- Projects & Facilities
- Pine River Project
Pine River Project
Region: Upper Colorado Basin Region
River Project History (60KB)
Teacup Diagram: - Major Storage Reservoirs in the Upper Colorado Basin
Current Reservior Levels: - USGS Station 09353000 -- Vallecito Reservoir near Bayfield, Colorado
Mountain Snowpack Maps for Colorado River Basin
The Pine River Project is located in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado about eighteen miles northeast of the town of Durango. Project lands are located in La Plata and Archuleta Counties and consist of about 69,000 acres of which about 16,000 acres are owned by the Southern Ute Indians.
The primary sources of water for the project are the Pine River and Vallecito Creek. The main features of the project are Vallecito Dam and Reservoir, which are located on the Pine River about 1.5 miles downstream from where the Pine River and Vallecito Creek merge.
Construction of Vallecito Dam began on May 14, 1938, and was completed in 1941. Vallecito Dam is a earthfill structure that is 162-foot-high and contains 3,738,000 cubic yards of material. The reservoir has a total capacity of 129,700 acre-feet. The spillway is a gate-controlled, concrete-lined open channel, 2,300 feet long at the right abutment. Features constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation are operated by the Pine River Irrigation District.
Vallecito Dam prevents the flooding of crops, farmland, and structures along the river during spring runoff by storing the floodwater for controlled releases to benefit irrigation. The Vallecito Reservoir has 125,500 acre-feet of reservoir capacity specifically assigned for flood control.
Recreation facilities at Vallecito Reservoir are administered by the Forest Service and the Pine River Irrigation District. Activities include: camping, swimming, picnicking, boating, and fishing for brown, rainbow and brook trout.
The earliest inhabitants of southwest Colorado were likely big game hunters of the Paleo-Indian era, about 10,000 to 5,500 B.C. Although data is limited, evidence of Paleo-Indian activities has been located in other areas of the Southwest.
Evidence of Archaic Stage (ca. 5,500 B.C to A.D. 1) activities is more abundant, but still limited, with most evidence being from the late-archaic period. The Archaic Stage featured hunting of smaller game animals and an increased reliance on gathering of wild plants. The late-Archaic Stage marks the transition to a more sedentary, food-producing way of life.
The Formative State in the Southwest is also known as the Anasazi Tradition. The period, from about A.D. 1 to 1,300, is marked by a growth in settled villages and food production supplemented by hunting and gathering of wild plants. In addition, this period marked a rise in material culture, religious and social organization, and interaction with other cultural groups. The majority of pre-historic sites in southwest Colorado are associated with the Anasazi, with the most famous, Mesa Verde, dating from about A.D. 1,000 to 1,300.
Following the decline of the Anasazi in southwestern Colorado near the end of the 13th century, human occupation of southwest Colorado declined. It was probably not until sometime in the 1600s that the Ute entered the region. Some evidence of Navajo activities after 1700 has been located, but the Ute have been the primary native inhabitants of the region for several centuries.
The first Europeans in the Pine River area were Spanish explorers seeking gold. In the early 1760s, Juan de Rivera explored the Southern Colorado Rockies, trading with the Ute, but finding no gold. In 1776, Fathers Francisco V. Dominquez and Silvestre Veldez de Escalante traveled through the region in search of a new route from Santa Fe to Montery, California. Although others followed, hostile Ute and the lack of appreciable amounts of gold discouraged continued Spanish exploration, and few Spaniards ventured into the region after 1800.
American fur trappers began to appear in western Colorado shortly after the turn of the century. After 1821, when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, western Colorado was opened up to trapping and the fur industry flourished. During the height of the fur industry, a number of trading posts were built, including Fort Robidoux, at the junction of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers, and Fort Davy Crocket, in northwestern Colorado. The 1840s saw the decline of the fur industry due to over trapping and the decline in the fur market, but a few trappers continued to work the region into the late 1870s.
Exploration of the west by the United States government did not begin in earnest until the late 1840s. Following the American victory in the Mexican War and the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the federal government began to look more closely at the west. One of the primary tasks of western explorers was to locate transportation routes through the Rocky Mountains, especially rail routes. Among those who passed through the region were John C. Fremont in 1843 and 1853, Lt. Edward Beale and Captain John Gunnison in 1853, and Captain John Macomb of the Topographical Corps in 1859.
