Colorado Water 2012: Greeley and Union Colony ditch history

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series written by Jon Monson. Here’s an excerpt:

The Union Colonists had big plans for irrigation ditches. Ditch No. 1 was going to come from the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, roughly where the Larimer and Weld Canal is now, and irrigate almost 40,000 acres. Another 40,000 acres were to be irrigated by the No.2, which eventually became the New Cache Irrigation Company.

They started smaller though, building the No.3 first to irrigate about 3,500 acres. The No.3 was closest to town, actually forming the southern edge of the colony. Located uphill from the Poudre, the ditch could irrigate the parks and gardens of the townspeople as it passed by to irrigate farms east and west of the city.

Back then people were fascinated by the power of water to make the dry prairie bloom with shade and green vegetables. Everyone had a garden. Even the kids diverted water from their parents laterals to play farmer.

The grownup farmers worked hard those first few years, learning how to manage water and how to run a mutual ditch company. Things went well until the summer of 1874 when the Poudre River suddenly dried up. Curious, someone got on their horse and rode up stream to see what was the matter. Turns out the new little town of Camp Collins had thrown a diversion across the Poudre and was taking the entire river to irrigate their farms.

Back in the Union Colony the cry went up, “To your tents boys! Rifles and cartridges!” Remember this was less than ten years after the Civil War. Cooler heads prevailed and the two groups met in Windsor to discuss (argue?) the matter. That summer they decided to allocate the water to who ever needed it most. Now that must have been one tough job. Two years later, when the Colorado Constitution was written, Article XVI Section 6 enshrined the prior appropriation doctrine, “The right to divert the unappropriated waters of any natural stream to beneficial uses shall never be denied.”

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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