McElmo Flume

Flumes are a method to divert water to a desired location. In contrast to a ditch or trench, a flume is man-made channel for water, in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain. Most flumes were wooden troughs elevated on trestles, often following the natural contours of the land. In 1878 a ditch company was formed in Montezuma Valley for the purpose of diverting water from the Dolores River for agricultural irrigation purposes. Canals were dug and flumes were built, and by 1889 the project was complete. In April of 1888, the Montezuma Journal called the system, “…one of the greatest irrigation enterprises, not only in the state, but in the West.” By 1920, when the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company was formed, the system included more than 100 wooden flumes and 150 miles of canals. Today, only a single flume remains of the 104 originally constructed. It serves as a reminder of the spectacular engineering feat that was instrumental in developing Southwestern Colorado. The McElmo Creek Flume, which bridges a natural arroyo east of Cortez, was a marvel of engineering, delivering water to Towaoc and area ranches. It operated until 1992 but was replaced by the concrete canals of the McPhee Project and has since fallen into disrepair. The flume will likely collapse and be lost forever unless quick action is taken to preserve this significant historic resource.

Recently, the McElmo Flume Restoration Project was given a green light. A $20,000 contribution from the Southwest Basin Roundtable (SBR) was approved by the CWCB. The funds complete a $41,000 match for a $125,000 State Historical Society grant to do the stabilization work. In addition to the SBR contribution, the SWCD approved $15,000, the Ballantine Family Fund contributed $4,000, Montezuma County chipped in $2,500, and the Cortez Historical Society gave $1,500. Infrastructure repair work will likely begin this Fall. The plan is to construct an interpretive overlook for the structure off of U.S. 160 and conduct further rehabilitation on the wooden flume section where the water once flowed. To that end, the flume has been approved for a National Scenic Byways grant of $252,631 that would pay for a parking lot, interpretive overlook, and turnout off of U.S. 160. That grant requires a match of $158,159 by next year. So far, the county was approved to use an in-kind grant of $95,000 toward the match, leaving them $63,000 short of the goal.