Significant exploration of the West by the United States government was interrupted by the Civil War. Following the war, the government resumed its exploration of the Rocky Mountain West. The Army and the newly formed United States Geological Survey (USGS) were the primary agencies exploring the region. The first USGS survey of Colorado was conducted by John Wesley Powell in 1868 and 1869 as part of his exploration of the Colorado River. The most comprehensive exploration of southwest Colorado was carried out by Ferdinand Hayden between 1873 and 1876. Hayden`s report, along with Powell`s, provided an enormous amount of accurate information about western Colorado and helped to stimulate settlement of the region.
The earliest Spanish expeditions into southwestern Colorado reported meeting and trading with the Ute Indians, and for almost a half century following their first contact with Anglos, the Ute continued their domination of western Colorado. Even with the growth of the fur trade in the early 1800s and the increased contact with Anglos that came with it, the dominance of the Ute was not challenged.
In 1849, the first official treaty between the Ute and the United States Government, the Calhoun Treaty, was signed. In the treaty, the seven Ute bands agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the American Government and to stay within their traditional hunting ranges.
The first Colorado gold rush of 1859 brought thousands of miners into the region. Many who were unsuccessful in the diggings took to farming, and the expanding pressure of farmers and miners forced the Ute and the Government to the conference table. The Evans Treaty of 1863 sought to remove the Ute from the path of incoming white settlers and the place the tribe within set boundaries. The treaty was never implemented because the government failed to supply the Ute with the promised rations and livestock.
The Ute continued to raid and hunt in their traditional areas. White settlers, who viewed the Ute as trespassers, looked to the government to intervene on their behalf. In 1868, the government and the Ute signed the Hunt Treaty that established a single reservation for all seven Ute bands. The treaty established an area equal to about one-third of the Colorado Territory as the Ute reservation and established two Indian agencies, one near the White River to serve the northern bands, and one near present day Ignacio, the Pine River (Los Pinos) Agency, to serve the southern bands.
Continued mineral exploration in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado increased pressure on the lands of the Southern Ute. In 1873, the Brunot Agreement, also known as the San Juan Cession, removed 4,000,000 acres from the Ute Reservation in the San Juans and opened the land to mineral exploration and settlement. Both the Ute and the Anglos violated provisions of the treaty, and in 1878, a military post, Fort Lewis, was established near Pagosa Springs to enforce the treaty. The fort was moved to a site near Durango in 1880.
The White River Indian Agency had a history of problems after it was established in 1863. In 1879, Indian Agent Nathan Meeker attempted to establish a model agricultural community. The Ute resisted his efforts, and Meeker sought the aid of the Army. In late 1879, Major T. T. Thornburgh and about 140 men were dispatched to aid Meeker. Thornburgh and his men were attacked by the Ute about twenty miles from the White River Agency and wiped out. A short time later, the Ute attacked the Agency and killed Meeker and ten others. The Meeker Massacre and Thornburgh battle at Milk Creek led to the removal of the northern Ute bands to Utah in 1881.
The Southern Ute were allowed to remain on their reservation and the remaining Indian lands were opened for settlement. By 1889, the only Ute lands that remained were the small Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Reservations in southwest Colorado. Under the agreement that removed the northern Ute bands to reservations in Utah, the members of the southern and mountain bands were to receive allotments of agricultural and grazing lands. Land was given to the heads of families and those over the age of eighteen. Those who were not qualified or chose not to accept their allotment were settled as a community on tribal lands. A total of 375 allotments totaling 72,970 acres along the Pine River were awarded by 1898. In 1899, the Government opened all surplus lands to settlement by whites.
The earliest record of white settlement in the Pine River Valley dates to 1876, and the first ditches in the area were constructed in 1877. The first ditches served the Indian Agency and a few small farm tracts. In 1895, the Pine River Indian Agency filed claims for water from the Pine River to irrigate 18,336 acres of Indian land. This claim was contested by whites in the area who had filed earlier claims, and in 1901, an adjudication suit was filed against the Indian Agency.
The Tribes based their claims to use of the waters of the Pine River on the Hunt Treaty of 1868. All of the lands that are within the watershed of the Pine River were included in the boundaries set forth in the 1868 treaty. The treaty stated that these lands be set apart for the absolute and undisputed use and occupation of the Indians . . . for the purpose of inducing said Indians to adopt the habits of civilized life and to become self-supporting.
Although the treaty did not specifically mention water for irrigation, a number of court decisions established that when the Government creates a reservation, if the land needs irrigation to be productive, the reservation is also established for the necessary water, even if no such reservation is stated within the agreement.
