The history of water in Loveland, CO. reflects the history of water in the State of Colorado, and the history of the land.
The Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, established in Colorado, originated in the 1848 Gold Rush in California, when miners had to divert water to wash gold. Disputes over water were first settled with gun and knife fights, shovels and fist fights. To prevent this, informal rules were developed regarding water in the goldfields.
Although the settlements of The Big Thompson Valley were influential in diverting water supplies irrigation was not a new concept. Evidence and remnants of dams in southwestern Colorado dating to 1000 A.D. prove that water has always been a critical resource requiring conservation.
In The Big Thompson Valley, where Loveland, CO. is now located, the first white settlers lived along the river, with easy access to the water supply provided by the snowpack in the mountains that melted in warmer months. Using this supply they were able to grow oats, beans, wheat, potatoes, and other crops – apple orchards were established in 1871, and by 1920 more than one and a half million pounds of cherries were harvested from cherry tree orchards in the valley each year, with Loveland understandably making the claim they were the largest producer of raspberries in the county.
As the population of the area continued to grow settlers, recognizing the need to manage the water, began working to dig small ditches to allow for inland irrigation of the arid and semi-arid lands located above the flood plain. Ditch companies, comprised of landowners and farmers, were established to build deeper and wider ditches. A requirement of being involved in a ditch company was that each stockholder was responsible for digging and maintaining ditches across his property.
The Big Thompson Ditch Company was granted the earliest appropriation date for the purpose, in 1861.
The Chubbuck Ditch, built in 1867 by farmers, was the first ditch to carry Big Thompson River water to bluffs above the river.