- Projects & Facilities
- Uncompahgre Project
Region: Upper Colorado Basin Region
Uncompahgre Project History (48 KB)
Uncompahgre River at Colona, Colorado (USGS)
Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel, Colorado (USGS)
Mountain Snowpack Maps for Colorado, Rio Grande, and Arkansas Rivers
Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region Water Operations
Palmer Drought Index Map
Explanation of the Palmer Drought Index
The Uncompahgre Project is on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in west-central Colorado. Project lands surround the town of Montrose and extend 34 miles along both sides of the Uncompahgre River to Delta, Colorado. Project features include Taylor Park Dam and Reservoir, Gunnison Tunnel, 7 diversion dams, 128 miles of main canals, 438 miles of laterals, and 216 miles of drains. The systems divert water from the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers to serve over 76,000 acres of project land.
The lands comprising the project area were formerly part of the Ute Indian reservation. Settlement rapidly followed cession of the land by the Indians to the United states. By 1903, about 30,000 acres in the Uncompahgre Valley were irrigated by private systems which included five diversion dams on the Uncompahgre River. As the possibilities for greater use of irrigation water were evident, a larger development by the State of Colorado was started in 1901 but was abandoned. Work by the Reclamation Service began in 1903. Active support for driving a tunnel from Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley to obtain additional water was solicited as early as 1890. In 1894, the Geological Survey completed a reconnaissance survey and found it was too expensive an undertaking for local interests, but in 1901 the state of Colorado appropriated $25,000 to start the tunnel. Only 900 feet were driven before the funds were exhausted. In 1901, construction surveys of the project were begun by the Geological Survey, and the general scheme of the project was outlined in its first report. After the passage of the Reclamation Act in 1902, the Uncompahgre Valley was selected for immediate development. The original surveys by the Geological survey, plus the investigational work carried out by the Reclamation Service, served as a basis for authorization of the project in 1903.
Construction began in July 1904, and the first water for irrigation was available during the season of 1908 from the Uncompahgre River. The Gunnison Tunnel was completed in 1909, and the Gunnison Diversion Dam was completed in January 1912. The project was transferred to the Uncompahgre Valley Waters Users Association for operation and maintenance in 1932. Taylor Park Dam, built from funds allotted under the National Industrial Recovery Act, was completed in 1937. Other improvements made during the same period included enlargement, lining, and smoothing portions of the Gunnison Tunnel, constructing concrete and steel structures to replace some of the wornout wooden structures in the privately constructed irrigation systems, relining portions of the canals, and constructing a drainage system to relieve and prevent waterlogging of land. This project is within the Colorado River basin and is part of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program., specifically The Lower Gunnison Basin Salinity Control Unit Almost 76,300 acres of land receive a full irrigation water supply from the facilities of the project. Principal crops are alfalfa, wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, beans, barley, onions, and fruit. Free camp and picnic grounds have been provided by the Forest Service at Taylor Park Reservoir. Cabins are available at privately owned resort developments in the area. Camping, picnicking, swimming, and boating are popular activities, and fishing is good for rainbow, brown, and Loch Leven trout. Some brook and native trout also are caught. http://www.recreation.gov/detail.cfm?ID=691 also offers recreation. Although there is no specific reservoir capacity assigned for flood control, the Uncompaghre Project has provided an accumulated $639,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999. Uncompahgre is a Ute word meaning as follows; Unca-=hot; pah=water, gre=spring. One of the oldest Reclamation projects, the Uncompahgre Project contains one storage dam, several diversion dams, 128 miles of canals, 438 miles of laterals and 216 miles of drains. The project includes mesa and valley land on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado at an elevation between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. The Uncompahgre Project, stretching across much of western Colorado, operates in Reclamation`s Upper Colorado Region. The project, which draws water from the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers, irrigates over 66,000 acres in Delta, Gunnison and Montrose counties. Delta County contains Gunnison Diversion Dam, East Canal Diversion Dam, Loutzenhizer Diversion Dam, Montrose and Delta Diversion Dam, Garnet Diversion Dam, Ironstone Diversion Dam and Selig Diversion Dam. Gunnison County, Colorado, contains Taylor Park Dam. In 1868 the United States Government negotiated a treaty with the Utes in which the Utes ceded their ownership of central Colorado in return for most of the western part of the state. Although the 1868 Treaty barred American settlers from attempting to colonize western Colorado, prospectors continued to work their claims in the mountain areas. When mining strikes were reported