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History of the Dolores Project

During the summer of 1776, the Spanish Fathers Dominges and Escalante, envisioned the Dolores Project as they camped on the spot that is now known as the Escalante ruin. In the mid 1880’s, private developers constructed both the tunnel and the great cut diversions to bring water from the Dolores River basin into the Montezuma Valley. By 1920, the private ditch companies were broke and their systems were in disrepair. Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company was formed in 1920 to consolidate several systems, rehabilitate them and continue to operate and maintain them. All went well, except there never was enough late season water. Cortez Bootstraps, following the advice of Congressman Wayne Aspinall, formed the Dolores Water Conservancy District in November of 1961. The District was successful in obtaining authorization of the Dolores Project in 1968. Local voters, by a 94% margin, approved the concept of the project and accepted up to $26 million repayment obligation to the United States. After President Carter delayed construction in 1978, due to settlement of Indian water rights and influence of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, construction of McPhee Dam began in 1980. By 1986, irrigators in Montezuma Valley, the Ute Tribe, and Dolores Project farmers finally had a long term, dependable supply of water.

Photo of Mcphee Reservoir