North Poudre Irrigation Company has a long history of serving north central Colorado. We’re proud of the role our company has played over the years in supporting the work of local farmers and ranchers and growing municipalities.
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In the 1870s, Colorado became a state, Fort Collins became a town, and local businessmen and land developers organized to build large-scale diversions of water from the Cache la Poudre River system to serve agricultural land north and east of the area’s major waterway.
Three early incorporations of what became the North Poudre Irrigation Company were formed by Fort Collins businessmen to divert water from the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River and bring it to farm land in the Boxelder Creek valley north of today’s town of Wellington.
The North Fork Irrigation Canal, the North Fork Irrigation Company, and the North Poudre, Boxelder, and Lone Tree Canal Company all began, and ended, in succession between 1878 and 1880 without actually constructing a ditch.
In 1880, a new group incorporated as the North Poudre Land, Canal, and Reservoir Company.
With loans from out-of-state institutional investors secured by 16,000 acres of undeveloped land, the company began construction of the North Fork Canal, now known as the North Poudre Main Ditch.
By 1886, the major institutional investor, Traveler’s Insurance Company, had foreclosed and taken over operation of the enterprise.
Some of the land under the ditch in the Boxelder Valley was now being farmed, but the ditch was not yet complete and water was not sufficient to meet season-long needs.
In 1896, Traveler’s Insurance sold what was now the North Poudre Land and Canal Company to F.C. Grable, a Larimer County irrigation developer who later became one of the founders of Wellington.
Once again, the company failed financially. In 1898, it entered receivership under the control of a Philadelphia investor.
Most of its 16,000 acres of land was still unsold, and still unirrigated.
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In 1901, a group of Greeley and Fort Collins developers bought the assets of the defunct North Poudre Land and Canal Company for $67,000. Once again, the company was reincorporated.
On August 1, 1901 the North Poudre Irrigation Company came into being.
What the new owners got for their money was not promising: One ditch that needed repair and completion; seven planned or partly built reservoirs (Reservoirs #1 and #2 had been built in 1886 and 1893); about 16,000 acres of land north of Fort Collins; and little reliable water.
Yet, over the next twenty years, these early leaders developed infrastructure and organization that still supports NPIC operations.
Expanded Infrastructure and Supply
By the end of 1901, stockholders had authorized company president Burton Sanborn to increase available shares of capital stock by 266%.
This action raised significant capital funds for infrastructure repair and completion, and expansion of the NPIC system.
Prior to 1901, portions of the wooden flume that carried diverted water along the canyon of the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River to the North Fork Ditch had been replaced with a tunnel through the canyon wall.
Fossil Creek Reservoir, then the largest water storage project in northern Colorado, was begun in 1902. Then and now, it serves as NPIC’s exchange reservoir.
By 1910, Halligan Reservoir, at the head of the canyon of the North Fork, and Reservoir #15, had been completed. Both are key storage resources today.
Along with other, smaller reservoirs built or completed during these years, Fossil Creek, Halligan and #15 permitted NPIC to expand the number of acres that could be irrigated with NPIC-delivered water.
These early reservoirs also supported the development of local farm communities and increased late season supply throughout the system. Late season supply was further secured as the company purchased or bought stock in smaller ditch companies with senior water rights that operated within its system.
In 1906, NPIC moved its offices from Greeley to Fort Collins.
Early in 1912, after almost ten years of successful company growth, stockholders again voted to increase the number of shares of capital stock.
The increase from 8,000 to 10,000 shares provided yet more paid-in capital for infrastructure and ditch company acquisition.
Even more significantly, in 1912 NPIC also changed its form of business operation. It reorganized to become a mutual, or non-profit, stock company.
The customers who used the water delivered in NPIC’s system became the owners of the company. When farmers bought NPIC-owned land, they also received NPIC stock.
Instead of a group of private investors, who may or may not be local, operating the company as a for-profit venture—building a ditch to supply water to land they owned and wanted to sell—customer-stockholders could operate the company for their mutual benefit: the efficient and regular supply of water for their farms and municipalities.
Perhaps not coincidentally, by 1913 almost all of the 16,000 acres of land owned by NPIC in 1901 had been sold to stockholder-farmers. These farmers and their irrigation company contributed greatly to the agricultural success of Larimer County in the twentieth century.
More than a century later, NPIC still operates in this mutually beneficial, customer-owned form.
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In the 1920s and 1930s, NPIC built on the foundation begun in the previous decade. It continued to expand its storage and delivery system and consolidate its finances.