in the San Juan area in 1870-1872, the government negotiated with the Utes signing the Brunot Treaty in September 1873, which ceded the area of the San Juan Mountains to the United States. With continual migration of settlers into western Colorado and into the remaining Ute Territory, it was not long before trouble occurred. Problems developed between the Utes and the Federal government, when the government attempted to change the nomadic lifestyle of the Utes. When troops were sent to persuade the Utes to change their lifestyle, they attacked the soldiers and the Indian agency, killing fourteen men. This incident known as the Meeker Massacre created such a feeling of hostility toward the Utes that the people of the area demanded expulsion of the Utes from the State, eventually leading to their removal to the Utah Territory. Even though the Uncompahgre Utes, under Chief Ouray, had not been a part of the Meeker Massacre, they were also moved to Utah on August 28, 1881. Removal of the Utes opened western Colorado to settlers. As mining activity increased and the population began to grow, the need for food and supplies became greater. Previous to Anglos entering the area, the Utes had used some water from the Uncompahgre River to irrigate their crops. Settlers began constructing ditches to provide irrigation water for farms. In the 1880s, when it became apparent that the area was capable of producing crops, especially fruit, a great race for land took place, and a number of irrigation enterprises began. When the settlers moved into the valley, they believed that the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries contained enough water for all irrigable lands which equaled approximately 175,000 acres. Beginning in the 1880s irrigation companies such as the Montrose and Uncompahgre Ditch Company, which supplied water to the mesas west of the Uncompahgre River, began forming. Organized in March 1882, the Delta Ditch Company provided water for the town of Delta, and the Loutzenhizer Ditch, started in 1882, supplied water for Montrose and nearby farm lands. The Uncompahgre Canal, which was later renamed the Montrose and Delta Canal along with the Selig Ditch, began furnishing water to the area west of the Uncompahgre River in 1883. Other smaller ditches were built in the 1880s to aid in irrigation of the area.1 Local enterprises developed the irrigation system to its potential but the water supply was not capable of irrigating 175,000 acres as the developers thought. By 1890, less than 30,000 acres were cultivated and often water shortages. Water in the Uncompahgre River became overcommitted during the last part of the growing season and the supply proved to be inadequate to water the crops.2 The shortage of water encouraged development of new ideas for supplementing the irrigation water supply. An early plan called for bringing water over the Cerro Divide from the Cimarron River. The idea was actively promoted and a ditch constructed, but the water supply did not fill the irrigation needs.3 F.C. Lauzon, who claimed his idea had been revealed to him in a dream, called for construction of a tunnel from the Gunnison River to the Uncompahgre Valley. In 1890, Lauzon began to seek support for this plan, and in 1894, the Geological Survey completed a reconnaissance survey of the feasibility of constructing the tunnel. During the discussion regarding additional water sources, it became apparent that the planning, design and construction were beyond the capabilities of the people in the Uncompahgre Valley. Also, the project was too large financially for local interests to undertake so state aid was considered necessary. In 1901, $25,000 was set aside by the State Legislature for starting work on the tunnel.4 The plan of the State Legislature called for a three mile long tunnel through the ridge separating the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers. The water would then be carried through a ditch, twelve miles to the Montrose and Delta Canal. It was expected that enough water would be available to irrigate 100,000 acres.5 In the summer of 1901, $4,000 was allocated by F.N. Newell, of the United State Geological Survey (USGS), to determine the location of the tunnel and canal. In June, A. Lincoln Fellows of the USGS and William W. Torrence, superintendent of the Montrose Electric Light and Power Company, were sent to survey and map the area. Other surveys were also conducted in the area by the USGS. Topographic surveys were conducted to determine the relative elevations between the Gunnison River and the Uncompahgre Valley; in October 1901, the geology along the proposed tunnel route was surveyed and by late that year, the potential tunnel route had been selected made by Deputy State Engineer John A. Curtis. In 1901, additional surveys of the project were begun by the Geological Survey, and the general scheme of the project was outlined in its first report.6 After passage of the Reclamation Act in 1902 which created the United States Reclamation Service, the Uncompahgre Valley was selected for immediate development as a reclamation project. The original surveys by the Geological Survey, plus investigational work carried out by the Reclamation Service, served as the basis for the authorization of the project in 1903. The Uncompahgre Project (originally called the Gunnison Project) was authorized by the Secretary of the Interior on March 14, 1903, under the provisions of the Reclamation Act. As required by the Reclamation Act, an association was to be established by landowners