In 1952 Governor Dan Thornton organized the Colorado Irrigation Centennial Committee, which included 27 members from all parts of the state. The Committee, along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University) released a commemorative publication, A Hundred Years of Irrigation in Colorado: 100 Years of Organized and Continuous Irrigation, 1852-1952. It is available from our library both in print and digital versions.
The document does note that, while the committee was commemorating “organized and continuous” irrigation, archaeologists have found evidence that irrigation was practiced by the area’s earliest peoples long before whites explored and settled what would become Colorado. (Our library has many publications on Colorado archaeology; search our web catalog for resources).
The publication continues with a history of “Spanish American” settlers in the San Luis Valley, who, experienced in irrigation, taught inexperienced “Pioneers” about irrigating their lands. As more and more people moved to Colorado, and more competition for water occurred, the courts began to divide water rights into districts and divisions.
The centennial committee held a celebration and ceremony in Alamosa on April 10, 1952. A plaque was created by the Colorado Historical Society and placed on the site of the original 1852 San Luis People’s Ditch as part of the ceremony; it can still be seen at the site. It contains the phrase “Colorado’s Greatness is Built Upon Irrigation.” Speeches made during the program, as well as articles that were presented, are contained in the publication, including a look at future irrigation development from the then-director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Colorado’s water law and development has of course changed much since 1952. For Colorado’s water story since 1952, see History of Water Rights in Colorado; Citizens’ Guide to Colorado’s Water Heritage; Historic Context for Irrigation and Water Supply: Ditches and Canals in Colorado, and numerous other publications available from our library.