Location of Adams County within Colorado ADAMS COUNTY, COLORADO The COGenWeb Project

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This chapter tells part of the history of the farmers of Adams County and their struggle for water. Until finally they were helped by private agencies and government projects to get the water they needed to grow their crops.

This is part of what made Adams County what it is today.

This story has been told around camp fires and bars. It was given to this interviewer by an old gentleman by the name of Tom E. Willson. He is not quite sure where this took place, but to his knowledge it was somewhere around Big Dry near Brighton.

Back in the Spring of 1870, it was a normal spring. Nothing much happening, but it was different somehow. They did not know that times were going to be hard. That summer, the ditch which the farmers dug was running a little low, but they all figured that the runoff was just late. But the water never caine. The ditch ran about one third full all summer. The farmers at the top of the ditch were able to grow 20 to 30 acres, but down towards the bottom, they were only growing 15 to 18 acres apiece. Some of the


crops at the bottom were wi1ting. So one night, one brave farmer went down to the front of the canal to see where all the water was going.

He figured that there was enough water to go around, but for some reason he never got any. When he did, it was not enough to even wet his crops.

On the way up to the top, he got some of his neighbors together. They were wondering where the water was going, too. They figured the spreads at the top had their flood gates wide open. When they got there, they were right. The flood gates were open full blast. When they tried to get the farmers to close up the gates, they were run off.

This would not do at all, so they organized a party to shut off the gates, so they could get some water, too.

The next night they all snuck up to close the gates. The other farmers caught wind of it, and set up ambushes. A few got by, but the others were either scared away, or they got beaten up. The ones who made it closed the gates partially, so some of the water came down stream.


After several disputes in this matter, a meeting of the farmers was called. After much discussion an agreement was made so everyone got their water. It went something like this.

All the farmers at the top half of the canal would water from dusk to midnight, to prevent evaporation. Then the lower half would water from midnight to six in the morning. After this, the farmers got along as far as water goes.

Then came private irrigation corporations, and we will attempt to show you how one of these corporations (The Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company) work and how it is run.

The Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company was started around 1905, when the company began borrowing money, then issuing bonds which levied the land used for irrigation canals, and the reservoirs. Which means the farmers took on the debt (which they paid of f in 1952) by using their land as collateral. In around 1909, Farmer’s Reservoir began to set their division for their four reservoirs and canal system, which they were expanding and building on to at this time. By 1911, the Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company was in full swing.


A rough coverage of the four divisions would be first the Standley Division, named after 0. J. Standley, Secretary of Farmer’s Reservoir, at around 1909 (later president of the company). The Standley Division irrigates Adams County from Westminster through its storage lake, Standley Reservoir, which obtains its water from Clear Creek, diverted by Coors Brewery plant in Golden. The Marshall Division, Farmer’s Reservoirs second division by Boulder, which diverts water to Marshall Reservoir out of south Boulder Creek by El Dorado Springs.

The third division can be found by following the Burlington Canal, located east of the Platte by Denver Union Stockyards. The Burlington Canal diverts water from the Platte, northeast to Barr Lake Division to the Barr Lake Reservoir built in 1905, on top of Oasis Reservoir, built by Burlington Irrigation Company in 1885. In fact, all three of the above divisions had a reservoir built on top of existing reservoirs or lakes. From Barr Lake, water is irrigated northeast from Brighton to east of Ft. Lupton and Greeley, nearly to Kersey. If you keep following the valley, known as B. B. Draw, you run into


the Farmer’s Reservoirs final division. The Milton Division (named after Milton Smith, Vice-President of Farmer’s Reservoir in its beginning) has the Only reservoir which Farmer’s Reservoir built from scratch, and irrigates northeast out of Adams County. This is basically the Farmer’s Reservoir Irrigation System. The system measures 450 miles of canal.

How did Farmer’s Reservoir get the land for its irrigation system? Farmer’s Reservoir either bought the land, or obtained land by condemnation suites. Farmer’s Reservoir also obtained land five to ten feet on each side of the canal.

How does Farmer’s Reservoir get her water? The answer is through decreed right, which is a dubs on the water of a certain river. The company with the oldest decreed rights gets the water first. When the right is fulfilled, the next oldest decreed right gets the water and so on.







The water that a company gets is measured in second feet if the water is moving. A second foot is when 1 cubic foot of water moves 1 foot in one second. This is equal to about 450 gallons of.water per minute. If the water is stationary, it is measured in acre feet. An acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre of land with one foot of water (about 324,000 gallons). So when water is not used for irrigation, it is stored in reservoirs. Though Farmer’s Reservoirs four lakes are not filled to capacity, Barr Lake can hold 32,000 acre feet; Standley, 30,000 acre feet; Marshall, 11,000 acre feet, and Milton, 20,000 acre feet.

What does Farmer’s Reservoirs future look like? Though Farmer’s Reservoir is not looking toward expansion, projects are being built which will help Farmer’s Reservoir and Adams County. One idea which has been around for forty years, is the Narrows Project. This project is to build a storage area for water down near Greeley, in an area called Weldona. This water would be used to supply that area, while water usually used around Greeley is used by Farmer’s Reservoir and other companies for Adams County’s use.


The Narrows Project is not as yet funded, but is expected to be completed in four or five years. Another project, the Northglenn Plan, is also underway. Northglenn, Colorado, has decided to borrow 31 million dollars (to be paid back in 30 years) to build a water treatment plant with 8,000 acre feet storage, along with facilities which will collect rain water. The idea is to let Northglenn use water first, and from the waste water, treat, store, and add 10% more water from rainfall. This water is not fit for drinking, but is very adequate for agricultural use. Another future water source is Chatfield Dam, which is soon to be filled to capacity. So, though water is in shortage, there is a glimmer of light ahead.

This is how it was, is, and possibly will be. Without irrigation we very likely would have been the "Great American Desert."


We sincerely wish to thank Mr. Tom E. Willson, and Mr. Adolph Bohiender.


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