who would benefit from the project. The association would be required to pay back to the government the cost of the irrigation system as well as be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system. On May 5, 1903, representatives and owners of the ditches and canals met and formed the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.7 In November 1901, work began on the state project. A road was constructed to the west portal location, and a bunkhouse, dining hall and blacksmith shops were erected. Originally, excavation was to be done by convicts, but legal problems prevented using them as laborers so local miners were used. On December 16, 1901, the first earth was removed from the tunnel. In the fall of 1902, the project was abandoned due to a lack of state funds. At the time the project was halted, almost 900 feet of tunnel had been built.8 On March 16, 1903, an agreement was reached to give all property rights, including the tunnel, to the Federal Government and on August 14, 1906, the transfer was finally accomplished. During this time, construction of the Gunnison River Diversion Project received funds of $2,500,000 authorized by the Secretary of the Interior under the Reclamation Act of 1902. The project plan provided for diversion of water from the Gunnison River by the Gunnison Diversion Dam through the Gunnison Tunnel and the South Canal to the Uncompahgre River. To distribute water from the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers, the South and West Canals were constructed and the larger existing private canals, that removed water directly from the Uncompahgre River, were purchased, enlarged and extended. Laterals were constructed to deliver water from the South Canal to project lands. The Gunnison Tunnel was one of the first five projects undertaken by the United States Reclamation Service. Although transfer of the project to the Reclamation Service was not finalized, the Taylor-Moore Construction Company was awarded the contract in October 1904 and work on the tunnel began in January 1905. Within four months, due to construction problems and financial difficulties, the company declared bankruptcy, and Reclamation took control of the project on May 28, 1905. In addition, it was determined that the location of the old tunnel was inadequate, and a new site was located five miles farther upstream on the Gunnison River at Boat Landing Gulch.9 The construction of the new tunnel experienced difficulties from the beginning. A wagon road had to be built across Vernal Mesa to the floor of the Gunnison River canyon. The grade was nearly 30 percent in places, and much of the drilling equipment had to be eased down the incline on skids. Working conditions at the tunnel were difficult due to the high levels of carbon dioxide, excessive temperatures, humidity, water, mud, shale, sand, and a fractured fault zone. In December 1906, a seam of warm water surcharged with carbonic acid was tapped forcing drillers to abandon the heading for six months until a ventilation shaft was driven into the mountain. The water and humidity contributed to deterioration of the timbers in the tunnel making it necessary to line the tunnel with concrete. Water continued to plague the project between December 1906 and March 1909, with an average of 8 cubic feet of water flowing from the surrounding rock. It took the tunneling crew almost one year to bore through 2000 feet of water-filled rock. The tunnel was driven through granite, quartzite, gneiss, and shale as well as layers of sandstone, coal, and limestone.10 Work on the Gunnison Tunnel was first done manually and by candlelight. One miner would hold the drill and rotate it while the second miner would use a sledgehammer to drive the drill into the rock. This work required strong, hard-working men. In spite of good pay and fringe benefits, most disliked the dangerous underground conditions and stayed an average of only 2 weeks. Drilling for the tunnel occurred at four headings: one from each portal and east and west from a shaft sunk into the mesa. Although the conditions were dangerous and harsh, two boring records were established during the construction of the Gunnison Tunnel for the amount of feet bored during a month. The record for driving through granite was established at 449 feet during January 1908 and the record for driving through shale was 824 feet in a month.11 Dirt and rocks were removed from the tunnel in cars on tracks that were moved by horses. Several months after construction began, power plants were installed at each end of the tunnel enabling the use of electrical equipment.12 By mid-1905, approximately 350 men were employed at the west portal of the Gunnison Tunnel. During 1906, 800 people were residing in the town of `Lujane`. The town consisted of a dining hall, bunkhouse, storeroom, office, power house, stable and quarters. Water and sewage systems were installed; policemen and sanitation officers were employed; a hospital was established for the sick or injured workers; and a post office was also constructed in the town.13 During the construction of the tunnel, twenty-six lives were lost due to a series of accidents. Just three days after Reclamation began construction the first serious accident occurred. On May 30, 1905, timbering at the west portal collapsed, burying ten men and imprisoning nineteen others. As a result of the accident, six men died. In 1906, during a premature explosion at the east portal, two men lost their lives and another lost his eyesight. In 1910, thirteen miners were overcome