El Paso Canal - CSPM

El Paso Canal

General Palmer’s unique vision for Colorado Springs took imagination. Reportedly, Greeley Colony founder Nathan Meeker did not think much of the area because it lacked the one element essential for life – water! A born engineer, Palmer set to work designing a solution. Remarkably, work on the El Paso Canal began four days after the city’s founding and was completed in late November 1871. The canal and later irrigation projects brought water to the dry, treeless town located on a shortgrass prairie.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

Leaders of the Colorado Springs Company recognized the need for a reliable water source to ensure the success of their new city. The mesa on which Colorado Springs was platted was a semi-arid, short grass prairie devoid of trees. A canal to bring water would provide for washing, livestock, and irrigation which, while serving the needs of settlers, would also boost property values and hence profits of the company.

Leaders immediately invested in a project to bring water from Fountain Creek, diverting water near today’s 30th Street, two miles above Colorado City. The El Paso Canal was contracted on August 4, 1871, only four days after the founding of the town, and first delivered water to the city on Nov. 28, 1871. At first about 6 ½ miles long, the canal took water along the west-side foothills and crossed Monument Creek via a quarter-mile-long flume about 2 miles north of town in the Roswell neighborhood.

Laterals were dug along margins of Cascade, Nevada, and Wahsatch Avenues, with cross-street laterals dug at regular intervals to provide water to the remaining streets. Excess water flowed into what was Boulder Street Reservoir until 1900, today’s Boulder Park. The canal was extended in 1875 to irrigate the city’s Evergreen Cemetery, then in 1890 a diversion was used to fill Prospect Lake in Memorial Park, which became a popular swimming, camping, and tourism site.

At its height, the canal was eleven miles long. While the canal was an important water source for irrigation, drinking water initially came from wells, then from projects to tap into Ruxton Creek and the south slope of Pikes Peak by 1878, with pipelines and reservoirs delivering fresh water to the city by 1880. Further development of municipal drinking water projects made the canal obsolete. The El Paso Canal remained in use until 1956 when it was finally shut down. You can still walk beside the relict canal on the trails just west of Sondermann Park.

Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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