Compiled by Alex Michel – April 1986

When the irrigation of some of the land now included in the North Sterling Irrigation District was first conceived as a feasible project 1893.  It is the culmination of a series of plans and undertakings extending throughout a number of years.  For weeks and months and years they planned and worked, sometimes wearily but always confidently.

The North Sterling District grew out of numerous projects, commencing with the Pawnee Water Storage Company, T. C. Henry, president.  This Company was organized in 1898 for the purpose of taking over the unsold rights of the Pawnee Land and Canal Company, which constructed the Farmers Pawnee Ditch.

In February 1902, an irrigation congress was held in Sterling, under the auspices of the Sterling Chamber of Commerce, at which there were present representatives from three states, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.  The purpose was to consider the Pawnee Pass irrigation project, in which the United States Reclamation service was manifesting some interest, and upon which M. C. King and Geo. H. West had made filings in the early 90’s.  Several prominent men were present, including the Governor Savage of Nebraska, and A. L. Fellows of Denver, an engineer in the reclamation service, Geo. H. Maxwell, A. J. McCune, State Engineer, H. N. Haynes of Greeley, R. R. Greet, the president and C. B. Goddard, secretary of the Sterling Chamber of Commerce.

After much opposition and a long lawsuit involving all parties concerned the Pawnee Pass project was abandoned.  Mr. Henry, then undertook the organization of a district including about 40,000 acres in the present North Sterling district in 1903, but did not receive noticeable support from the landowners.  The Board of County Commissioners before whom he appeared with his petition, in consideration of the evidence submitted by A. E. Buchanan and others, representing the property owners of the district, held that the petition was not sufficient.

About this time, Mr. Buchanan called attention to the feasibility of the Point of Rocks survey, and after considerable investigation the organization of a district and the preparation of a petition to cover this system was commenced, but a court injunction was granted at the instance of Mr. Henry, which successfully blocked further effort until 1905, when it was set aside.

In the meantime, ten Logan County businessmen formed what was known as the “Ten Men Company” and in 1905 began a survey from the river at a point near Union to Pawnee Creek, with the intention of constructing a reservoir on the Creek just below the old Corbin ranch.  The “Ten Men Company” was composed of E. M. Gillett, George A. Henderson, C. B. Goddard,

F. J. Henderson, C. A. Hayward, M. C. King, W. C. Harris, C. C. Brown, L. T. Gillett, and C. B. Timberlake.

In the fall of 1905, A. E. Buchanan, H. H. White, W. B. Giacomini, Thomas Pedroni,  G. W. McLain, W. S. Jenkins, and S. E. Naugle surveyed a line to determine whether or not the Ten Men System could be extended to Point of Rocks on Cedar Creek.  The plan was found entirely feasible and filings for water were made in the name of H. H. White and Geo. W. McLain to date from November 9, 1905.

This survey suggested vast possibilities and in order to complete another Ten Men concern, E. E. Armour, J. P. Dillon, E. R, Fortner and William Tew became interested, whereupon, the two ten-men organizations combined their interests and the Sterling Promotion and Irrigation Company was organized April 10, 1906, with a capital stock of $20,000, for the purpose of surveying and promoting the project.  Walter Pearl of Denver was placed in charge of the work, with W. S. Jenkins as assistant engineer.

Upon completion of the organization of the Sterling Promotion and Irrigation Company, the work of making final surveys of the dam and canals and securing definite estimates was undertaken.  Eminent engineers were engaged for the work and their exhaustive reports constitute important records of the formative period of the enterprise.

Thru the efforts of the Sterling Promotion and Irrigation Company, The North Sterling Irrigation District was organized by order of the Board of County Commissioners of Logan County, entered February 25th, 1907, as the results of an election.  At said election, C. W. Johnson, Arthur B. Buchanan and H. Herbert White were elected to be Directors of the District.

