Here’s the third part of Chris Woodka’s series “Taming the Land” detailing the history of water in the Arkansas Valley running in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
Here’s a look at how some key ditches in the valley started and developed:
Fort Lyon Canal: The first headgate was built in the 1860s north of La Junta and served a small ditch with various owners through the 1870s. In the early 1880s, the Arkansas River Land, Town and Canal Co. was formed to expand the ditch. During the next 20 years, a series of promoters came and went creating stormy relations with those who farmed along the canal. Farmers on the ditch finally won a Colorado Supreme Court case in 1903 that gave them control of the ditch as a mutual stock company. The ditch irrigates 94,000 acres under 113 miles and includes two reservoirs.
Rocky Ford Ditch: Started in 1874 by men ranching in the area, and lengthened gradually. It once irrigated 10,000 acres under 20 miles of ditch near Rocky Ford. Sales in the early 1980s and late 1990s have left nearly all of the shares in the hands of Aurora.
Bessemer Ditch: The Big Ditch in South Pueblo was completed in 1874, and the Central Colorado Improvement Co. had plans to irrigate 20,000 acres of the Nolan Land Grant. The Bessemer Irrigating Ditch Co. was not incorporated until 1888, however. The canal was on Colorado Coal & Iron Co. land until 1893, when the company went into receivership and sold the ditch and water rights. The ditch diverted water from the Arkansas River above Pueblo, and now diverts directly from Pueblo Dam. It has water rights dating to 1861, and irrigates 20,000 acres under 43 miles of ditch.
Catlin Canal: Begun in 1884 by men living in the area. The ditch was expanded over time to irrigate 18,000 acres under 40 miles of ditch from Manzanola to Rocky Ford.
Oxford Farmers Ditch: The Enterprise Ditch was dug in 1867, with a diversion two miles west of Nepesta in Pueblo County. The ditch was expanded when the Oxford Ditch took over in 1887. It irrigates up to 6,000 acres, mostly in the Fowler area.
Colorado Canal: Originally called the Bob Creek Canal, T.C. Henry’s original plan for the canal in the late 1880s was a ditch all the way from Boone to Kansas, which combined with other ditches in the area would irrigate 1 million acres. The investors envisioned water stored in Lake Henry and Lake Meredith would be sold to farmers. Work started on the ditch in 1889. The company expanded Twin Lakes in Lake County in the early 1900s and built a transmountain tunnel in the 1930s. The 50-mile canal once irrigated up to 56,000 acres. Today, Colorado Springs and Aurora control most of the ditch shares. The Twin Lakes shares now are primarily in the hands of Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and Aurora.
High Line Canal: Built by the Rocky Ford Canal, Reservoir, Land and Trust Co. after articles of incorporation were signed in 1889, the company later bought water rights dating back to 1861. It irrigates 24,000 acres under 72 miles of ditch. In recent years, it leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs to revive municipal water supplies depleted by drought.
Holbrook Canal: Col. H.R. Holbrook brought a colony of farmers to the valley in 1889, settling on on land that was part of a failed 1860s Indian agriculture experiment. The canal diverts to the north side of the Arkansas River east of Manzanola, irrigating up to 20,000 acres under 15 miles of ditch. Two reservoirs were built along the route.
Otero Canal: The canal was started south of the Arkansas River near Fowler in 1890, another promotion by T.C. Henry. The plan was to irrigate nearly 20,000 acres under a 70-mile ditch. Eventually, the ditch extended 90 miles, but because of junior water rights, it irrigated fewer than 10,000 acres. The company in the early 1900s obtained storage rights at Clear Creek Reservoir, in northern Chaffee County, but sold them along with the reservoir to the Pueblo Board of Water Works in 1954.
Amity Canal: In the late 1890s, the Santa Fe Railroad and Salvation Army brought in colonists, many of whom had been in the United States for only a few weeks and had little money. It operated under various names, and shares were oversold during its colorful history. The system includes five large reservoirs, which are in Kiowa County and fed by the Fort Lyon Canal. The canal irrigated nearly 38,000 acres under 80 miles of ditch running the length of Prowers County. Recently, almost half of the canal’s shares were sold to Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, which plans to build a power plant near Holly.
Some farmers were very successful in the valley in the early years. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain.