Many people pass by and marvel at its size. At 14 feet high and 546 feet long, the Grand River Diversion Dam is one of the biggest roller dams in the world, and it just turned 100 years old.
“You know you see it with those orange towers and maybe a lot of people don’t know the significance of the dam,” said Palisade Historical District’s Charlene Weidner.
“I feel like this is a great opportunity to educate people and let them know it’s an important dam.”
The six 70-foot rollers move up and down depending on the amount of water to be let through. The water is siphoned off into the Highline Canal, sending water to 33,000 acres of farms, fields, and wineries.
“We know we live in a high desert it would just be too hot to live here, because it also waters trees, so we really wouldn’t exist without it, said Weidner.
Water first turned into the canal in 1915, and a caretaker has watched after the dam day and night ever since, KKCO-TV reported.
“I love it,” said current caretaker Alfonzo Gallegos. “The sound of the waterfall, the water sloshing up against the wall here, it is a great place to be.”
Gary Hines has a special relationship with the roller dam – his grandfather was the dam’s caretaker for 33 years.
“You walk up on the catwalk above the rollers and it still gives you that massive same impression that I had 55 years ago,” said Hines. “It’s incredibly special. I was about ten years old when my grandfather unexpectedly passed away and we kind of lost our passport to this magical land.”
A unique German design, it is one of four roller dams in the country. It is too fragile and hard to access for public tours.
Water for project use is diverted into the Government Highline Canal at the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam, about 23 miles northeast of Grand Junction. Approximately 4.6 miles below the main diversion, water for the Orchard Mesa Diversion is diverted from the canal. This water passes through the Orchard Mesa Siphon under the Colorado River, through the Orchard Mesa Power Canal to the Grand Valley Powerplant, or to the Orchard Mesa Pumping Plant, where it is pumped into Orchard Mesa Canals No. 1 and 2 for distribution to the water users.
From the Orchard Mesa diversion, the Government Highline Canal continues westward, approximately paralleling the river, distributing water to laterals of the Garfield Gravity Division. Water also is furnished to 8,580 acres in the Mesa County and Palisade Irrigation Districts which were served by private facilities prior to project construction.
Grand Valley Diversion Dam
The diversion dam is on the Colorado River about 8 miles northeast of Palisade. This concrete weir is 14 feet high and 546 feet long. Flow over its crest is controlled by six roller gates. These gates were the first of their type designed in the United States.
Government Highline Canal System
The canal is on the west and north side of the river and extends from the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam south and west a distance of 55 miles. It has a diversion capacity of 1,675 cubic feet per second, which includes 800 cubic feet per second for the Orchard Mesa Power Canal. The remaining flows are distributed through the Government Highline Canal and Price-Stubb Pumping Plant. The distribution system for the Garfield Gravity Division consists of 166 miles of laterals. The drainage system consists of 2 miles of closed drains and 110.5 miles of deep open drains.
The Price-Stubb Pumping Plant is on the canal near Tunnel No. 3 Outlet at the east end of the Grand Valley. It lifts 25 cubic feet per second of water 31 feet to the Stubb Ditch to serve land of the Mesa County Irrigation District. Power is provided to the hydraulic pump by water delivered to the Price Ditch for the Palisade Irrigation District.
Orchard Mesa Canal System
The Orchard Mesa Siphon conveys water from the Government Highline Canal to the head of the 3.5-mile-long Orchard Mesa Power Canal on the east side of the river. The siphon is reinforced concrete with a capacity of 800 cubic feet per second. Orchard Mesa Pumping Plant lifts water from the Orchard Mesa Power Canal to the distribution system. The plant contains four pump units: two have a combined capacity of 80 cubic feet per second and a lift of 41 feet to Canal No. 1; two have a combined capacity of 60 cubic feet per second with a lift of 130 feet to Canal No. 2. Water is conveyed to privately owned and operated laterals by Orchard Mesa Canals No. 1 and 2. The canals have capacities of 85 and 65 cubic feet per second, respectively, and a combined length of 31.6 miles.
Grand Valley Powerplant
The plant is about 1 mile south of Palisade at the lower end of the Orchard Mesa Power Canal adjacent to the Orchard Mesa Pumping Plant. It operates under a maximum head of 79 feet and has a capacity of 3,000 kilowatts. The plant was constructed by the United States with funds advanced by Public Service Company of Colorado. The company operates and maintains the plant under a rental agreement with the United States and the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Power generation averages approximately 19,350,600 kilowatt-hours annually…
Soon after their arrival in the Grand Valley in 1881, settlers began work on ditches to irrigate lowlands adjacent to the north side of the Colorado River. By 1886, the Grand Valley Canal (not part of the Grand Valley Project) was completed and the canal system expanded to serve approximately 45,000 acres of land. From 1886 to 1902, several attempts were made by private interests to construct a canal to higher lands in the valley, but because of initial technical difficulties private investors were unwilling to back the project.
After passage of the Reclamation Act in 1902, an evaluation of the proposed Government Highline Canal, now a part of the Grand Valley Project, was requested by the local citizens. In 1905, the Grand Valley Water Users Association was organized to cooperate with the Reclamation Service in developing a project. After investigation, the Reclamation Service proposed a project consisting of a diversion dam and distribution canal to irrigate lands at higher valley levels than those being operated by private interests. A board of engineers approved feasibility of the project on December 15, 1908.
The Grand Valley Project was one of the projects examined and reported upon favorably by a board of Army Engineers in accordance with the act of June 25, 1910 (36 Stat. 835) and approved by the President on January 5, 1911. The project was constructed primarily for agricultural and power generation purposes.
The Reclamation Service was authorized by the Secretary of the Interior on September 23, 1912, to begin construction on one of the smaller tunnels. Irrigation was first provided June 29, 1915, at which time the entire project was less than 60 percent completed. Cooperative drainage work in the Grand Valley Drainage District was begun in March 1918.
The Price-Stubb Pumping Plant was completed and water supplied through Government-constructed facilities to Palisade and Mesa County Irrigation Districts in April 1919. A powerplant was constructed in 1932-33 using funds advanced by Public Service Company of Colorado. Tunnel No. 3 on the Government Highline Canal collapsed in March 1950 because of landslides. In a dramatic effort to open the canal before the start of the irrigation season, a contract to construct a section of new tunnel to bypass the slide area was negotiated and the contractor broke all records in finishing the tunnel in time for the irrigation season.
Since it first delivered water in 1917, the Grand Valley Project has furnished a full supply of irrigation water to approximately 33,368 acres and supplemental water to about 8,600 acres of fertile land. The project has made possible diversified and intensified farming in the area, regularly bringing to maturity such late-season crops as fruit, alfalfa, beans, seed, corn, oats, barley, potatoes, and wheat. Favorable climate, cheap winter forage, and proximity to good range combine to make the area desirable for profitable raising of livestock. Dairying and poultry raising are also important to the project area.
Grand Valley Powerplant, completed in 1933, has a capacity of 3.0 MW. The powerplant was constructed by Grand valley Water Users Association. The powerplant is operated by by the Colorado Public Service Company under a lease of power privilege contract.