On date of June 12, 1907, The North Sterling Irrigation District entered into an agreement with the Sterling Promotion and Irrigation Company which provided that the Company agrees to sell to the District all its rights, titles, interest and franchises pertaining to and connected with the reservoir system which includes Point of Rocks site, Spring Dale site, Inlet and Outlet Ditches, all filings, water appropriation and interests for the sum of Fifty Thousand ($50,000.00) Dollars in bonds of the District.

At a special election of the District held on July 27, 1907, a bond issue in the amount of 1,350,000.00 was authorized by the landowners. On June 15, 1908, an agreement was entered into with the Empire Construction Company, whereby the latter was to resurvey the entire project, prepare plans and specifications, make estimates and do all the necessary engineering work without charge, provided it was awarded the contract for constructing the reservoir, canals, etc.

This, the Empire Company did, estimating the cost at about $1,835.000.00 and placing the construction period at about 18 months. An election for the purpose of canceling the original issue of bonds and voting a new issue of $2,080,000.00, the amount determined necessary for construction, one year’s interest, the purchase of right-of-ways and water appropriations, was authorized by a satisfactory majority of the landowners on date of December 19, 1908.

A call for bids for the construction work was immediately issued and three were submitted, they were opened February 19, 1909. The Empire Construction Company was awarded the contract April 9, 1909, for $1,689,375. exclusive of rock work and toe wall which was estimated to cost $115,675. additional. The question of ratification of the contract was submitted to voters of the district May 7, 1909 and unanimously approved.

Itemized costs of the system under said contract were set forth as follows:

River dam and Inlet headgates $15,000,

Sixty two miles of inlet Canal $486,000,

Six wasteways $12,000,

Twenty wagon bridges $8,000,

Four railroad bridges $9,000,

Earth work Point of Rocks reservoir dam $400,000,

Reservoir outlet conduit $25,000,

Sixty three miles outlet canal $400,080,

Eighteen months engineering and other incidentals $63,000,

Concrete face and toe wall of reservoir $71,295,

and for first payment as provided to a total cost of $1,689,375.

The district purchased the necessary rights-of-way and the work under this contract proceeded until completed on August 16th, 1911.  The work should have been completed November 7, 1910, but considerable change in the plans was found necessary to comply with requirements of the State Engineer.

The Empire Construction Company subcontracted certain sections of the earth and construction work to DeRemer and Olsen Company and they in turn sublet a part of their contract to George S. Bedford and others.  All the earthwork was completed with horse and mule drawn wagons, fresnos and excavators, with as many as 1,500 head of horses and mules being used on any given day.  Marten Bedford, son of George S. Bedford and time keeper wrote: “on the job work moved merrily on, the excavators moving back and forth at right angles to the fill, it took about 15 seconds to fill a dump bed, then the 16 horse team stopped, a few seconds later another dump bed was in place. Usually 20 dump wagons to one excavator, it two men to operate the big rig, the high seat driver had the horses under control at all times, the man on the tiller at the rear end kept the snug in the furrow, to see him you would think he was driving the six horses pushing but they too obeyed the start and stop commands from the high seat.”

Cement mixers and pile drivers were powered by a stationary steam engine.  Headgates, wasteways, bridges and other related structures were all constructed by hand labor using manual operated tools.

S. E. Naugle, attorney for the North Sterling Irrigation District during its period of development and construction was the most instrumental factor in stimulating interest and carrying out the many important details, and to whose untiring effort is largely due the successful completion of this enterprise.

Proctor J. Preston deserves considerable credit for his work in connection with the system, he was employed first to make the estimates of the work for the District, and when the work of construction was finally awarded to the Empire Construction Company, he was made Chief Engineer for the District, remaining in that capacity until the work was completed.

Financial Statement of the District dated July 1st, 1912, shows the cost of the completed system as $2,019,293.72

The first water was run into the intake canal February 12, 1911, but this run was very short as the canal was new and the embankment green, a break occurred February 27th and other weak points developed so that very little water was run into the canal that spring, none of it reaching the reservoir.  Little water was available during the fall of 1911 until after Christmas, when water was turned in again, running for two or three weeks. Severe storms prevented the running of much water during the winter and the first water finally reached the reservoir at 10 p.m., April 13, 1912.

During the summer of 1912, several good runs occurred from the River and Pawnee Creek. In October, the canal was opened up and on May 10, 1913, the available storage in the reservoir was 29,010 acre feet. The headgates to the Outlet Canal were opened for the first time at 1:30 p.m.

on June 10th, 1913, and with the exception of one week (July 28 to Aug. 4) a continuous run to August 12th at which time the Outlet was closed.

A break in the inlet canal happened on March 6th, 1914 under very suspicious circumstances, an unsuccessful attempt to break the ditch was made on June 21st, the bank being cut with a spade. On June 25th, a break occurred at the same place and it was evident that it had been cut, as there were still plenty of signs when the ditch rider came along and discovered the break, a paddle covered with fresh mud was also found beside the break.  The Board of Directors offered a reward of $500.00 and a Denver detective was put on the job for five weeks but no definite information was obtained as to the identity of the culprit.

The 1915, report of Superintendent A. H. King states that during the year 1913 we had seven breaks in the intake ditch, during 1914 five breaks and during 1915 two breaks, the above goes to show that the banks of the ditch are becoming more settled, and the running of water is driving the gophers and rats out of the fills.  In 1916, he reported the roads and bridges are being put in better shape every year, laterals are being made in a better manner with drops and headgates, and from actual count we find that in 1911 there were 14 sets of ranch and farm buildings, in 1915 there were 59 sets and in 1916 there were 70 sets, all located upon District land.

With 49,000 acre feet of water stored in the reservoir on date of May 15, 1915, high wind caused wave action that damaged the concrete facing of the dam to the extent that further storage was not possible.  Plans were adopted by the District to cover the entire face of the dam with rock rip-rap, the District purchased a tug boat and several large barges which were loaded by self dumping cars running on a small railroad track giving water transportation of rock which was estimated to be the least costly method of getting the rock to the face of the dam. A contract to do this work was awarded to Clark and Hasselman and after placing 13,000 yards of rock they abandoned the work, the contract was then assigned to Axton and Spratten and they failed to perform.  In January of 1917, the District organized a gang and began putting rock on the dam at the reservoir by force account, it purchased an air compressor and two machine drills, borrowed Mr. White’s large tractor engine to run the compressor, and put a force of about 18 men and 6 teams to work.

The exceedingly high water in the river during June of 1921, and the more disastrous flood on Pawnee Creek which washed out the concrete wasteway and almost obliterated the intake ditch for several hundred feet, made the year very expensive for operation and upset plans in many respects.

At a general meeting of the landowners of the District held on May 10th, 1924, arrangements were made to retire all outstanding bonds of the District.

On May 8th, 1927, with 65,000 acre feet of water stored in the North Sterling Reservoir, high wind was causing dangerous undermining and moving of the rip-rap on the face of the dam.  A force of over a hundred men was put to work on the dam at 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon in an effort to keep it from breaking.  The wind blew constantly all day Monday, May 9th and an estimated force of 350 men were kept busy all day filling and placing sacks along the dam to lessen the destructive action of the high waves.  Calls for help were sent to Sterling repeatedly during the day, every available man was needed, there were cries for sacks, shovels and men. The Sterling Chamber of Commerce recruited men and trucks and provided sacks, rushing them to the reservoir.

