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Smith Fork Project History (37 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits
General Description

Flows of Smith Fork, Iron, Mud, and Alkali Creeks are regulated and utilized by the Smith Fork Project in west-central Colorado. The project, about 30 miles southeast of Delta, Colorado, supplements the irrigation water supply for approximately 8,200 acres in Delta and Montrose counties and provides a full water supply for 1,423 acres of land previously not irrigated. Construction features of the project include Crawford Dam and Reservoir, Smith Fork Diversion Dam, Smith Fork Feeder Canal, Aspen Canal, Clipper Canal, and recreation facilities.

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Crawford Dam is on Iron Creek, a tributary of the Smith Fork about one mile south of Crawford, Colorado. The Crawford Reservoir regulates flows of Iron Creek and its tributaries as well as the surplus flows of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River, diverted to the reservoir by the feeder canal. Small quantities of reservoir storage water are released to Iron Creek and diverted by several small private ditches. The remainder is released to Aspen Canal for conveyance to private ditches for distribution. Some of the storage releases through Aspen Canal replace former direct flow diversions from Smith Fork, permitting additional direct flow diversions for project land higher on the stream.

Facility Descriptions
Crawford Dam and Reservoir

Crawford Dam is an earthfill structure 162 feet high and 580 feet long, with a volume of 1,006,000 cubic yards. The uncontrolled overflow spillway is in the left abutment of the dam and has a capacity of 1,400 cubic feet per second. The outlet works in the right abutment of the dam carries water through a 34-inch-diameter steel pipe controlled by four 2.25-foot-square high-pressure gates. Maximum discharge capacity to Aspen Canal is 125 cubic feet per second. Crawford Reservoir has a total capacity of 14,395 acre-feet and an active capacity of 14,064 acre-feet. The reservoir has a surface area of 406.2 acres.

Smith Fork Diversion Dam

Smith Fork Diversion Dam, at the head of Smith Fork Feeder Canal, consists of a concrete ogee weir and embankment wings. The dam is about 3 miles northeast of Crawford, stands 10 feet above streambed, has a total crest length of 790 feet, and a weir crest length of 34.6 feet. Diversion capacity of the structure is 80 cubic feet per second.

Smith Fork Feeder Canal

In the vicinity of Crawford, the earth-lined Smith Fork Feeder Canal originates at Smith Fork Diversion Dam and runs southwesterly to Crawford Reservoir. The 2.4-mile-long canal has an initial capacity of 80 cubic feet per second.

Aspen Canal

Aspen Canal heads at Crawford Dam and runs 5.8 miles in a northerly direction. The canal has an initial capacity of 125 cubic feet per second.

Clipper Canal

Clipper Canal feeds from Aspen Canal and runs to the west a distance of about 0.5 mile. The initial capacity of the canal is 60 cubic feet per second.

Operating Agencies

Operation and maintenance of the project was turned over to the Crawford Water Conservancy District on January 1, 1964.

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Delta County, along with most of western Colorado, was originally inhabited by the Ute Indians. Early settlement of the area was retarded by hostility between the Utes and the immigrants. In 1881, a compromise agreement was reached between the Federal Government and the Utes which required the Indians to locate in the Uintah Reservation in the Territory of Utah. After this agreement, settlement of the area progressed rapidly. Most of the impetus of the initial settlement period was provided by discoveries of rich deposits of gold, silver, and other minerals in the mountainous areas near the Continental Divide. Agricultural development proceeded at a slower rate but was much more uniform and stable. Farms were developed along the valleys, towns were established near the mines and the agricultural communities, and construction of railroads to the trade and mining centers was begun.


The Smith Fork Project was mentioned briefly in Reclamation`s basin-type report of March 1946 on the Colorado River. In 1951, Reclamation issued a detailed report on the Smith Fork Project as a supplement to the 1951 report on the Colorado River Storage Project and participating projects. This second report, amended in October 1953, was the basis on which the project was authorized.


The project is one of the initial participating projects authorized with the Colorado River Storage Project by the act of April 11, 1956 (70 Stat. 105). The primary purpose of the project is agriculture.


Construction was begun on Crawford Dam in 1960 and on all other major features in 1961. All construction was completed in 1962.

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An improved irrigation supply permits new lands to be irrigated and permits better crop yields on lands previously inadequately watered. Predominant crops include alfalfa, grass hay, pasture, barley, oats, wheat, and corn. Feed production is used for livestock, primarily cattle and sheep.


Recreation at Crawford Reservoir (http://www.recreation.gov/detail.cfm?ID=50) is administered by the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and consists of fishing, boating, and camping. Visitor days in 1996 totaled 109,704. In 1997, the State of Colorado and Bureau of Reclamation upgraded facilities at Crawford State Park to include accessible features for people with disabilities. There are 45 campsites with hookups and 21 without. Showers and flush toilets are available. A fishing trail with platforms and an accessible dock are also available.

Flood Control

Although there is no specific reservoir capacity assigned for flood control, the Smith Fork Project has provided an accumulated $14,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999.

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Last updated: May 17, 2011