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Silt Project

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Silt Project History (61 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Silt Project is located in west-central Colorado near the towns of Rifle and Silt. The project stores the flows of Rifle Creek and pumps water from the Colorado River to supply irrigation waer for approximately 7,000 acres of land. Principal features of the project are Rifle Gap Dam and Reservoir, a pumping plant, and a lateral system. Recreation facilities are available at Rifle Gap Reservoir.

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Facility Descriptions

Unit descriptions and facilities

Project water is stored in Rifle Gap Reservoir, formed by Rifle Gap Dam on Rifle Creek. Reservoir exchange releases are made from Rifle Creek to existing ditches to meet downstream irrigation needs. The water is released directly into Davie Ditch to supply water to project lands on Davie Mesa.

Reservoir releases are also made to meet downstream diversion rights of nonproject lands. These releases allow additional diversions from East Rifle Creek upstream from the reservoir for project use. Delivered through Grass Valley Canal, this exchange water provides a full irrigation supply for new project lands and a supplemental supply to project lands previously irrigated from the privately-owned Harvey Gap Reservoir and Grass Valley Canal.

The Dry Elk Valley lateral carries water from the Grass Valley Canal to lands in Dry Elk Valley. Harvey Gap Reservoir, which previously filled and emptied each year, now stores and regulates water for a longer irrigation season.

The Silt Pumping Plant is located near the Colorado River about 2 miles east of the town of Silt. The 7.6-mile-long Silt Pump Canal, northwest from the pumping plant, carries irrigation water to lands on the lower portion of Harvey Mesa. The pumped water is used as a supplemental supply, or as a replacement supply, for project lands formerly irrigated with Colorado River water pumped at high cost from the Cactus Valley Ditch. It also is used as an exchange for nonproject water to replace Harvey Gap Reservoir water for project lands above the Silt Pump Canal.

Rifle Gap Dam

Rifle Gap Dam is about 5 1/2 miles north of Rifle, at a point where Rifle Creek cuts through the Grand Hogback. The dam is an earthfill structure with a spillway. Rifle Gap Reservoir has a total capacity of 13,602 acre-feet and an active capacity of 12,168 acre-feet, and when full, a surface area of 359 acres.

Operating Agencies

Reclamation turned over the operation and maintenance of the Silt Project to the Silt Water Conservancy District in 1968. The district also operates the private Farmers Irrigation Company facilities as part of the project.

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Most early settlers in the area were miners and prospectors who turned to irrigated agriculture after being unsuccessful in mining attempts. In 1920, 40 families were brought from New York by the Midland Railroad Company to operate coal mines in the Silt area. When the railroad failed a short time later, the families remained in the vicinity and began farming.

Agriculture is still the region`s basic industry. Several thousand acres of rangeland and National Forest reserves surround the cultivated areas and are used for summer grazing. Most irrigated farmland is devoted to the production of alfalfa, grain, and native hay for livestock feed; a small acreage is used for production of fruit and truck crops.


The Bureau of Reclamation began investigations of the Silt Project in 1936. A report on the Colorado River dated March 1946 briefly described a project plan similar to the preset plan. The plan was described in greater detail in a January 1951 report on the Silt Project, which served as a supplement to the 1950 report on the Colorado River Storage Project and participating projects. The 1950 report was amended in 1953 and was the basis for authorization of the Silt Project. The December 1961 definite plan report presented the results of studies which generally confirmed the 1951 feasibility plan.


The project is one of the initial participating projects authorized with the Colorado River Storage Project in April 1956. The project was primarily constructed for agricultural, recreation, and fish and wildlife purposes.


The construction contract for Rifle Gap Dam was awarded in August 1964 and the project was completed in 1967.

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Major crops are alfalfa, small grain, and hay for livestock feed.


Recreation at Rifle Gap Reservoir is administered by the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and consists of camping, picnicking, swimming, boating, and fishing. In 1996, 12-hour visitor days totaled 123,112.

Flood Control

Although there is no specific reservoir capacity assigned for flood control, the Silt Project has provided an accumulated $150,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999.

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Last updated: May 17, 2011