In October 1930, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado awarded the Pine River Indian Agency the prior right for the use of 213 ac/ft of water from the Pine River establishing the date of the 1868 treaty as the priority date. In 1938 there remained about 200,000 acres of former reservation land that had not been settled. This land was returned to the Southern Ute Indians by Congressional order on September 14, 1938.
Settlement of the San Juan Basin was incidental to the discovery of gold and the rapid expansion of mining in the San Juan Mountains. This territory was located on the Southern Ute Reservation. Persistent invasions by the miners led to so much friction that open warfare existed throughout the region except for the area around Parrott City where a private treaty was negotiated in 1873.
Temporary peace was established in 1874 when the United States bought 3 million acres from the Southern Utes. The territory purchased included the main body of the mountains and all of the prospective mineral land. The south boundary of this tract, called the Ute Ceded Lands, runs across the project just below Bayfield.
Farming was practiced on a small scale along the Mancos, La Plata, and Animas Rivers before the ceded lands were purchased from the Southern Utes. After the purchase and the cessation of open warfare, these developments soon grew to their present size. Settlement along the Pine and Florida Rivers was not as rapid, because there was little desirable land outside the reservation.
It was not until the reservation was opened for homesteading on May 4, 1899, that settlement really began. At this opening, the Southern Utes accepted 375 allotments of land, with a total area of 60,000 acres. Most of the remaining 636,000 acres were soon settled by farmers. In 1938, there remained some 200,000 acres of this public domain (mostly grazing land) not taken up by settlers. By congressional action, this land was returned to Southern Ute Indian tribal ownership.
Each year along the Pine River in southwestern Colorado, high spring runoffs would give way to late summer drought. The development of farming and ranching in the area was severely limited by the uncertain nature of the water supply. Irrigation projects were developed in an effort to ease the problem, but met with only limited success.
By the 1920s, all lands that could reasonably be developed using the available water supply had been taken up, leaving several thousand acres of potentially productive land undeveloped. In the late 1920s, the Office of Indian Affairs began investigations into the possibility of storing early season flood waters for irrigation of almost 17,000 acres of Indian land. In 1934, the investigations were turned over to the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Pine River Project was born.
The Pine River Project was authorized by Congress in the Department of Interior Appropriation Act of 1937, which was approved on June 22, 1936. The project was approved by the President on June 17, 1937, following a review of a Finding of Feasibility Report.
Investigations into ways to supply the Pine River Valley with late season irrigation water started as early as 1906 with an investigation in connection with the Carey Act of August 1894. In 1912, the Pine River Ditch and Development Company looked into possible developments to provide supplemental water. In 1924 and 1925, the Reclamation Service conducted surveys of several potential projects, including Pine River. The findings of these surveys were published in the Fisher Report.
In 1927, the Secretary of Interior appointed a special committee to investigate potential reclamation projects including irrigation of Southern Ute lands. The report, `Irrigation on Indian Reservations,` was published in June 1928. In January 1936, the Indian Irrigation Service began investigations for the Pine River Dam, and test drilling of the dam foundation began in March 1936. The project was transferred to the Bureau of Reclamation for construction in August 1936. On February 11, 1937, the name of the dam was officially changed from Pine River Dam to Vallecito Dam to avoid confusion with other dams of similar name. Construction of the dam was approved by the President on June 17, 1937.
Investigations into possible dam sites began in early 1936, with the final report being issued in May 1936. Three sites were found to be suitable with only the considerations of engineering and economics being deciding factors. Of the three sites, the site known as the `middle site` was chosen as being the best site from an economic and engineering standpoint. Following the selection of the site, survey work began and was carried out throughout 1936 and 1937.
During the late part of 1936, representatives of several contractors visited the site preparatory to submitting bids for construction of the dam. The acquisition of land required for the construction and operation of the dam was carried out without difficulty with all land purchase agreements and easements being completed by early 1939. No condemnation proceedings were necessary.
Construction of the government camp by government forces began in September 1937. Bids for construction of Vallecito Dam and appurtenant works were opened in Durango, Colorado on December 15, 1937. A total of nine bids were received with the winning bid being submitted by the Martin Wunderlich Company of Jefferson City, Missouri. The winning bid was $2,115,870.
Notice to proceed was issued on April 18, 1938, and work on the contractor`s camp began on May 13. Clearing and stripping of the dam site began on May 14, 1937, with work limited to the right side of the river channel. Clearing and stripping on the left side of the river channel was delayed until the river was low enough to allow heavy equipment to cross the channel. A temporary diversion channel was excavated during July and August, and on October 15, following completion of stripping operations on the left side of the river, the river was diverted through the temporary channel.
