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Rio Grande Reservoir celebrates 100th

Rio Grande Reservoir celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012 with the theme of honoring the past, present, future and recognizing the people and the effort that made the building of the reservoir a reality.

It is a time to pause for a moment and reflect on the vision, determination, sacrifices and perseverance of Landowners of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District. The construction of Rio Grande Reservoir, (located approximately 30 miles above Creede), and its 100th anniversary marks a time in a modern world that is many generations past 1912.


The building of the Rio Grande Reservoir has many stories that sometimes get lost in today’s issues. These stories focus on the development of the arid west, and the constant subject is always centered on water and the rugged individuals who made it happen.

This 100th anniversary is a time to capture for a few moments, the vision of people like Frank Sylvester, David Miles, S.J. Schoonover and Charles Speiser who, in October of 1908, formed the San Luis Valley Irrigation District under authority of the newly created Irrigation District Statute of 1905 from the former Farmers Union Irrigation Company.

The Farmers Union Irrigation Company was formed in the late 1880’s as a mutual ditch company to provide irrigation water to the lands near Center, and extending eastward to Hooper. The Farmers Union Canal is a junior canal, and its priorities did not provide for a reliable water supply. Frank Sylvester and the Farmers Union Board recognized in the early 1890’s the need for a reservoir to provide a more reliable water supply.

Discussions of building Rio Grande Reservoir began in 1892, with a preliminary survey during 1905 -1907; plans of site purchases, reservoir design, and how to finance such a large and bold undertaking. The board of the newly formed San Luis Valley Irrigation District, in 1908, moved quickly to secure funding for the actual construction of the reservoir at the headwaters of the Rio Grande by issuing bonds worth $530,000. The reservoir site was purchased from a Creede entrepreneur named A.V. Tabor.

Engineering work including test pits and surveying began in 1907. The tunnel was drilled and completed by 1910 and the outlet was installed soon after. In June of 1912 the reservoir stored and released water to be used beneficially on District lands while the dam was being completed to establish a storage right.

The 100th anniversary celebrates the successful effort and continued operation of the reservoir by the people of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, and the dedication of the board of directors, who are landowners elected by the members of the District. 100 Years of Rio Grande Reservoir, guided by the board of directors, is a story of determination and commitment.

The year 1912 had its own story of world events, such as the sinking of the Titanic and the unsuccessful reelection of Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party. 1912 was a transition time from horse drawn transportation to horseless carriages. This same year, consumers saw a 25 percent increase from the previous year in the price of what was called ‘table necessities’ i.e.: butter, salt, bread, potatoes and eggs. The United States was still a rural society and Colorado was building tunnels and reservoir projects to meet the growing demand for agriculture produce and municipal needs. The nation would soon be experiencing its first world war.

There are names which are not often mentioned today, but were very instrumental in the building of Rio Grande Reservoir. The Honorable Charles Holbrook, General Bloomfield, F.C. Goudy and San Luis Valley Irrigation District Attorney Charles Corlett made many trips to Washington D.C. on behalf of the citizens of the San Luis Valley to persuade the federal government to rescind the prohibition on storage projects on the upper Rio Grande. The Chief Engineer J.C. Ulrich from Denver designed and supervised the construction of the reservoir, which took three years and involved 50 to 100 teams working in very harsh conditions.

Since 1912, Rio Grande Reservoir has provided irrigation water for the farmers of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District for the last century, as well as providing flood protection, storage for compact compliance, storage for well augmentation and recreation.

Rio Grande Reservoir is now preparing for the future by honoring those who made the first 100 years possible. The San Luis Valley Irrigation District is pleased to celebrate Rio Grande Reservoir’s 100th Anniversary on August 23, 2012 at the reservoir along with many partners and their generous financial support: Stones Farm Supply; Hix Insurance Agents; Palmgren Farms Inc; Aspen Produce LLC; Monte Vista Coop; Wilbur Ellis Co; Tod J. Smith Law Office; DiNatale Water Consultants Inc; Deere & Ault Consultants Inc; Skyline Potato Co; Colorado Potato Administrative Committee; Canon Potato Co; Del Norte Bank; United Country Wiescamp Realty; Gunbarrel Station; Jones Oil Co Inc; Wall, Smith, Bateman & Associates; Broken Arrow Ranch & Land Co LLC; Edward Jones; Center Tire Store.



For more information on Water 2012 in the Rio Grande Basin, please visit www.rgwcei.org or contact Leah Opitz at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Water 2012 would like to thank the Nathan Coombs and the Conejos Water Conservancy District for hosting a terrific tour last weekend of the Platoro Reservoir.

Also, be sure to stop by the Carnegie Library in Monte Vista to see the Water 2012 traveling library display.

Rio Grande Reservoir 100 Years

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