by powder smoke resulting in the death of nine men.14 The Gunnison Tunnel was completed in 1909 at a cost of $2,905,307 and at 30,650 feet long was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world. In September 1909, dedication ceremonies were held in the lavishly decorated town of Montrose. A ceremonial arch was constructed in the middle of Main Street and President William Howard Taft was the guest of honor and primary speaker. On September 23, 1909, President Taft pressed a golden bell to a silver plate which opened the headgates and released seepage water into the South Canal. Because the diversion dam was not yet built across the Gunnison River, river water could not be sent through the tunnel. Workmen built a small dam in the tunnel to hold back the seepage and when President Taft tapped the golden bell, the dam in the tunnel was opened allowing seepage water to emerge from the tunnel to the delight of the audience.15 The tunnel was used to transport supplies, materials and equipment for construction of the Gunnison River diversion dam. The Gunnison River diversion dam, which diverts water to the Gunnison Tunnel, was constructed of concrete, steel and wood, and was completed in 1909. The dam contained special features such as the beartrap gates for flashboards which allowed diverting the water more easily when the flow was low and special cribbing was placed in the stilling basin and apron.16 Another part of the Uncompahgre Project was the South Canal. The purpose of the eleven mile canal was to carry the water from the tunnel to the Uncompahgre River. The canal required the construction of several tunnels and 12 vertical drops and three chutes which were primarily done by hand or horsepower. Work on the canal was completed approximately the same time as the tunnel. In order to complete the Uncompahgre Project, Reclamation began to acquire private irrigation canals in the Valley. The idea behind acquiring the canals was to have a unified system under the Federal government. During the summer of 1908 the Montrose and Delta canal was transferred to the government for $110,000. This canal became the first operated by the Reclamation Service. On September 25, the Loutzenhizer Canal was also purchased for $15,000.17 After purchasing the canals, the Reclamation Service identified needed improvements for the 20 year old canals. Improvements included replacing wooden flumes with steel and concrete, and standardizing the headgates and measuring devices. Some of the canals were also enlarged to increase the water volume.18 In addition to the South Canal, the East and West Canals were constructed to carry the water to other parts of the project. The East Canal was built east of the Uncompahgre River with the headgate located one mile north of Olathe. Part of this system was the Garnet Mesa Siphon which consisted of an 8,560 foot wooden-stave pressure pipe to carry water to Garnet Mesa. Completed in 1911, the West Canal provided water to the area west of the Uncompahgre River. The Canal initially had wooden flumes which carried water across Happy Canyon, Tappen Creek, and Spring Creek Valleys. Laterals and diversion dams were built to supply water to the individual farms and help regulate the water supply.19 As construction of the project continued, extensive repair and construction work on the Gunnison Tunnel became necessary. During the winter of 1916-17, bulging sidewalls were replaced, portions of the tunnel were lined, transitions were constructed, loose debris was removed, and an electrical system for determining the elevation of water was installed. Prior to repair work on the tunnel, it was necessary to walk through the tunnel carrying supplies for repairs and a ladder to inspect the gauges. On April 17, 1917, the first trip was made through the tunnel in a car, which demonstrated the practicability of using a car for inspections.20 In order for needed maintenance to continue on the project, on May 7, 1918, the United States and the water users association executed an agreement. The terms of the agreement provided for operation and maintenance of the project at cost to the water users and deferment of the first construction charge until December 1, 1922. The project was transferred to the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association for operation and maintenance in 1932. As a result of the transfer in 1932, the Water Users Association has since occupied the Bureau of Reclamation`s Project Office in Montrose which was built in 1905.21 By 1925, the Uncompahgre Project was practically completed. The project had been in use since completion of the tunnel, but the accompanying canals, diversion dams and laterals were not all finished until 1925. Reclamation spent approximately $6,800,000 to build the Gunnison Tunnel and the accompanying canals. The project consisted of a series of diversion dams and canals. The Gunnison diversion dam, tunnel, and canal system provided additional water to the Uncompahgre Valley from the Gunnison River. The East Canal, Loutzenhizer, Montrose and Delta, Garnet, Ironstone, and Selig diversion dams on the Uncompahgre River with their associated canals and laterals also provided irrigation for the valley. With completion of the irrigation system, the Uncompahgre Valley was receiving a sufficient supply of irrigation water, but this changed toward the end of the 1920s. With the number of irrigated acres continuing to increase and the water shortages near the end of the growing season, the need for a storage reservoir became apparent.
