OCID is calling a Board Meeting on June 6th at 5:30PM, at the Town of Orchard City Community Room, to discuss Potential Allocation Changes and anything else that comes before the board. 

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About the District

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A Short History of Orchard City Irrigation District

The first irrigation system was set up in the 1890’s with the original settlers plowing furrows in the ground to direct water. The system was improved with the use of horse drawn Fresno buckets, and the addition of a dam across Alfalfa ditch in 1898. Water rights were filed with the state by the settlers as water decrees, just as were mineral rights. In the summer of 1937, a crack caused a breach in the south end of the dam, leveling a portion of Austin. The current Fruitgrowers Reservoir dam, in Bureau of Reclamation’s jurisdiction, was put into place in 1938 and paid for by the 30 area users and matching federal funds. It was determined that 24 inches of water was required to harvest a crop. This high desert in recent history, had 12 inches of precipitation each year, leaving a short fall of 12 inches. Each acre of ground farmed, was allotted the difference, one foot of water per acre farmed. OCID is a supplemental source of water and was not set up as a full water source.

Information courtesy of 2003 Orchard City Irrigation District Partnership in Water Management Brochure, published by J. Magnuson

Click the map below to view a larger version of the map.
OCID Map

Fruitgrowers Ditch and Reservoir Company started as a small organization formed by farmers, ranchers and orchardists who recognized the need to impound water for delivery to the fertile lower Surface Creek Valley. Excerpts from John M. Spurgeon’s book “Irrigating the Surface Creek Valley,” cite the challenges the failure of Fruitgrowers Reservoir dam presented for our southernmost water users.

”All but one of the reservoirs that store water for users in the Surface Creek Valley are [located] on the Grand Mesa. The [one] exception is the Fruitgrowers Reservoir, which was begun in 1898 by farmers, including John Hart to collect flood waters from Surface Creek via Alfalfa Ditch, and also to gather the waste and seepage from above the reservoir. The purpose of the storage was to provide irrigation water to the fields and orchards of the lower valley around [the towns of] Austin and Cory. The water supply from Fruitgrowers proved unreliable and, thus, the Transfer Ditch was constructed to bring a supplemental supply from Dry Creek, which runs naturally toward the Gunnison River on the east side of Fruitgrowers. The court decree covering the transfer from Dry Creek water was issued a mere two weeks before the Fruitgrowers Reservoir dam broke on June 13, 1937. Austin, which is situated below the reservoir, was nearly wiped out and has never fully recovered. In the summer of 1937, however, the dam break led to another big loss, that of irrigation water direly needed to help crops mature. Local farmers knew they could not go long without water. This time, in a departure from the early [ways], the farmers called on the Federal Government for help. The Bureau of Reclamation acquired land for the reservoir and started the reconstruction work on the dam in May 1938. The size of the reservoir, behind the new fifty-five foot high dam, was increased so as to store 4,540 acre feet of water, an increase of nearly one-third. The project was completed in time for the stored water to be delivered to the users for the 1939 growing season. In 1940, a new irrigation district, the Orchard City Irrigation District (no connection to the town except proximity), was formed to manage the distribution of water from Fruitgrowers Reservoir to the end users via three main ditches – Butte, Circle, and Fogg. The users are landowners within the district who also own stock in a water distribution company that maintains the ditch for delivery to a headgate. The amount of water the users get varies from year to year due to the different amounts of natural precipitation on the Grand Mesa. The amount of water allotted per acre of farmland may also vary with weather conditions during the growing season. The amounts are determined by the Board of Directors of the irrigation district at an open meeting. Since the Fruitgrowers Reservoir water may be lessened in dry years, many farmers in the lower valley also own shares in Grand Mesa reservoirs. As all water must come through the Fruitgrowers Reservoir, close cooperation is required with the Grand Mesa Water Users Association and the water commissioner."

At present, large orchards within the Orchard City Irrigation District have virtually vanished from the landscape and the agricultural picture has significantly changed. Replaced by smaller farmers and sprawling urbanization, OCID has grown from approximately thirty beginning landowners to almost five hundred. The fracturing of larger parcels has complicated the administration of water from Fruitgrowers Reservoir. Mid-2000’s, to increase efficiency, ensure better delivery of water, and obtain insurance for the ditch companies by mutual agreement and contract, OCID took over management of the Butte and Fogg Ditches. With the joint agreement came a unity and a unique, collaborative working structure. All three boards, while maintaining their independence, are under the auspice of OCID.

Spurgeon, J. M. (2007). Irrigating the surface creek valley: The talented people who brought water to a western valley. In Irrigating the Surface Creek Valley: The talented people who brought water to a Western valley (pp. 51-53). Montrose, CO: Lifetime Chronicle Press.

The land upon which the present day Fruitgrowers Reservoir sits, and water rights associated with the reservoir were originally purchased from private landowners through a combination of cash and guarantees for delivery of water to specifically designated parcels located downstream of the reservoir and within the district. The water delivery guarantees were set out in written agreements referred to “contract water.” There are two such contracts within OCID, the Hart and the Jeffers contracts.

Hart Contract: Prior to the construction of the original reservoir, disputes arose between Fruitgrowers Ditch and Reservoir Company and one landowner, Jessie Hart. The dispute erupted into a legal battle settled in 1904 by way of a written agreement that obligated Fruitgrowers Ditch and Reservoir Company to deliver to Hart, one- and one-half cubic feet of water for irrigation purposes. Hart subsequently sold to private parties some of his land together with two-thirds of his rights to the one and one-half cubic feet of water designated in the 1904 agreement. In 1938, an agreement was reached between Orchard City Irrigation District (OCID), as the successor to the Fruitgrowers Ditch and Reservoir Company, and what was then three separate landowners who after 1904 had purchased their land from Jessie Hart together with two thirds of his interest in the one and one-half cubic feet of water. Under this 1938 agreement, OCID and the three separate landowners, their two thirds interest in one and one-half cubic feet of water was converted to a flat stored volume of 250 acre-feet. Further, OCID committed to delivering that 250-acre feet of water from the reservoir without deducting for any losses due to evaporation or seepage (“shrink) that might occur within the reservoir or in its transmission from the reservoir through earthen ditches to the lands. All water was “on call” to be released to the landowners over the course of the “irrigation season.” The water was tied to those three separate specific parcels of land, which now through the subdivision process totals seven parcels. Present day owners of those parcels are collectively entitled to the 250-acre feet of water. OCID must deliver that water ahead of all other water deliveries.

Jeffers Contract: In 1938, the Orchard City Irrigation District contracted with J. Welland Jeffers to purchase, on behalf of the United States of America, all of Jeffers’ rights in land and water associated with the Fruitgrowers Reservoir in exchange for cash and a guarantee to deliver a specified volume of water to land retained by Mr. Jeffers. The mandated volume of water is one half cfs shrink free to the Alfalfa headgate delivered at such times as Jeffers, or landowners subsequently owning the Jeffers’ land, call for such water during the irrigation season. As in the Hart contract discussed above, the water was tied to specific parcels of land. Present day owners of those parcels (and subdivisions of those parcels) are collectively entitled to the equivalent of approximately 150-acre feet of water, depending on the length of the irrigation season.