The State Engineer, A. H. King, Superintendent Wright and others went along the dam, making a careful inspection at midnight on May 9th, they pronounced the fight won and the victory went to the human element in the big battle.  Among those who did especially effective work in the fight of Sunday night, Monday and Monday night were: W. C. Harris, Glenn Morris and others of the W. C. Harris Company; G. A. Gribble and C. J. Funk, who provided transportation and recruited workers; H. M. Harms of the Chamber of Commerce; Dave Morris, Charles Halley, and others who hauled workers and materials; James P.. Mason, Jesse Forbes and others (40 men) of the Great Western Sugar Company, who helped feed the workers and took sacks to the reservoir; the jewelers of Sterling who sacrificed their stocks of goggles; Superintendent Holtorf, Master mechanic C. 0. Davenport and others of the Burlington Railroad who provided labor (190 men) and equipment; the Union Pacific officials and crews (165 men); high school boys who helped in the afternoon fight, and the hundreds of volunteers from various walks of life.  It was a great battle and a great victory that saved a huge investment, potential crops, and many homes.

The May 12, 1927 edition of the Sterling Advocate reported that numerous Sterling men, merchants, ministers, clerks, office workers, are still limping about as the result of the unusual exertion at the reservoir.  Backs are still sore and legs ache, but there are many who are satisfied with the thought that they did their part without hesitation when the call came.

During 1928, an average crew of twenty men was employed continuously on the Reservoir Dam.  The State Engineer, M. C. Hinderlider, stated that the work being done is the best job of hand laid rip-rap in the state.  The job proved to be a big one and required more yards of rock and earth than was first estimated.  By the end of 1929, work on the reservoir had progressed to the point where 70,000 acre ft. could be safely stored with a freeboard of 10 ft. vertically from the water surface to top of the completed rip-rap.

District records describe the 1935 floods as “the biggest in years.”  On May 27th, Pawnee Creek flooded with an estimated flow of 10,000 second foot, on May 31st an estimated 65,000 second foot in the South Platte river reached the North Sterling river headgates at 10 A.M., went broadside over railroad and ditch bank, took out sand dams and broke canal near Union.  On June 11th, another Pawnee Creek flood estimated at 15,000 second foot broke Inlet Canal at Bryson Van Gundy’s farm.  District forces, contracted equipment and labor were kept busy for the balance of 1935 and part of 1936 repairing flood damages.

The new cut for the Inlet Canal to enter the reservoir was completed during August of 1939, all earth work required on the main reservoir dam was completed with excavated material hauled from the cut.  A total of 102,255 cu. yds. of material was moved from the cut, of which amount 62,623 cu. yds. were hauled and compacted to place in the reservoir embankment.

During the years 1937 thru 1939, the Inlet Canal was placed in an improved condition by District forces, the distance covered was worked twice by the new Ruth Dredger in order to secure improved alignment and to place additional material on the lower embankment where most needed.

On July 16th, 1959, at 10 a.m., the north gate of the reservoir outlet works broke while being closed, the other three gates were then closed which resulted in approximately 500 sec. ft. of uncontrollable water flowing into the Outlet Canal.  On July 18th, at 4 p.m. a crew composed of Kaepernik Excavating, Inc. employees and District forces were successful in dropping a large steel plate over the front of the outlet tube leading from the reservoir, this reduced the uncontrollable flow of water to 230 sec. ft., an amount that could be easily used for irrigation at any time. During October of 1959 new gates were placed in all four of the Outlet Tubes.

During October of 1964, the Outlet works of the reservoir were modified by the addition of a set of secondary gates in the inlet end of the outlet tubes.  Modification consisted of installing 3 hydraulic operated slide gates, 1 hydraulic operated butterfly valve and the erection of a structure to house all gate controls.

South Platte River and Pawnee Creek floods during the month of June, 1965, caused much damage and destruction to the works and property of the District.  Repairing and replacing of the Pawnee Creek flood control structures, river sand dams, river diversion dam, fences, inlet canal, wasteways, control structures and the construction of a new house to replace the dislocated river dam caretakers house was all completed before November of that year.

On date of August 14th, 1968, rain ranging from 7 to 11 inches fell in a 10 hour period above the lower portion of the Inlet Canal and the entire Outlet Canal causing 12 breaks in these canals. Of these 12 breaks, 3 were of such magnitude that it was necessary to purchase additional right-of-way and to relocate the Canal.  Local construction firms were employed to do the necessary dirt work to repair or relocate the Canals, repairs to the Outlet Canal were completed on August 22nd and Inlet repairs were completed on September 15th.