The project plan provides for storage in Taylor Park Reservoir on the Taylor River, which is a part of the Gunnison River Basin, and diversion of water from the Gunnison River by the Gunnison Diversion Dam through the Gunnison Tunnel and the South Canal to the Uncompahgre River. To distribute the waters of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers, the South and West Canals were constructed and the larger existing private canals, that take water directly from the Uncompahgre River, were purchased, then enlarged and extended. Laterals were constructed to deliver water from the South Canal to project lands. Taylor Park Dam is on the Taylor River, a tributary of the Gunnison River. The dam is a zoned earthfill structure 206 feet high, with a crest length of 675 feet and a volume of 1,115,000 cubic yards. It creates a reservoir with a storage capacity of 106,200 acre-feet. The spillway is an overflow-type weir crest 180 feet long with a capacity of 10,000 cubic feet per second. The outlet works is a horseshoe tunnel with a diameter of 10 feet, and a capacity of 1,500 cubic feet per second. The Gunnison Diversion Dam on the Gunnison River, about 12 miles east of Montrose, is a timber-crib weir with concrete wings and a removable crest. The dam has a structural height of 16 feet. It diverts Gunnison River direct flows, as well as releases from the Taylor Park Dam into the Gunnison Tunnel. The Gunnison Tunnel was designed as a rectangular section 11 feet wide and 12 feet high, with an arch roof. A number of modifications have been made since the original construction. It is 5.8 miles long and has a capacity of 1,300 cubic feet per second. The South Canal extends from the end of the Gunnison Tunnel generally southwest 11.4 miles to the Uncompahgre River. Part of the canal is concrete lined; the remainder is unlined. The canal has an initial capacity of 1,010 cubic feet per second. West Canal extends generally northwest about 21 miles from the Uncompahgre River beginning at the terminal structure of the South Canal with the river. This unlined canal as an initial capacity of 172 cubic feet per second. The West Canal is diverted directly from the South Canal and a timber and metal flume carries the canal across the Uncompahgre River. There is a small diversion for winter flows directly from the Uncompahgre River. This diversion dam is on the Uncompahgre River about 8 miles south of Montrose. The dam is a concrete gate structure with radial control and sluiceway gates. The unlined canal extends generally northwest about 40 miles from the diversion point and has a diversion capacity of 563 cubic feet per second. The original dam and canal were privately constructed and later purchased and rehabilitated by Reclamation as part of the Uncompahgre Project. A new structure was built in 1963 with a diversion capacity of 550 cubic feet per second. The diversion dam is on the Uncompahgre River about 2 miles south of Montrose. It was a pile-and-timber weir with a concrete apron but was rebuilt by the water users into a concrete weir and apron with radial gates. The dam has a structural height of 24 feet. The canal extends generally northwest 14.5 miles from the diversion dam and has a diversion capacity of 120 feet per second. The original dam and canal were privately constructed and purchased by Reclamation in 1908. Selig Diversion Dam is on the Uncompahgre River about 5 miles northwest of Montrose. It has a timber-gated sluiceway with uncontrolled concrete overflow weir and concrete stilling basin. Its structural height is 25 feet. The canal extends generally north about 20 miles from the diversion dam. This unlined canal has a diversion capacity of 320 cubic feet per second. The original dam and canal were privately constructed and purchased by Reclamation in 1914. Located on the Uncompahgre river about 8 miles northwest of Montrose, the Ironstone Diversion Dam is a concrete structure with radial control and sluiceway gates with a concrete wing. The structural height is 17 feet. The unlined canal runs 14 miles northwest from the diversion dam. The diversion capacity of the canal is 400 cubic feet per second. The original dam and canal were privately constructed and were acquired by Reclamation in 1915. Located on the Uncompahgre river about 10 miles northwest of Montrose, the East Canal Diversion Dam is a concrete and timber weir with an earth embankment wing. The structural height is 16 feet. The unlined canal extends 10.6 miles north from the diversion dam. Its diversion capacity is 165 cubic feet per second. The original dam and canal were privately constructed and were acquired by Reclamation in 1911. The diversion dam is on the Uncompahgre River about 15 miles northwest of Montrose. The dam is a concrete-surfaced rockfill weir, and has a structural height of 8 feet. Garnet Canal is unlined and extends 10.7 miles northwest from the diversion dam. Its diversion capacity is 75 cubic feet per second. The original dam and canal were constructed by private interests and purchased by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1914. There are 438 miles of laterals which distribute water to project lands. A system of subsurface drains totaling 216 miles has been constructed. The project is operated and maintained by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.
OwnerTitle: Western Colorado Area Office - Grand Junction
Organization: Western Colorado Area Office
Address: 445 W. Gunnison Ave., Suite 221
City: Grand Junction, CO 81506
OperatorOrganization: Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association
Address: 601 N. Park
City: Montrose, CO 81402