Dolores water district will celebrate 50 years
McPhee project changed local landscape forever
By Shannon Livick
Dolores Star Editor
Hundreds of people are expected to gather Saturday in Dolores to celebrate the one thing that makes life in this arid section of the Southwest possible — water.
The Dolores Water Conservancy District will host a 50th anniversary of the formation of the district and the 25th anniversary of water deliveries to farms and towns from McPhee Reservoir at the Dolores Community Center with a barbecue dinner at noon, followed by a brief recognition ceremony.
The star of the show will be McPhee Reservoir, a project that some say was more than 100 years in the making.
“They have been talking about the McPhee dam site since the 1900s,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
It has been said that the McPhee Reservoir site was seen as so ideal for a reservoir that President Teddy Roosevelt chose the site for the dam in 1906 during a hunting trip here.
Enter the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which formed Nov. 20, 1961.
“The Dolores Water Conservancy District was formed to try to get the dam built,” Preston said.
The project was authorized in 1968 and the project began in 1977, after voters in Montezuma and Dolores counties within the Dolores Water Conservancy District approved a repayment contract by a unheard of 95 percent favorable vote.
The McPhee Dam project cost an estimated $403 million, brought thousands of people into the small town of Dolores, and changed the landscape forever.
When the dam was finished in 1984, it took two years before the reservoir was full and water could be delivered to farms and towns.
The project doubled the amount of irrigated acreage in the area and gives the towns a 100-year supply of water.
“This water project is something most communities would die for,” Preston said.
Since the water started to be delivered 25 years ago, the number of irrigated acres in Montezuma and Dolores counties has gone up from 35,000 irrigated acres to 70,000, some of those as far away as south of Towaoc.
“It is a major asset to the community,” Preston said.
He added that the area’s water is something that should be celebrated and that it was poetic that the delivery of water and the formation of the water conservancy district fell at 25 and 50 years respectively.
Farmers, water advocates, residents, builders, community leaders, workers and partners in the project are all invited to the celebration.
Those who don’t know about the massive project also are invited.
“There are quite a bit of people who will be introduced to this project for the first time,” Preston said.
The $403 million project also saw the construction of the $11.6 million Dolores tunnel that was dug underneath the landscape for more than one mile. It also saw the construction of pumping plants, numerous canals and two major recreation areas named McPhee and House Creek. It also saw the flooding of the old lumber town, McPhee, and countless archaeology sites, bringing in archaeologists from around the world who excavated the areas. Those artifacts are housed in the Anasazi Heritage Center, also built as part of this project.
It also changed the landscape of people in Montezuma County as contractors moved in with different specialties, such as dynamite, rock hauling, tunnel boring and the building of the pumping plants. Many of them decided to stay in the picturesque area of the world. The project also brought in hundreds of archaeologists, many of which decided to stay in this area as well.
“A lot of our employees started off working on the project,” Preston said.
The celebration will be held Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Dolores Community Center, 400 Riverside Ave. The doors open at 11 a.m. at the community center and a barbecue lunch will be served at noon. There will be historic photos and slide shows playing during the celebration. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to 565-7562 before 4 p.m. today.