During the fall, of 1982, a 530 ft. wide emergency spillway was constructed at the North Sterling Reservoir. This spillway is designed to meet Federal regulations and is capable of passing the one-half probable maximum flood.

The District’s office located in Room 222, Foote Bldg., 205½ Main Street in Sterling, CO, from date of its organization was moved on December 11th, 1984, to a building purchased by the District located at 112 North 8th Avenue, in Sterling.

The North Sterling Reservoir is located 13 miles northwest of Sterling, Colorado, has a capacity of 74,590 acre feet, and covers an area of 2,895 acres when filled to capacity with a shoreline of 44 miles.  The Dam is 5,080 feet long, has a crest width of 25feet, height is 86 feet above the Creek bed, 59 feet above the bottom of the Outlet tubes and has a feeboard of 13 feet above the crest of the spillway.

The Inlet Canal is 60.45 miles long with a safe carrying capacity of 600 cubic feet per second and the Outlet Canal is 62.40 miles long, has a carrying capacity in excess of 800 cubic feet per second with 71 headgates serving over 200 landowners with 40,916.94 acres of land included within the District.

The District’s rights to divert water from the South Platte River are as follows: Reservoir Priority No. 53-A allows diversion at the rate of 300 second feet to store 69,446 acre feet in the reservoir to date from June 15, 1908; Reservoir Priority No. 79 allows diversion at the rate 711 second feet to store an additional 11,954 acre feet by accumulations on the gage rod to date from August 1, 1915; and Ditch Priority No. 133 allows diversion at the rate of 460 second feet for use in direct irrigation to date from May 27, 1914.

Directors of the District elected by the landowners:

Division No. 1

Arthur E. Buchanan  1907-1929,

W. L McNear  1930-1964,

Don Dal Ponte              1965-1975,

LaVerne Hoier  1976–1991

David Breidenbach  1992 –

Division No. 2

H. Herbert White  1907-1908,

W. B. Giacomini  1909-1911,

H. Herbert White  1912-1917,

J. P. Dillon  1918-1938,

R, G. Pyle  1939-1959

D. R. Pyle  1960-1986

Bernard Harms  1987-1989

Gordon Schuppe  1989–2004

David A. Hernandez  2005-

Division No. 3

C. W. Johnson  1907-1912,

W. C. Harris  1913-1927,

A. A. Smith  1928-1939,

Joe Rudolph  1940-1954,

Victor Hem  1955-1957,

Andrew Amen  1958-1963

Pete Nein  1964–1990

Jim Aranci  1991-

Secretaries, Superintendents and Managers as appointed by the Board of Directors:

D. A. Bartholow, Secretary  1907,

W. B. Giacomini, Secretary  1908,

John E. Fetzer, Secretary 1909-1911,

A. A. King, Secretary-Superintendent  1912-1926,

R. J. Wright, Secretary—Superintendent  1928-1953,

Alex Michel, Assistant Superintendent  1946-1952

Secretary-Manager  1953-1993

Consultant  1993-1996

Jim Yahn, Assistant Manager  1992-1993

Secretary-Manager  1993-

Maintenance and Operation supervisors of the system;

Edgar H. Jones  1911-1930,

Clyde Geer  1914-1965,

Iver Smith  1928-1953

Charles K. Lynch  1957-1992

Leon Rose  1993-

Other faithful long time employees included: Walter King, Ross Dillon, W. F, Ferguson, Harry Lindsay, Paul H, Miller, Herman Meineke, Glen Carey, Walter Schippert and Harley Hewitt.

Occupational deaths during the history of the District; Frank Cherryholmes drowned at the river dam on February 10th, 1930 and Clarence F, Fadenrech drowned at the river dam on May 19th, 1984.