Wearing Chief Engineer J.C. Ulrich’s hat at the reservoir — Greg Hobbs

David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention
David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

Here’s a history lesson from Greg Hobbs on the 100th anniversary of Rio Grande Reservoir (celebrated in 2012) where Ulrich grumbled through the construction. Here’s an excerpt:

Ulrich served as Chief Engineer for the reservoir’s construction between the years 1905 to 1912. He wore a gentleman’s hat when on the construction site. I did the same for this year’s August 23 celebration. I spoke for Ulrich in his own words from letters he wrote 100 years ago. He was a stickler for detail and a worrier. He had cause to worry much.

When the Farmers Union Irrigation Company asked him in 1905 to design a reservoir, he had two major worries. First, the United States had embargoed the construction of any reservoirs on the Upper Rio Grande Reservoir within Colorado, as it sorted out the water needs of Texas, New Mexico and the Republic of Mexico.

Second, because the reservoir site sits high above Creede in wild country, Ulrich worried about a possible flood during construction.

In a 1905 letter he wrote, “No reliable information exists as to the maximum discharge of the Rio Grande River at or near the site of this dam, and I do not pretend to know what it is. It presents the appearance, however, of being a very formidable stream when in flood, and it would be very imprudent to undertake the construction of an earthen dam at the point under consideration without making ample provision for the discharge of a very large volume of water while the construction of the dam is under execution.”

A few years later, the United States lifted the embargo, but the Farmers Union Irrigation Company could not afford to build the reservoir. It nevertheless directed Ulrich in 1908 to draw up specifications for the on-site surveys necessary to put out a call for contractor bids.

Leave a Reply