How strong is the flume?

Courtezy Photo/Linda Towle

The McElmo Creek Flume, is one of the last remaining flumes from the original Montezuma County irrigaton project. At the project’s peak, nearly 100 flumes were scattered throughout the county. The flume was named to Colorado’s 2011 Most Endangered Places list, sponsored by Colorado Preservation, Inc.

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

The multi-stage project to return the McElmo Creek Flume to its former glory is poised to take another step forward.

The coalition of groups spearheading the effort has, after some delays, scrounged up the money for a concrete and steel structural assessment. The results will determine if the flume can withstand future restoration.

Colorado’s State Historical Fund paid the biggest share, and local advocates coaxed two supplementary donations from the Ballantine Family Fund ($2,000) and Board of County Commissioners ($2,625).

The flume sits just south of Highway 160 near the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Formerly part of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company’s vast network of canals, the flume transported water over a natural arroyo en route from the Dolores River to Towaoc. Now abandoned and collapsing, it is owned by the county.

The assessment, scheduled for May 16-17, involves several players. Ron Anthony, a scientist from Fort Collins who tested the integrity of the flume’s wood last July, is returning for continuity. David Woodham, an engineer with the Boulder firm Atkinson-Noland & Associates, will handle the bulk of work on the concrete supports and steel beams. University of New Mexico architecture professor Doug Porter will also be on scene. Linda Towle, chairwoman of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board, believes the assessment will yield one of three outcomes.

“The first is to do nothing and let nature take its course. We’ve seen how that plays out. The second option is rehabilitation of the wooden superstructure and reinforcement of the steel supports,” she said. “The third option would be restoring (the flume) to working condition. This (last) option is unlikely — we know it’ll never carry water again, so it doesn’t need to be in perfect shape.”

Towle marveled at how quickly the flume has deteriorated. It was last used in 1992, and photographs as recently as 2002 showed it in decent shape, she said. Flash floods in 2006 and heavy winds in 2010 took their toll, according to Colorado Preservation, Inc.

Listed on the Colorado Preservation “Most Endangered Places List” two years ago, the flume was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Restoration work on the flume itself is separate from future plans to turn the surrounding area into an educational pit-stop, complete with a parking lot, overlook and signs explaining the importance of water and history of irrigation in Montezuma County.

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