1909 water war breaks out at the eastern end of Grand Valley | Western Colorado

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To note: This is the first of two columns relating to the history of the irrigation districts of Palisade County and Mesa.

Whiskey is drinkable, as the old saying goes, but water was definitely to fight in the eastern Great Valley in the summer of 1909.

Ditch riders were replaced, court orders were issued, and rebel irrigators were arrested and fined.

A special train transported hundreds of angry water users from Palisade and Clifton to the Mesa County courthouse in late July. There they awaited a judge’s ruling on water issues for the Palisade Irrigation District, which operates the Price Ditch.

Irrigators in the eastern end of the district wanted their barriers left alone by the ditch riders so they could use as much water as they wanted. But due to supply issues, this has left irrigators in the western end of the district near Clifton without sufficient water for their orchards and crops.

Eventually, the Palisade Irrigation District teamed up with its neighbor, the Mesa County Irrigation District, in 1910 and 1911 to build a new diversion dam to make the water supply more reliable.

In less than a decade, this new system would be replaced by another dam and distribution system – a system that still works today.

The Palisade Irrigation District holds some of the oldest water rights on the Colorado River, dating back to 1890, when a man named Frank Burger applied for private water rights for what was then called the Mount Lincoln ditch. The company later operated two canals.

The Mount Lincoln Ditch system underwent several changes of ownership until 1904. Then the irrigators in the area formed the Palisade Irrigation District and purchased all the land and what was known as Canal n. ° 1 of the company.

Two years later, another group of irrigators formed the Mesa County Irrigation District and purchased the water and land associated with Canal # 2, now called the Stubb Ditch. The two districts had separate small dams and persistent difficulties with their water supply.

The Price Ditch problems in 1909 actually stemmed from the recurring high water in what was then called the Grand River. The excess water washed away the riverbed where the Price Ditch bypass began, preventing the Palisade Irrigation District from simultaneously meeting its water needs.

As a result, the board of directors and the district superintendent created four sub-districts. Then they asked the ditch drivers to start rationing the water, making it available to each sub-district every few days.

This meant shutting off the gates on the east end for several days in a row so that the irrigators on the west end – up to present-day Route 29 – – also had water. But that did not suit orchard growers in the eastern region.

“Growers at Mass Protest: Orchards Under Ditch Price Claim Water Is Not Equally Divided,” read a July 17, 1909 headline in The Daily Sentinel. “New ditch runner requested. “

The accompanying article stated that the orchard owners demanded “that all the gates at the upper end of the valley be open and that every grower under the grand canal be given their full water every day.”

The same article said that “the desired changes will probably be made immediately”.

But it was not.

On July 22, the irrigation district obtained a temporary court injunction against some fifty eastern irrigators.

The Sentinel said the defendants “defied the board of directors, the superintendent, the ditch riders, refused to allow the ditch riders… to close the gates near their ranches, but persisted in taking water… . “

As a result, no water has flowed into the orchards in the western end of the district, and if this situation is not corrected quickly, the orchards in the west “will be ruined or irreparably damaged,” the newspaper said.

On July 24, the newspaper reported that Dr. JH Divine, “one of the richest and best known fruit growers in the end of the Palisade Valley,” was arrested by the Mesa County Sheriff. Charles Schrader for contempt of court after allegedly violating the injunction.

Divine told the newspaper that he and other producers had indeed refused to allow a ditch rider to close their doors. But, he said, that was before they got the notice of the injunction.

On the morning of July 27, the Sentinel said, “a special train left Palisade … carrying about 200 fruit growers and other citizens” to Grand Junction. Another 100 people arrived in cars “and vehicles of all kinds”.

They were awaiting a decision from a county judge on whether the temporary injunction would be made permanent. However, at around 10:30 a.m. that morning, the judge said the case was closed and the injunction was lifted.

“This leaves the Palisade irrigation district exactly where it was before the temporary injunction was obtained,” the Sentinel added. “For this reason, many producers have today been heard to express their dissatisfaction with the rejection of the case.”

Meanwhile, the water battle continued. On August 10, the Sentinel reported that JE Griffith and Guy Tilden, “two fruit growers from Palisade, were arrested for unlawfully interfering with the waters of the Palisade Irrigation District”.

A third man, August Heggbloom, was arrested the next day on a similar charge. All three were convicted of the charges and fined $ 10 each, plus court costs.

The 1909 water war seemed to evaporate soon after. In October 1909, engineer Charles Vail had drawn up plans for the construction of a single diversion dam on the Colorado River to serve both the irrigation districts of Palisade and Mesa County.

In December, voters in the Palisade Irrigation District approved bonds totaling $ 88,000 to pay their share of the work, and construction of the new dam began in January 1910. But a harsh winter delayed work on the project. , and it was not completed until after 1911.

Meanwhile, disputes with water users continued. In March 1910, the Rider of the Ditch reported that 12 new entrance gates had been built on the main canal, but only three of them had been approved by the board of directors.

The following year, even as the new dam and diversion system were nearing completion, the irrigation districts of Palisade and Mesa County negotiated with the US Reclamation Bureau to participate in the Government Highline Canal project. They hoped that more reliable water supplies could be secured through the government’s plan.

The two districts would remain separate hydraulic entities, but they would be part of the new irrigation system that helped transform much of the Great Valley from 1915.

Sources: Historical editions of The Daily Sentinel via www.newspapers.com; “Chronicles of the History of Palisade / Mesa County Irrigation District”, courtesy of Palisade Irrigation District; Resolutions and correspondence from the Palisade Irrigation District, 1909; interviews with Dan Crabtree, Director of Palisade Irrigation District and Dave Voorhees, Director of Mesa County Irrigation District; “The History of Irrigation in Palisade and East Orchard Mesa, Colorado”, by Palisade Historical Society.

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