Ridgway State Park/Dallas Creek Project Remembrance History Stories
Work in Progress - Subject to Additions and Modifications
From the earliest days of settlement in the Uncompahgre River Valley after the Ute Indian Removal in 1881, the river waters have been used to irrigate farms and ranches in this very arid region via canals and ditches. The United States Reclamation Service (renamed the Bureau of Reclamation in 1923) developed the Uncompahgre Project in 1904 to irrigate lands along the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers. The construction of the water tunnel from the Gunnison River to the Montrose area was completed in 1912 - the irrigation water made the desert bloom.
In Ref. 1, the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the Uncompahgre Project to divert water from the Gunnison River through the Gunnison Tunnel in 1912 to lands around Montrose, Olathe and Delta. This was one of the first Federal reclamation developments.
The Dallas Creek Project was the responsibility of the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) that started with the goal of constructing the Ridgway Dam and Reservoir. Our primary source of information about this project has been Ref. 2. Other valuable information sources have been Refs. 3, 4, 5, 6 and the staff at the Ridgway State Park.
This stimulated interest in irrigation developments in the Ridgway and Log Hill Mesa regions of the Upper Uncompahgre Valley. The path from that noble concept to the successful completion of the Ridgway Dam in 1987 was long and arduous. Starting with a conception for the Dallas Creek Project in 1936, it wasn’t until 1956 that the U. S. Congress passed the Colorado River Storage Project to provide money to assist in designing the Dallas Creek Project.
For many years the USBR struggled to identify the scope of the Project and the best location for the dam. An early, very grandiose proposal, was to build the dam just north of Ridgway along with auxiliary dams at such sites as the Upper Pleasant Valley Creek, the Upper Dallas Creek Valley, and the Lower Cow Creek Valley. Somehow out of all of this, irrigation water would be diverted to Log Hill Mesa.
These projects would have been out-of-the world expensive, very much opposed to by the ranchers in the region and totally impractical. The dam at Ridgway would have flooded the Town and would have been located on top of or near to the major Ridgway Fault. Because of this, property values in Ridgway were kept low and there was no town development for many years. It wasn’t until 1971 that an announcement was made that the dam would not be built at the Ridgway site.
One of the remaining two possible sites for the dam was a mile or so north of the confluence of Cow Creek and the Uncompahgre River as shown in Fig. 1 labeled: “Proposed Dam Axis”. The site that was chosen in 1975 with the support of Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DPOR) is just south of the confluence and is labeled “Cow Creek Dam Axis”.
Colorado Governor John Love made the decision in 1966 to assign responsibility for the project to the State Forest Service. The Dallas Creek Project was authorized by the Colorado River Basin Storage Project Act of 1968. In 1973 the Ridgway Project was assigned to the DPOR.
We have reported the results of our history study of the DCP/RSP in Ref. 7, Chapters 10-14. In February 1974, the DPOR Board officially decided that they would reaffirm the intention of Colorado Parks to enter into an agreement to manage the Ridgway Reservoir of the Dallas Creek Project. From 1974 to 1980, the USBR acquired title to the land required for the Project from private owners.