By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Culbertson attributes part of his success to "community-supported agriculture," which in this case means 65 families who at the beginning of the season put up money and risk losses from weather and insects. Their reward comes every Tuesday, when they arrive at Pachamama (a South American Indian word he says means "earth mother") to pick up a box of "fresh picked, wonderful, tasty vegetables," certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture to have been grown and harvested organically. He also takes his produce to farmers' markets in Longmont, Boulder and Cherry Creek, "where we sell directly to the consumer, without the middleman."
Having found a niche, Culbertson may survive even as traditional farmers are driven out. He doesn't have much in common with his farming predecessors; he doesn't approve of their chemicals and fertilizers. But like any other farmer, organic and traditional, Culbertson farms because he loves it. He looks out over his land, watching a redtail hawk swoop over the wetlands.
"This has been good for me and my family. I mean, look at this," he says, sweeping his hand to indicate his land. "This is my office."
Colorado is the only state in the lower 48 that has no water flowing into it from outside, and yet this state supplies the majority of the water for the area west of the Missouri River, as well as the Southwest and California. But while 80 to 90 percent of Colorado's water falls on the western side of the Continental Divide, 80 to 90 percent of its population is on the east. That's why trans-mountain diversions have been critical -- and the granddaddy of them all is the Colorado-Big Thompson water project, which supplies about 75 billion gallons of water annually to towns, industries and farms in northeastern Colorado.
The idea of transferring water from the upper Colorado River to the eastern side of the Divide dates to 1889, when the state legislature allocated $25,000 for a feasibility study. The consultant whom lawmakers had hired, however, quickly decided that such a transfer couldn't be done and promptly returned $23,500 of the appropriation.
"Can you imagine a consultant today actually 'returning' unused money and not finding some way to spend it?" asks Brian Werner.
Werner is the public-information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which, along with the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, built the Colorado-Big Thompson project, the largest of what are now 32 trans-mountain diversions of water in the state.
The original consultant's opinion did not discourage legislators from the concept of transferring water across the mountains. But it took two disasters -- one natural, one man-made -- to get a project to completion.
Although Colorado has frequently experienced dry spells, the drought that started in the mid- to late 1920s and continued for another ten years created particular hardships. Huge dust storms swept across the land, choking plants and animals alike. Reservoirs were drained, and there was no water to refill them. Thousands of farmers in northeastern Colorado were forced off their land, sending a ripple through nearby agricultural communities. Farmers and their suppliers joined the ranks of others unemployed during the Great Depression.
Out of this chaos came the Colorado-Big Thompson water project, the brainchild of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce. Led by Charles Hansen, publisher of the Greeley Tribune, the chamber envisioned a large water project that not only would provide a supplemental water "insurance policy" against future droughts, but would also employ large numbers of people as it was built.
Northeastern Colorado had already lost out on one potential source of water. In June 1933, the federal government had approved a project in Wyoming that drastically reduced Colorado's plan to take 180,000 acre feet from the North Platte River system. The Laramie River, which gets its start in Colorado, is a tributary of the North Platte that flows predominantly through Wyoming; after the feds announced their decision, the Greeley businessmen realized they'd have to look within Colorado to find more water.
The Northern Colorado Water Users Association was established in 1935; although Hansen was named president, its membership expanded beyond Greeley to include representatives from Longmont, Loveland and Fort Collins, as well as agricultural interests. The group's goal was to convince the federal government -- particularly the Bureau of Reclamation, founded in 1902 to build water projects in the West -- to commission a study and, if feasible, build a trans-mountain diversion that would bring water from the Colorado River across the Divide.
Forty years after a consultant had returned Colorado's money, saying such a project couldn't be done, a new study now determined it could. And although the water users' association didn't have the authority to raise the money needed to pay its share of the cost back to the Bureau of Reclamation, that problem was solved in 1937, when the legislature passed the Water Conservancy District Act, allowing a district -- upon voter approval -- to raise money through a property tax and contract to build a project.
At the time, about 75,000 people lived in the Northern Colorado Water Users' proposed district boundaries, which encompassed almost 1.5 million acres in portions of Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Morgan, Logan, Washington and Sedgwick counties. Those boundaries include a fanlike area encompassing the Cache la Poudre, Big Thompson, St. Vrain, Lefthand Creek and Boulder Creek watersheds, then run in a four- to six-mile-wide corridor along the South Platte to the Colorado border. The tax -- a 1 mil property tax -- passed by a whopping 94 percent.