5 wooden flumes, totaling 1300 feet, pinned to the Boulder Canyon walls, and a 185 foot long tunnel dug through Elephant Buttress. Silver Lake Ditch flows just below Maxwell’s old house, which was on the mesa above Linden St.

Maxwell sold the Silver Lake Ditch to W. W. Degge in 1907. At the turn of the century, development companies across the west were buying dry lands, building canals, and selling off the newly irrigated tracts of land for what was supposed to be a tidy profit. It usually didn’t work out the way they planned however, and most went bankrupt. Degge, following their business model, bought the ditch and swaths of North Boulder land, and vigorously promoted Wellington Gardens. He built Mesa Park Reservoir (Wonderland Lake) and Mesa Reservoir (Hank Roberts Lake), and attempted to sell off small farms. Unfortunately, the ditch was not able to deliver the amounts of water he promised, and much of his scheme did not come to fruition.

By 1947, the ditch had fallen into such disrepair under Degge family management that the users, including Ev Long, bought the ditch from the Degges and set about repairing it. Over the next decade the 5 wooden flumes were replaced with the steel pipes that you now see hanging on the canyon walls.

21 year old J. P. Maxwell rode into Denver in 1860 and went straight to mining in Central City and Lump Gulch. In 1863, he came to Boulder, built a lumber mill, built a toll road up Boulder Canyon, and surveyed the first municipal water system. He made extensive surveys of the Boulder area as deputy U.S. Mine & Land Surveyor, served in the territorial legislature and the state senate, and was an early mayor of Boulder. He ran the appropriation hearings in Boulder in 1882, and later became the first State Engineer of Colorado. Maxwell Street and Maxwell Lake are named for him.


From W. W. Degge’s promotional materials. Degge was indicted for postal fraud in 1909.

Poster courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

Smith and Goss Ditch


Smith Goss Ditch

Established: November 15 1859

Priority Number: 2

Acres under ditch: 400 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek



As more and more ditches claimed Boulder water, disputes multiplied about who had what rights. It took a while for government to catch up with what was happening on the ground. Finally, in 1882, adjudication hearings were held in Boulder to establish, once and for all, the priority, size and water rights of each Boulder ditch. J. P. Maxwell presided. The handwritten transcript of this hearing is at the Carnegie Branch Library. The hand-written testimony above is Marinus Smith’s testimony about the Smith-Goss Ditch.

Marinus Smith rolled into Boulder from Illinois in June 1859. He was a veteran of the California gold fields. This time, he decided, he would make money by supplying miners, not being one.

Smith immediately acquired 220 acres of rich bottom land along Boulder Creek, in what is now the Goss-Grove and Highland Lawn neighborhoods. With four friends, he set about digging the Smith-Goss Ditch. Water was let into the ditch during the summer, and Marinus officially filed on it November 20th, 1859. Marinus had been in Boulder only 5 months.

The short stretch of the Smith-Goss Ditch in front of Naropa University along Arapahoe Avenue is the oldest surviving man-made structure in Boulder.


Marinus Smith.

Photo and testimony courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.

South Boulder and Bear Creek Ditch


South Boulder & Bear Creek Ditch

Established: May 25 1862

Priority Number: 6

Acres under ditch: 2265 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

South Boulder & Bear Creek diverts for some irrigation. A portion of the original irrigation rights have been changed to include all uses and shares are owned by the Town of Lafayette. On the 1888 District 6 map this ditch is named the McIntosh Ditch. In 1907 it was called the Viele Ditch.



Viele Lake. Photo by David Mendosa.

South Boulder Canyon Ditch


South Boulder Canyon Ditch

Established: May 15 1870

Priority Number: 21

Acres under ditch: 5775 originally

Water Source: South Boulder Creek

South Boulder Canyon diverts for some irrigation. A portion of the original irrigation rights have been changed to include municipal use and are owned by the Town of Erie. Shares are diverted for Erie's direct use and for storage in Erie Reservoir.

The completed fish ladder.


Here, a fish ladder is constructed on South Boulder Creek at the South Boulder Canyon Ditch headgate.


Wellman Feeder Canal


Wellman Ditch (now Canal) **Ditch Abandoned

Established: May 1 1878

Priority Number: 39

Acres under ditch: 1200 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

The 3 Wellman brothers arrived in Boulder, intent on prospecting.

"The eldest two, Henry and Luther, had been to California and acquired a love for adventure, and a taste for the exhilaration of gold hunting, and when the first news flashed through the East that gold dust had been found in Cherry Creek, in the region of Pikes Peak, they resolved to go. They took their youngest brother Sylvanus along with them, and outfitting from Dixon Illinois, rolled out from there west-ward bound the 24th day of March, 1859, with one wagon, drawn by 3 yoke of oxen.

"They first saw the Boulder Valley the first day of August 1859. The fame of Gold Run, and the Horsfall and Scott lodes had already reached them, and they considered that they had occasion to go no further, either to find gold, or a rich soil, or a beautiful country. There was one point between the butte and the base of the mountains where the bottom land of the North Boulder Creek was wider than at other places, and the meadow grass for mowing more rank. The Wellman boys drove to that very place, ending their long journey there, and pitched their tents on a pleasant building spot." Boulder County News, March 16 1877

Henry Wellman, 38, and his brothers Luther, 33, and Sylvanus, 25, came from an old, respected farming family in Pennsylvania. They each had years of journeyman work in lumber, butchery, tanning, engineering, and mining, and brought these skills with them-but saw in the broad, treeless expanses of Boulder, the potential for farming.

The Wellman brothers acquired a section of land (one square mile, or 640 acres) just over a mile east of the 20 log cabins that made up downtown Boulder, along what would become Arapahoe Road. Within days they plowed and planted an acre of turnips. The crop was hardly out of the ground when a storm of locusts descended consuming everything and leaving a foot-deep pile of the bugs. Undeterred, the brothers decided to plant wheat, and dug small ditches, to draw water off Boulder Creek eastward onto their land.

Each brother married and in 1874 built stone houses on their section, near 48th street. In the late 1870s, Luther and Henry sold their shares and moved on to other areas, but Sylvanus and his family remained until his death in 1896, at 62.

In 1881, Sylvanus testified in the adjudication hearings held in Boulder regarding the water rights of the Wellman Ditch:

"The grasslands in the bottoms received their water from the overflow of the Boulder Creek..., and then for farm lands we had small ditches from Boulder Creek. Since the summer of 1859, about 800 acres were supplied in that way.... (But then), the volume of water in the creek having been reduced by the construction of (other) ditches,...we could not get the water out of the small ditches, and the water in the creek has not overflowed on the grasslands. We were (then) compelled to construct this (large) Wellman Ditch."

It appears that the Wellmans were on the losing end of the water game. Their farming practices depended on large amounts of water coming down Boulder Creek. But as their neighbors diverted more and more water and creek flows diminished, they were left high and dry. They had not aggressively developed their water nor filed on it, as their neighbors had.

The original irrigation rights on Wellman Ditch have been abandoned, and the ditch has been filled. Xcel Energy owns rights to use the ditch to divert water from Boulder Creek to storage in Hillcrest Reservoir, in the Valmont Lakes Complex.


Picture and testimony courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library of Local History.