Press "Enter" to skip to content

Sources and suggestions for additional reading

Sidebar by Ed Quillen

Water Conservancy Districts – April 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Most sources are indicated in the articles, but for those who are suspicious or curious …

John Wesley Powell’s attitude about agriculture comes from an interview with Clay Jenkinson, now of Reno, Nev. The informal interview was in a saloon after Jenkinson spoke either in Buena Vista or Gunnison — some memories are hazy.

Jenkinson is best known for impersonating Thomas Jefferson (“The Thomas Jefferson Hour” at 2 p.m. Sundays on KRCC, and it seems likely that he will appear in Westcliffe in May), but he also does Powell (“It’s so easy I can do it with one arm tied behind my back,”) and said that his extensive reading of Powell’s works showed that Powell, like Brigham Young, was a strong believer in agriculture as the best basis for a sustainable society in the West.

The other Powell material comes from Beyond the 100th Meridian [pp. 214-231], a “career biography” of Powell by Wallace Stegner, and The Great Plains [pp. 419-20], by Walter Prescott Webb. Both books are well worth reading — not just because they’re informative, but they’re so well written that they’re also entertaining.

The Good Neighbor Guidebook for Colorado: Necessary Information and Good Advice for Living in and Enjoying Today’s Colorado, edited by Nancy S. Greif and Erin J. Johnson explains Colorado water law and adminisration in a fairly understandable manner — it’s one of those subjects that can never be made really simple.

Other good general explanations are in Water Law in a Nutshell by David S. Getches, and A Landowner’s Guide to Western Water Rights, by Mary Ellen Wolfe. I drew on these to refresh my understanding of the differences between traditional common-law riparian water rights and our system of prior appropriation.

The information on Colorado’s water districts mostly comes from Evolution and Administration of Colorado Water Law: 1876-1976 by E. E. Radosevich, K.C. Nobe, D. Allardice, and C. Kirkwood. The quote is from page 160. There’s also some information that came from Ralph Curtis, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, in a 1998 interview.

General information about the Newlands Act and the Bureau of Reclamation is from the relevant entries in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, edited by Howard R. Lamar.

The Colorado-Big Thompson information is from The Last Water Hole in the West, a 1992 history of the project by Dan Tyler. Note that transbasin diversions are usually named Source-Destination, as in Fryingpan-Arkansas (water is taken from the Frying Pan River on the Western Slope and put in the Arkansas River on the Eastern Slope) and Animas-La Plata.

If you’re not sick of reading about water by now, Last Water Hole is a pretty good book, although it is an authorized history and thus tends to gloss over certain matters, like all the deceptive spin that NCWCD manager Larry Simpson provided in Middle Park in the late 1970s when he was trying to minimize opposition to the district’s Windy Gap Project, which was yet another diversion of Colorado River water out of Grand County.

The information about the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District comes from its website ( and U.S. Census Bureau estimates of 2000 population — the real numbers should be out any day now.

Water consumption in the Arkansas Basin is from the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute in Fort Collins.

Gregory Hobbs, Jr., a justice of the Supreme Court of Colorado, graciously responded to an e-mail plea for help, and provided much information and informed speculation about the legal and legislative history of water conservancy districts. Various of his papers can be found when you’re surfing the Web, and all that I’ve encountered so far have been good reading; they’re in English, not legalese.

And if you haven’t read The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols, you’ve missed a wonderful novel whose plot rotates around water in a high desert like ours.

While researching these articles, I was talking with Terry Scanga about the institutional memory of the water conservancy district board, and how various members had a thorough knowledge of certain water ditches — their origins, maintenance difficulties, litigation, etc.,”Sounds like there’s a book in almost any ditch, if someone had the time to research and write it,” I commented, and Terry agreed.

No local ditch has attained that honor, but a few days later, I received a copy of a book that is the history of a Colorado ditch: The Farmers’ High Line Canal and Reservoir Company: A Century of Change on Clear Creek, by Gregory M. Silkensen of Denver.

The Clear Creek in question is the one that flows through Golden, not our Clear Creek that tumbles past Vicksburg.

But the detailed story of one water company and its struggles — construction, storage, mergers, finances, pollution from mines and mills, lawsuits, acquisition of agricultural water by growing suburbs — is a story that could stand for many others.

Although the book has its tedious spots, it does tell an important tale, and it gives a good general idea of how water works on the ground in Colorado.