By the 1930s, some of the company’s infrastructure was over 40 years old. With the assistance of the federal Civilian Conservation Corps, a number of irrigation structures were replaced and repaired.
Within the Boxelder Creek watershed, the company’s primary area of operation, a number of major floods occurred during this time (1922, 1930, 1933, 1937, 1947). High intensity, short duration thunderstorms typical of this part of Colorado caused repeated damage from floodwater, sediment, and erosion to agricultural land and irrigation structures.
In 1938, construction began on the Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project, a large-scale U.S. Bureau of Reclamation transmountain water diversion project.
The C-BT project originated in response to severe drought in the early 1930s. Water from the Colorado River headwaters on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains would be diverted to the Big Thompson River on the eastern slope and distributed for mainly agricultural use (at that time) in the South Platte River basin.
As a major irrigator in the Cache la Poudre valley, NPIC was involved throughout the 1940s with plans for C-BT water distribution in the eastern plains.
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In the late 1940s, NPIC leaders acted once again to secure the company’s future on behalf of its stockholders. Working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, NPIC agreed to acquire 40,000 units of C-BT water.
The acquisition of C-BT water added municipal and industrial uses to the existing irrigation use of water in the NPIC delivery system.
The multi-use C-BT water would permit NPIC to operate its historic exchanges to ensure water could be delivered to stockholders throughout the system into the future. NPIC would use its C-BT units extensively for exchange.
Each share of NPIC stock would be eligible for four units of C-BT water. NPIC is still the largest holder of C-BT units and is a major owner of C-BT water stored in Horsetooth Reservoir.
After NPIC acquired necessary land rights (1948-1951), the Bureau of Reclamation constructed the connection between the C-BT system and the NPIC system. In 1953, the first C-BT water was received via the North Poudre Supply Canal, also known as the Munroe Gravity Canal.
Two developments in the 1950s and 1960s opened the way to a different future for the area NPIC served and for the ways its stockholders would use water. Farmers began to use the recently developed center-pivot irrigation technology, which made irrigation more water-efficient. The construction of Interstate 25, begun in 1964, would facilitate the area’s urbanization in later decades.
From 1965-1970, NPIC developed the first major addition to its storage system since the completion of Halligan Reservoir and Reservoir #15 in 1910. Park Creek Reservoir, originally proposed in 1905, was built in the north end of the NPIC system, between Halligan and #15. It provided another structure for storing and distributing water from the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River.
The Halligan Dam and outlet works were also upgraded in 1970, after sixty years of service in the NPIC system.
The same year brought the beginning of a solution to the problem of flooding within the Boxelder Creek watershed. With another flood in 1967, local sponsors, community leaders, and state and federal agencies worked together to develop a watershed improvement plan, the Boxelder Creek Watershed Project Plan.
Five floodwater retention dams would be built in the watershed by the Soil Conservation Service (now, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS). As an original sponsor of the Boxelder Creek Watershed Project, NPIC assisted with acquisition of land rights and water rights in preparation for building the dams.
Construction took place from 1977-1982. Under an agreement with NRCS, NPIC operates and maintains the dams.
In 1964, the company moved to the office it occupies today in Wellington.
In northern Colorado, 1976 is remembered as the year of the Big Thompson flood. The same intense rain event caused significant flooding within the Cache la Poudre and Laramie River drainages and for NPIC-served areas.
In 1978, NPIC began a rehabilitation of its entire storage and delivery system. The last major rehabilitation had begun in the 1930s, almost fifty years earlier.
In the early 1980s, NPIC completed major upgrades to Fossil Creek Reservoir. The upgrades optimized storage space and improved operations capability for a structure built in the first decade of the twentieth century.
In 1985, NPIC took the first step to enlarging Halligan Reservoir, an action that would begin almost thirty years of planning and interaction with municipal water entities and federal and state agencies.
With 6,500 acre-feet of capacity, Halligan had by this time contributed to NPIC stockholders’ irrigation storage needs for 75 years.
Looking at future needs, NPIC and Halligan Resources Co. filed for and received a conditional water decree to increase storage in the reservoir to 40,000 acre-feet.
In 1989, NPIC and the City of Fort Collins completed a study investigating the enlargement of Halligan Reservoir for the purpose of increasing water supply reliability, especially in drought years.
By 1991, both Halligan Resources Co. and NPIC had sold their shares in the enlargement decree to the City of Fort Collins.
In 1993, the city entered into an agreement with NPIC for purchase rights for Halligan Reservoir and continued studying the feasibility of enlarging it.
