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Dallas Creek Project
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Dallas Creek Project History (PDF - 38 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Dallas Creek Project is located in west-central Colorado near the town of Ridgway. It is named after the Dallas Creek tributary of the Uncompahgre River, which in turn is a tributary of the Gunnison River in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The project area includes most of the Uncompahgre River Basin covering portions of Montrose, Delta, and Ouray Counties.

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Facility Descriptions

Ridgway Dam of the Dallas Creek Project was constructed on the Uncompahgre River in 1987 to increase water supplies for irrigation and municipal and industrial purposes, and to provide flood control. The project also includes recreational development at the reservoir and measures to enhance fishing opportunities on the Uncompahgre River, improve wildlife habitat, and mitigate wildlife losses caused by the reservoir development. No distribution facilities were constructed as part of the project. Water supplies are distributed through existing facilities or facilities constructed by the Tri-County Water Conservancy District or the water users.

Operating Agencies

The Tri-County Water Conservancy District is the general administrative agency for the project and is the contracting and marketing agency for all project water.

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When the Ute Indians were moved to reservations in 1881, a rush of settlers poured into the Uncompahgre Valley attracted by new farming and ranching opportunities. The town of Delta was founded that year, followed by Montrose in 1882, Olathe in 1883, and Ridgway in 1890. Irrigated agriculture expanded rapidly throughout the valley with the construction of small, privately financed diversion structures. Restrictions imposed by private financing limited these developments to lands close to the streams.

In 1912, the Uncompahgre Project, one of the first Federal reclamation developments, began delivering water from the Gunnison River through the Gunnison Tunnel to lands around Montrose, Olathe, and Delta. After the successful irrigation of lands in the lower Uncompahgre Valley, interest developed in constructing a water delivery system for potential farmlands on Log Hill Mesa, south of Ridgway, and along the upper Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.


Soon after World War II, the Bureau of Reclamation began to study the possibility of a water project for the upper Uncompahgre River Basin. Early planning was directed toward irrigation. One of the first plans, called the Ouray Project, was never formally published, but it was the starting point for ensuing years of study. In February 1951, Reclamation published a reconnaissance report on the Gunnison River Project. One part of this extensive project was the Dallas Creek Unit, which included many of the features of the Ouray Project. After publication of the 1951 report, Reclamation studied a number of alternative plans. A plan to produce hydroelectric power in addition to irrigation power generation would not have interfered with irrigation proposals being considered, so it was added to the 1951 reconnaissance plan. Investigation of a damsite in Ironton Park indicated that it was not a geologically satisfactory site. This fact and the possibility of a conflict over water rights caused the proposal to be dropped from consideration.

The cost of the project, to eventually be repaid, was a problem for proposed irrigation developments in high elevation valleys like the upper Uncompahgre Basin because the cash value of crops produced per acre was comparatively low. This problem was largely alleviated for Dallas Creek in 1956 when the Congress passed the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) Act. One of the features of this act was to provide money from power revenues from CRSP facilities to assist designated participating irrigation projects in their repayment. The Dallas Creek Project was designated as one of these participating projects and was given priority for feasibility studies and financial assistance if authorized by the Congress.

After designation as a CRSP participating project, concentrated feasibility investigations were made of the project, which became a refinement of the 1951 reconnaissance plan, and published in a 1966 feasibility report. Municipal water was included in the plan for the first time. This plan was the basis for congressional authorization of the project in 1968. A definite plan report, published in November 1976, presents results of studies made since the project was authorized and outlines revisions of the project plan brought about by changing conditions. The final environmental impact statement was filed with the Council on Environmental Quality in September 1976 after a public hearing on the draft statement in Montrose, Colorado, on April 17, 1976.


The Dallas Creek Project was authorized by the Colorado River Basin Act of September 30, 1968 (Public Law 90-537), as a participating project under the Colorado River Storage Project Act of April 11, 1956 (Public Law 84-485), based on the feasibility report of the Secretary of Interior transmitted to the Congress on May 3, 1966, and published as House Document 433, 89th Congress, 2nd Session. The project was constructed for municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreation, flood control, and fish and wildlife purposes.


Construction started in 1978, was completed in 1987, and Ridgway Reservoir first filled in 1990.

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Production of livestock, predominantly cattle and sheep, is the leading enterprise in the area. Crops consist primarily of livestock feeds such as alfalfa, meadow hay, pasture, and small grains. Irrigated lands in the area also produce pinto beans, malt barley, shelling and ensilage corn, alfalfa, onions, and some fruit. Project water supply for irrigation purposes totals 11,200 acre-feet, the largest portion of which is supplemental supplies for the Uncompahgre Project.

Domestic, Municipal and Industrial

A water supply of 28,100 acre-feet is available for municipal and industrial uses in Colona, Montrose, Olathe, Delta, and surrounding rural areas.

Recreation, Fish & Wildlife

Recreational development includes facilities for picnicking, camping, boating, hiking, and enjoyment of the scenic setting. Measures to protect and enhance the fish and wildlife resources have been incorporated into the project plans. They include minimum flows in Uncompahgre River, a deer fence along a relocated highway, and acquisition of a wildlife range to offset losses associated with the reservoir. The Ridgway Recreation Area is administered by the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. In 1996, visitation totaled 629,298.

For specific information about recreational opportunities at Ridgway Reservoir, click on the name below.

Flood Control

Ridgway Reservoir is operated to aid in controlling snowmelt floods. Reservoir storage is evacuated to provide space for floodflows if heavy snowmelt is predicted. Although the reservoir is not operated specifically for control of rain floods, it aids in control as storage space is available in the reservoir in late summer when such floods normally occur. From 1950 to 1999, Dallas Creek Project had $53,000 in accumulated actual flood control benefits.

Reduction of Groundwater Overdraft

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Last updated: Apr 21, 2011