During stripping operations, a large deposit of sandy material was discovered requiring the excavation of 250,000 cubic yards (cu/yd) of material beyond work that had been estimated during site investigations. Most of the additional material was not usable in the dam embankment and had to be wasted.
Excavation for the outlet works began in late June 1937 and was substantially complete by the end of the year. Excavations for the cut-off trench on the right abutment began as soon as stripping operations were complete. The cut-off trench provides a watertight seal between the dam and bedrock. The excavations ranged in depth from fifteen to fifty feet. Most of the work was completed by the end of 1938.
Stripping of the spillway channel began in July with excavations beginning in early August. Much of the material excavated from the channel was screened and used in the dam embankment. Placement of embankment materials began in late June, following completion of stripping operations. The contractor tried to limit the material used to only that which was removed from required excavations, but due to the nature of much of the material excavated, it was necessary to use material from a borrow pit.
Embankment materials were spread in eight-inch layers and compacted by twelve passes of a sheepsfoot roller. The moisture content of the most of materials excavated from both the required excavations and the borrow pits was near the required level at the time of placement, so only a small amount of water had to be added. During the 1938 construction season, the contractor placed approximately 93,000 cu/yd of embankment material.
Concrete placement in the outlet works began in early August and progressed as fast as excavation and grouting operations would allow. Before concrete operations were halted due to freezing weather, the trashrack structure, 400 feet of the outlet conduit, and a large portion of the gate chamber had been placed. Concrete operations were halted due to freezing weather on November 19, with all construction halted for the season on December 10.
On May 19, 1938, the Weston Lumber Company of Denver contracted with the government for the purchase and removal of all saleable lumber from the Vallecito Reservoir site. The contractor agreed to pay $9,500 for the timber, and began work clearing the site in early June. During the 1938 season, the contractor cut approximately 1,500,000 board feet (bd/ft) of lumber, and sawed 1,200,000 bd/ft. It was estimated that there was 5,000,000 bd/ft of lumber in the reservoir site, and the contractor was given 1,000 days to remove all saleable lumber from the site.
The construction of Vallecito Dam would flood the road that ran through the valley. As a result, it was necessary to relocate the road. The contract for relocation of the first portion of the road was awarded to the Martin Wunderlich Company on August 30, 1938, with notice to proceed given on November 5. Construction was started in mid-October, and was completed and accepted in late December 1938.
Placement of embankment materials resumed on April 9, 1939, and continued until halted by freezing weather on November 23. At that time, the average elevation of the embankment was 7,627 feet above sea level, with the final height to be 7,673 feet. By the end of 1939, the total amount of material placed in the embankment had reached 2,432,692 cu/yd. Concrete operations resumed on May 2, 1939, and continued until November 27. During the 1939 season, concrete placement in the outlet works was completed except for the control house and spiral stair shaft. The spillway was completed to the degree necessary to allow diversion of the river through the outlet works the following spring.
Following suspension of embankment placement operations, the contractor began placement of rock riprap. Riprap consists of large rocks and boulders that are placed in layers several feet thick in areas that are subject to erosion from water flow or wave action. By the end of 1939, the contractor had placed 4,200 cu/yd of riprap.
Clearing of the reservoir site in 1939 was confined to that area that would be flooded when the river was diverted through the permanent outlet works. During 1939, 208 acres were cleared of lumber and brush with additional areas partially cleared. Brush, unsalable timber, and other debris was piled and burned by Government and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) forces. By the end of 1939, the Weston Lumber Company had completed about two-thirds of their contract, removing a total of 2,500,000 bd/ft of timber from 335 acres. Of the 1,140 acres required to be cleared, 295 acres were completely cleared of all timber, brush and debris by the end of 1939.
Government and CCC forces carried out road relocation work during 1939. During the 1939 season, they cleared approximately two and one-half miles of roadway. In addition to clearing the roadway, CCC and Government forces installed a total of 2,500 feet of metal pipe culverts ranging from 18 to 48 inches in diameter.
By December 31, 1939, sixty-seven percent of the work under the main contract had been completed with only forty-six percent of the contract time having elapsed.
During the first three months of 1940, work on the dam was limited to the placement of rock riprap on the upstream slope of the embankment. Preparations for closure of the temporary diversion channel and the diversion of the river through the outlet works began in early April. Placement of embankment materials was delayed until the diversion channel could be filled to the same level as the rest of the embankment. A temporary coffer dam was constructed to close the channel on April 18, and at noon on April 21, water flowed through the outlet works for the first time.
