Out of 104 wooden irrigation flumes built by pioneers to jump start Cortez beginning in the 1880s, there is just one left standing.
Now Lonely McElmo Flume No. 6, located near the fairgrounds, is a piece of history that Colorado wants to save.
The State Historical Society announced this week it has awarded Montezuma County, which owns the Flume, $125,000 to restore and stabilize the foundation of the unique structure.
“We are very pleased. They funded everything that we asked for this phase of the restoration work,” said Linda Towle, a historic site advocate and volunteer. “Hopefully we can start work on it this summer.”
A $40,000 local match is required, and $17,500 has been raised, $15,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation Board, and $2,500 from Montezuma county.
“There is about $23,000 outstanding so we need more fundraising efforts in the next 3 to 4 months,” Towle said, adding that the State Historical Society is flexible on their deadline “as long as we are making progress.”
The grant money and matching funds will be used to repair braces on the south end of the structure. Old concrete will be removed from steel supports to repair corrosion and new concrete will be poured. The area will be graded and contoured so the flume rests on stable ground.
Once the match is raised, the project will go through a county competitive bid process.
The McElmo Flume No. 6 operated up until the mid-1990s, explained John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation Board. The old water delivery line was replaced by the Towaoc Canal and underground piping of the Dolores Project.
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 that directs drainage into McElmo Creek so that should not happen again,” Porter said.
The flume system has a long and somewhat tumultuous history in the Montezuma Valley, he said.
In the late 1800s, the federal government gave the land to private companies who developed irrigation systems for new farms that spurred the city of Cortez. Once water was delivered, the irrigation companies sold the land to recoup their construction costs.
“It worked pretty well, but money for maintenance was never factored in and the flumes deteriorated, companies went broke,” Porter said.
Flumes are irrigation structures that span draws, drainages, and arroyos before industrial earth movers were available to bring in fill to level the ground.
The flume is on the National Register of Historic Places and is adjacent to Highway 160, part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. The organization has been awarded a $252,631 grant from the Federal Byways Program to construct a pullout and interpretive panels about the flume.
“The interpretive part will be fun, working with local families, the Utes, ranchers and local water experts about the flume’s history and how important it was,” said Susan Thomas, Trails of the Ancients Byways coordinator.
CDOT has committed to constructing a paved pullout and parking lot at the flume that may go in this summer. The site will feature a sidewalk to a viewpoint overlooking the flume. Stone walls and education panels on the flume and area attractions will be installed.
“It’s a symbol of the heritage of this valley,” Porter said. “Irrigation is what brought the population here, so it ought to be preserved.”