The North Poudre Irrigation Company entered its second century of operation in a familiar way: delivering water to stockholders; repairing, maintaining, and rehabilitating company infrastructure; and working with local municipal entities to enhance regional water delivery.
In 2001, much of the Buckeye Lateral, the main extension of the North Poudre Canal below the Park Creek Reservoir, was placed in a pipeline to reduce transit loss and evaporation. A study of siltation in Halligan Reservoir began, and Indian Creek Reservoir was rehabilitated after the 2001 irrigation season.
In 2004, NPIC entered an operations agreement for the Munroe Pipeline with the City of Fort Collins, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the entities known as the Tri-Districts (East Larimer County Water District, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, and North Weld County Water District).
The pipeline, completed that year and now called the Pleasant Valley Pipeline, is a diversion of C-BT water off the North Poudre Supply Canal/Munroe Gravity Canal. It allows stockholders of various water management entities, including NPIC, to send water to Horsetooth Reservoir for exchange.
The 2002 Drought
NPIC held its 100th annual meeting in early 2002, but the anniversary was overshadowed by the lack of mountain snowfall. With three dry years preceding it, the 2001/2002 winter snow pack was the lowest in company history. The spring runoff, a major source of yearly allocation, ran for only a week, ending May 23.
The Front Range area began the worst drought in over 150 years. Both municipal and agricultural water systems had to take emergency measures to conserve water. For the first time since receiving C-BT water in 1953, NPIC needed to set an appropriation that limited stockholders to one-quarter acre-foot per share in order to help its municipal shareholders.
High temperatures and low precipitation emptied reservoirs statewide that summer. Into spring 2003, a water pool had to be organized for the one acre-foot of municipal water that was available in the NPIC system. Municipal and industrial water was rented at $400 per acre-foot. Agricultural water reached a rental price of $80 per acre-foot.
A record snowfall in March 2003 helped water flow again from the mountains. For the first time in three years, the company was able to appropriate early water and the entire NPIC system ran. Lessons had been learned, however. The drought years had shown the company would need to change its delivery patterns.
Halligan Reservoir Sale and Expansion
After completing feasibility and environmental impact studies for reservoir enlargement, the City of Fort Collins exercised its option to buy Halligan Reservoir from NPIC.
The deal was closed in January, 2004, ending almost 94 years of company ownership of a pioneering structure in the history of northern Colorado water management.
NPIC retains its senior water storage right and refill right in the reservoir. The company also remains a partner in the operation and maintenance of the dam.
In the same year, NPIC and the Tri-Districts agreed to partner with the City of Fort Collins for the Halligan expansion project. The permitting process began in 2006 as the Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project.
The City of Fort Collins and the City of Greeley had agreed to combine their individual projects for enlarging Halligan Reservoir and Seaman Reservoir, both on the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River, into a single permitting process.
In 2009, the Tri-Districts withdrew as partners in the Halligan expansion project. In spring 2014, after spending $1.8 million on the still-incomplete permitting process, NPIC also decided to withdraw from the project.
September 2013 Flood
Several days of intense rain in September 2013 produced significant flooding in Larimer County. The Cache la Poudre River in certain locations reached peak flows of up to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).
The Fossil Creek Reservoir is filled through the Fossil Creek Inlet Ditch, which diverts water from the Poudre River. The diversion structure, which had been rebuilt in the 1980s, was designed to carry approximately 400 cfs. Flows during the flood greatly exceeded the structure’s capacity and it was destroyed. Reconstruction is scheduled for fall 2015.
Throughout the NPIC system, infrastructure shows the wear and tear of deferred maintenance. A high priority of the board of directors and staff is repair and rehabilitation.
North Poudre Irrigation Company began with developing a system to deliver water to farmers. As recently as the early 1970s, almost all the company’s stockholders made their living with agriculture. The development and population growth in north central Colorado over the last 45 years has changed both the mix of NPIC water users and the environment in which the company operates.
Today, 75% of NPIC-delivered water is used by municipal water entities and 25% by people engaged either full-time or part-time in agriculture. Environmental, political, and competitive concerns that didn’t exist when Burton Sanborn and the group of Greeley developers took a chance on buying the assets of the North Poudre Land and Canal Company now make the delivery of water in Colorado a complicated and multi-faceted business.
Our intent is to keep an agricultural core, serve our current shareholders, and adapt to the water situation of the 21st century.
Source credit for early history of the company:
“Origin of the North Poudre Irrigation Company” by Ann Hilfinger (Colorado State University Libraries, 1993)