McElmo Flume secures funding for stabilization

Construction work is first phase in effort to preserve irrigation structure

It has been a long road, and there is still a ways to go, but the first step toward bringing the remaining section of the McElmo Flume back to life has a green light.

The last piece of the puzzle for the initial stabilization phase of the project fell into place this week said Linda Towle, chairwoman of the Cortez Historic Preservation board.

A $20,000 contribution from the Southwest Basin Roundtable has been approved by the Colorado Water Conservation board. The funds complete a $41,000 match for a $125,000 State Historical Society grant to do the stabilization work.

“We are very pleased,” Towle said “We can finally begin critical infrastructure repairs, hopefully beginning this fall.”

The community rallied to save the wooden irrigation flume built by Montezuma Valley irrigation companies in the 1880s.

In addition to the Southwest Roundtable contribution, the Southwest Water Conservation Board gave $15,000, the Ballantine Family Fund contributed $4,000, Montezuma County chipped in $2500, and the Cortez Historical Society gave $1,500.

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.

“The county was recently rejected for a GOCO grant for that remaining match amount,” said James Dietrich, county community services director. “GOCO funds more recreation based projects, so we will continue looking for the funding for the interpretive portion.”

Towle is on the prowl too.

“I will be attending the rural philanthropy days in Pagosa Springs and shop our project around,” she said. “The flume is a symbol of our valley’s heritage. Irrigation is what made Cortez, so this early structure should be preserved.”

Dietrich said the county is seeking a construction company specializing in historic preservation to begin work on the funded portion of the project.

Out of 104 wooden irrigation flumes built by Montezuma County pioneers, one still stands.

The McElmo flume No. 6 operated until the mid-1990s, explained John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation Board. The flume was the first water delivered to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. The original water line was replaced by the Towaoc-Highline canal.

Fifteen years ago, a flash flood damaged a portion of the flume and undermined the foundation.

“A concrete plug was installed in an upstream draw so drainage is directed into McElmo creek away from the flume, so that should not happen again,” Porter said.