McElmo Creek Flume

Year Listed: 2011
County: MontezumaCounty
Construction Date: 1890
Threat When Listed: Natural Elements
Status: SAVED


In 2020, the National Scenic Byways Foundation awarded its Public-Private Partnership Ward to Colorado’s Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway for their work at the McElmo Creek Flume interpretive stop, so now the restored Flume and the interpretive signs at the new TOTA stop tell the story of the water history of Montezuma County to the locals and visitors alike. Without this stop, the Flume would simply be a wooded structure out in a field without a story. Historic Preservation not only saves structures but saves our stories from the past for present and future generations.

History of the Flume: The McElmo Flume is the ONLY SURVIVING flume of the original 104 flumes on the Montezuma Valley Irrigation system that was constructed in the 1890s. This irrigation system diverted water from the Delores River via a mile-long tunnel, which brought water to the Montezuma Valley in southwest Colorado. This allowed large-scale farming and ranching to develop, and also created the town site of Cortez. James W. Hanna, the original developer of this irrigation project, laid out the town of Cortez as housing for his workers.

The McElmo Creek Flume remained operational until 1922, when McPhee Reservoir and its laterals replaces the original irrigation system. The Flume remained in good shape until a heavy rain in August 2006, sent debris from the open ditch onto the wooden trough and damaged the northern end.

Saving the Flume: In 2010, the Cortez Historic Preservation Board decided to nominate the Flume to Colorado Preservation, Inc’s Endangered Places List, and John Porter, our local “water buffalo,” wrote the nomination. The Flume was listed as an Endangered Place in 2011, and the preservation effort began.

Also, in 2012, Montezuma County applied for and received the first of four Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF) grants to conduct a condition assessment of the wooden trough and the foundation of the Flume. The contract for this work was awarded to Anthony & Associates for the wood assessment, Porter & Associates for the foundation assessment, and the Center for Historic Preservation Research at the University of CO Denver for a LIDAR scan of the entire structure.

In 2013, the County received a second SHF grant to assess the condition of the steel and concrete in the Flume’s foundation. This grant was awarded to Anthony & Associates, Conservation Associates, and Atkinson – Noland & Associates, who recommended that repairs be made to the concrete piers and steel girders, and prepared engineering drawings. A third SHF grant, awarded in 2014, provided funds to stabilize the southern piers and complete the other foundation work. This contract was awarded to Triad Western Contractors, and completed in the winter of 2016.

The fourth and final SHF grant was awarded to Montezuma County to repair the wooden trough of the Flume in 2016. This contract was awarded to Ramco Developments, and the work was completed in the fall of 2018.

These SHF grants required matching funds, which were secured through grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Ballantine Family Fund. Generous cash donations were received from the Southwest Basin Roundtable of the CO Water Board, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Montezuma County Historical Society, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Dolores State Bank, the First National Bank of Cortez, the Cortez Historic Preservation Board, and private donors.

Telling the Story of the Water History of Montezuma County: It is fortunate that this Flume, the only one left of the original 104 flumes, is located adjacent to highway 160, which is part of the Trail of the Ancients (TOTA) National Scenic Byway. In 1996, TOTA included a future stop at the McElmo Creek Flume in their Master Plan. In the fall of 2011, at the same time that the preservation of the Flume was beginning, the TOTA managers suggested they apply for a National Scenic Byways Program grant to build this new interpretive stop. In 2012, they were awarded the grant, which was the last year that this Federal grant program was funded. TOTA partnered with CDOT and Montezuma County to award the contract to D&L Construction who completed the new parking lot and interpretive stop in 2016.

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