A century of water for ranches south of Silt
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Imagine digging a 20-mile-long irrigation canal — by hand — through the rocky ranchland south of Silt.
No trackhoes, D9s or trucks. Just you, the neighbors, your horses and mules … and maybe some explosives.
This isn’t a reality TV challenge, it’s Garfield County history.
More than 100 years ago, ranchers began building what is known as the Multa Trina ditch that brings water from Thompson Creek and Divide Creek west almost to Mamm Creek.
“They used horses and a wooden scraper, like a wheelbarrow with no wheels,” explained Mary Jane Hangs, secretary and historian for the New Multa Trina Ditch Co., which oversees ditch operations. “The horse pulled the scraper and a man would hold the handles and scrape up the dirt and dump it out.”
A few sticks of well-placed dynamite also came in handy. Hangs described the upper end of the ditch as it comes around a cliff.
“I wish the world could see that cliff,” she said. “They tunneled into the sand rock and made a ledge for the ditch.”
The Multa Trina ditch supplies 3,500 acres of land with irrigation water from April through mid-summer. Property owners along the ditch share the water.
Times have changed and so has the landscape south of Silt. Older ranches have been carved into lots. More people have moved in. More than 32,000 water shares are now divided among 60 shareholders, compared to 11 shareholders in 1935.
“Water shares cost three cents back then,” said Hangs, who was born and raised up Dry Hollow. “Now they’re up to $1.50.”
In the 1990s, the Southside Conservation District modernized a failing pipeline five miles south of I-70 that transported water under Dry Hollow Road. Dennis Davidson, who works with three local conservation districts, said the pipeline is a siphon.
“It starts on a hill, goes down and crosses the bottom of Dry Hollow,” he explained. “Then, it goes under the road, comes back up the opposite bank and spills back into the ditch.”
As the water flows downhill inside the pipe, it builds pressure, which gives it energy to push it back up the other side.
“The siphon means less work, less maintenance, and less water loss,” said Davidson.
Originally, an open wooden flume perched on a wooden trestle 60 to 80 feet above the ground carried water across Dry Hollow. In 1950, ranchers replaced both flume and trestle with World War II surplus pipe that ran along the ground and underneath the road.
Mike Kishimoto, civil engineer at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Glenwood Springs, said that by 1990, the pipe was in bad shape.
“The siphon was shot,” he explained. “It was leaking and welded with tin.”
That’s when the district rode to the rescue — this time with heavy equipment — and tore out the old pipe.
“We poured concrete foundations and installed metal support stands to hold the pipe as it comes across Dry Hollow,” said Davidson. “We [installed new pipe] under the county road and back up the hill.”
“That one could last 100 years, if they take care of it,” said Kishimoto.
Both men are proud of the work.
”You get charged up wanting to help the landowners,” said Davidson. “If this thing fails, they lose their year’s water.”
Editor’s note: The South Side Conservation District is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and the Citizen Telegram will publish stories about the district and its history from time to time this year.
The district was formed on Nov. 16, 1953. It is located south of the Colorado River between South Canyon Creek and Rifle.
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