Embankment placement operations over the entire embankment were resumed following the filling of the diversion channel, and continued until halted by the weather on November 9. At that time, the embankment was complete except for a small area adjacent to the uncompleted spillway gate structure.
On September 3, 1949, Reclamation awarded the contract for completion of the road relocation around the reservoir site to the Wood, Morgan, and Burnett Construction Company of Durango, Colorado. The winning bid was $14,592.66. Work under the contract began on September 5, and was accepted on November 25, 1940. The contract called for the excavation of over 26,000 cu/yd of material, the placement of 16 culverts totaling over 600 feet, and the construction of four bridges. Two of the bridges were timber structures with 32-foot spans supported on steel bearing piles. The other two bridges were steel truss and I-beam structures with spans of 98-feet and 60-feet. The steel I-beams and trusses were salvaged from an existing bridge that had to be dismantled for the road relocation.
Two other contracts were awarded in 1940. On February 16, Reclamation awarded the contract for the four high pressure gate assemblies in the outlet works to the Joshua Hendy Iron Works of San Francisco. Their bid was $21,490. The contract for the three, 37- by 19- foot radial gates for the spillway went to Philips & Davies, Inc. of Kenton, Ohio, on May 3, 1940. The bid for the radial gates was $22,000. Installation of the high pressure and radial gates began in early 1941, with work completed by mid-year. Reclamation gave the contract for the three, 16,000 pound capacity, radial gate hoists to the Western Foundry Company of Portland, Oregon, on January 30, 1941, at a cost of $6,588. In a memo dated May 28, 1941, the construction engineer, C.A. Burns, reported to the chief engineer, S.O. Harper, that the control house was completed and all machinery tested and ready for operation.
Embankment placement operations for the 1941 construction season began on June 17, with the embankment being `topped out` on July 25. Work under the primary contract was completed in October 1941. Reclamation removed construction of the parapet and curb walls on the dam crest from the primary contract to allow the embankment to settle completely before constructing these features.
Vallecito Dam is a zoned earthfill structure 162 feet high and 4,010 feet long. The maximum width of the base from upstream toe to downstream toe is 900 feet, and the crest is 35 feet wide. The total volume of material in the dam embankment is 3,738,000 cu/yd
The maximum flow through the outlet works is 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The spillway is a 2,300 foot long, curved, concrete lined open channel that varies in width from 50 to 125 feet. Flows through the spillway are controlled by three radial gates. The total capacity of the spillway is 33,000 cfs. The spillway is located on the crest of the right abutment.
Vallecito Reservoir has a total capacity of 129,700 ac/ft with the water surface elevation at 7,665 feet above sea level. The surface area of the reservoir at maximum capacity is 2,720 acres.
Distribution of project water is through a series of privately owned ditches and canals, all of which were constructed prior to the construction of Vallecito Dam. Most of the ditches and canals divert water directly from the Pine River. A few divert water from tributaries. There are almost 200 miles of ditches and canals, and 150 miles of laterals throughout the region that are served by project water. The capacity of the ditches and canals ranges from 260 cfs down to 1 cfs. In addition to the canals, there are five diversion dams along the Pine River downstream from Vallecito Dam.
A portion of the cost of the dam and reservoir were financed from non-reimbursable funds appropriated for flood control benefits that would be realized through construction of the project. On January 3, 1940, the Office of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation signed a memorandum of understanding wherein the Office of Indian Affairs would pay one-sixth of the reimbursable costs of construction of the Vallecito Dam. In return, the Office of Indian Affairs would have the rights to one-sixth of the water made available by construction of the dam. This water would be used to irrigate land on the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project.
On April 15, 1940, the Pine River Irrigation District entered into an agreement with the United States whereby the District would pay five-sixths of the reimbursable costs of construction. The contract further stated that the Pine River Irrigation District would contract with owners of existing ditches for distribution of project water.
The project stores spring floodwaters to provide a supplemental water supply to about 13,000 acres of the Southern Ute lands and to about 41,000 acres of land outside the Southern Ute Reservation. Irrigation water is distributed through privately owned systems or through systems under jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
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OwnerTitle: Area Office Manager
Organization: Western Colorado Area Office - Durango
Address: 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2
City: Grand Junction, CO 81303
OperatorOrganization: Pine River Irrigation District
Address: 13029 Cty Rd 501
City: Bayfield, CO 81122