Oral History Story
by Art Cannon
Regarding the History of Montrose/Tri-County Water
Based on a Transcript of Interview on October 7, 2015 at Art's home in Delta, CO
By way of introduction, I was born in Grand Junction - grew up on a farm there. I would have graduated from high school there in 1946, except I joined the U. S. Navy and have a tattoo on my arm to prove it. The high school gave me a diploma later because I had all of my credits. I guess my claim to fame in 1946 would be that I was at the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll.
After I got out of the service I went back to school. I worked for a seismograph crew for a while, ended up at the University of Denver and graduated as a Civil Engineer in 1953 using the GI Bill. I worked for some engineers in Grand Junction during the summer and then that engineer went out of business and I ended up getting a job with an engineer here in Delta in the summer of 1951.
Then I came back and worked for him in 1952. I graduated in 1953. I stayed with him, Larry Morrill, and we created a company called Morcan Engineering. Morcan was a combination of the first three letters of his name MOR and mine CAN.
Our company did engineering on all kinds of reservoirs. When I first worked for him in those summers, I designed a couple little water systems. We did a lot of surveying of uranium claims and that kind of stuff. We did reservoirs - a whole bunch of them on Grand Mesa. They were built originally in the early 1900’s or earlier. They were in need of repair, so there was a lot of work during that period of the mid-fifties. We would prepare the plans, specifications, contracts. and have bidding for construction. The Board would award a contract for construction. Then we would do the inspection to make sure the project was properly constructed.
Along with that we got into the rural water systems that were financed by the Farmers Home Administration quite extensively. Between the mid-fifties and 1979 when I retired, I did over 50 rural water systems throughout Colorado and New Mexico. We would develop the source and sometimes treatment plants.
Sometimes we would buy water from other entities that were already in existence. For instance, right here in the Uncompahgre Valley there was the Menoken Water System. I did the engineering on that one when it first went in. I also did the Chipeta Water Company which is all part of the systems here in the valley now. There were others like Hotchkiss, Crawford Mesa and Cathedral south of Crawford, Cedar Mesa and Redlands Mesa at Cedaredge.
I was involved to some degree in sewer systems, like the lagoons in what is now Confluence Park in Delta. The Delta Recreation Area was originally sewer lagoons. I engineered them and then they were changed around. All those lagoons now have been abandoned and more modern type plants have been put in.
Then we were involved with the people that actually started Tri-County Water Conservancy - the first Board of Directors was called the Delta Group. They were all friends of ours. We were involved with them. We’d done other water systems with them and they kind of got us involved. So actually, I was involved from the very beginning. Their very first board meetings were held in the courtroom at the Montrose Courthouse.
I can remember being at some of those meetings. I have a list of the directors of the Tri-County Water Conservancy from when it first was incorporated and started until I retired as manager and engineer at the end of 1994 or beginning of 1995. With it I have highlights of different events that happened, when they happened, from the very beginning of Tri-County until the time I retired. It’s not in too much detail, but it does tell you the date of when something happened. This is not the full story - more of the story is in the minutes of Tri-County Water Board of Director Meetings. That’s all on record.
From the very beginning, the Board talked about getting involved in the possible Ridgway Dam because there was a need for a domestic water system throughout this valley. As it started out, the Dallas Creek Project was planned to be three reservoirs originally - much larger than what it is today. They had a lot more irrigation involved, but as it finally came down, the majority of Ridgway Reservoir is municipal and industrial water. Just a small percentage of it is irrigation. Tri-County gets water from the Gunnison River. Like I’ve always said, water in western Colorado’s like a barrel of snakes. It’s through a lot of exchange agreements. And that’s basically what it is, an exchange agreement between Uncompahgre Valley water users and Tri-County. The water that we actually drink comes out of Blue Mesa Reservoir.