Larimer County District Court Map Collection
Scope and Contents
The Larimer County District Court Map Collection consists of 309 maps representing water-related structures dating from 1884 to 1953, with the bulk falling from the early 1900s to the early 1950s. These maps were created in compliance with Colorado water law in order to secure legal rights to water and settle disputes between water users in court. Most of the maps are stamped on the binding with a Larimer County District Court case number and were used as exhibits in litigation in the district court.
The maps in this collection provide information regarding water adjudication and water litigation in the first half of the twentieth century. The information contained on some of the more comprehensive maps provides details about the physical description and capacity of these structures as well as the source of water. Collectively they represent the large number of irrigation-related structures (large canals, ditches, reservoirs and wells) that existed in Larimer and parts of Weld counties during this time period.
Some of the maps include claim statements for irrigation water, also called filing statements, which were filed with the district court in the county where the watercourse was located and with the State Engineer. Other maps show drawings of canals and reservoirs but do not contain claim information.
- Larimer County District Court (Organization)
Restrictions on Access
There are no access restrictions on this collection. However, it is stored off-site, so advance notice is required.
Restrictions on Use
Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.
The Larimer County District Court Map Collection contains maps of water-related structures used to establish water rights and settle disputes in district courts. Under Colorado law, district courts presided over water matters until 1969 when Colorado's Water Rights Determination and Administration Act required district courts to transfer water-related information to newly created water courts.
Colorado was one of the first states to create a water administration system in the American West. The system developed over time and was the result of court decisions, the state constitution and legislation. The state officially adopted the prior appropriation doctrine that divided water on a priority basis when it drafted its constitution in 1876. This method of using water was already in use in some western states and territories. Prior appropriation differed from water law in eastern portions of the United States that followed the riparian doctrine and allowed only those living along the banks of a watercourse to use the water therein. Farmers did not need to divert water from rivers and streams for irrigation because the amount of rainfall was sufficient for crop growth in the humid East, as opposed to most areas in the West. The prior appropriation doctrine was a distinct departure from established United States' water law and each western state incorporated the doctrine differently.
Beginning in the late 1850s and early 1860s, appropriations in Colorado occurred when water users such as miners and farmers physically diverted water from rivers and streams to their land or mining operations. No formal system existed to record these diversions or their order of priority. By the 1870s, the population of Colorado grew, water demand increased and a system regulating water diversions became necessary as a series of conflicts demonstrated.
The Cache la Poudre River flows through Larimer County into Weld County and its valley was one of the first and most intensively irrigated areas of Colorado. Euroamerican settlers began diverting its water for irrigation in the early 1860s. The Union Colony arrived in the state in 1870 and established present day Greeley, near the Cache la Poudre's confluence with the South Platte River. Greeley residents diverted water from the Cache la Poudre in large, community-built canals. The increased use of Poudre water created conflict in the dry summer of 1874 when upstream Fort Collins residents diverted all of the river's available water and deprived the downstream Union Colonists of their prior, and therefore senior, water rights.
Within five years of the 1874 conflict, Greeley and Fort Collins representatives traveled to Denver and helped shape the first major round of irrigation legislation in Colorado. The 1879 Irrigation Act empowered district courts to determine the priority right of each water user on each stream according to when a ditch or canal was constructed and water was first diverted and put to beneficial use. The right to store water in reservoirs was also affirmed by the legislature in 1879.
According to the Map and Statement Act of 1903, those petitioning district courts for a water claim filed statements with basic information including a map of permanent ink indicating the name of the water claimants, the name of the new or enlarged ditch or reservoir, location of land including section, township and range, headgate location, length, width and depth of water, carrying capacity in cubic feet per second and estimated cost of the proposed structure. The amount of water claimed and the water source, the date of construction and the number of acres to be irrigated were also included. The maps and statements were reviewed by the State Engineer who filed a copy with the state's official records and returned an approved copy to the county clerk and recorder of the district court in which the headgate of the water structure was located. These maps, sometimes called filing statements, along with earlier maps with less information were used in district court cases as evidence.
Many of the court cases in the Larimer County District Court Map Collection were water adjudication cases. Prior to 1969, water rights were adjudicated -- or recognized by the court -- in groups and listed in one decree identified by one Larimer County District Court case number. In this collection, case numbers 1591, 2031, 2378, 2409, 2798 and 5362 are examples of water adjudication cases granting water rights to claimants.
Case number 3595, decided in 1919, involved the New Cache la Poudre Irrigation Company, the Josh Ames Irrigating Ditch Company, and the New Mercer Ditch Company. The case determined the abandonment of water rights and transferred a portion of the abandoned water from the Josh Ames Ditch to the New Mercer Ditch in Larimer County.
Case number 11217 contains the largest amount of maps in the collection. This was a water adjudication case from 1953 involving ditches, reservoirs and wells and is sometimes referred to as the "Coffin case" referring to Judge Claude C. Coffin who ruled some wells were non-tributary to the Cache la Poudre and other identified watercourses. These wells were declared non-tributary and granted water decrees before major groundwater legislation regulating and designating tributary and non-tributary wells was enacted in Colorado.
Researchers can do further research on the other court cases that form part of this collection at the Water Division One Branch office located in Greeley, Colorado, or at the Water Division One Water Court located at the Weld County District Court in Greeley. The State Engineer's office, part of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, keeps copies of filing statements and maps associated with water adjudications and is in the process of digitizing their collection. Researchers may visit their records section at the main office of the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Denver. Also, the Colorado State Archives is a repository for most district court cases, including water rights cases dating from 1861.
Language of Materials
The Larimer County District Court Map Collection (1884-1953) contains maps of water-related structures used to establish water rights and settle water disputes in district courts. The maps provide information regarding water adjudication and water litigation in the first half of the twentieth century. The information on some of the more comprehensive maps offer details about the physical description, capacity and water source of large canals, ditches, reservoirs and wells. Collectively they represent the large number of irrigation-related structures that existed in Larimer and parts of Weld counties during this time period.
The collection consists of 309 maps associated with 30 court cases and arranged according to case number. Those few with no case number are filed at the end along with the indexes that arrived with the collection.
The Larimer County District Court Map Collection was acquired by the Colorado State University Water Resources Archive on August 11, 2003. It was donated by Susan C. Boyle, Interpretive Planner and Historian with the National Park Service, Cache la Poudre River Corridor, Fort Collins, Colorado. The maps were given to her when a vault was emptied in the old Larimer County District Court in summer 2003.
Most of this collection has been scanned and is available through the Colorado State University Libraries website. In the electronic version of this document, direct links appear in context.
The collection arrived in no discernable order. Two indexes listing maps alphabetically and by district court case number were included. The maps in the collection were compared to the indexes and it was discovered that thirteen maps listed on the indexes did not arrive with the collection. The collection was in fairly good condition with a few dirty maps and some torn and taped. No conservation measures were taken at the time of processing.
The maps were arranged by Larimer County District Court case number to assist researchers who may be interested in the legal cases as well as the information on individual maps. Two-inch paper bindings stapled or taped to one end of the maps were cut on one side so maps lay flush against the folder edge; no written information was cut off the bindings. The maps were then placed in acid-free map folders with tissue paper between each map and placed in map cases.
There were nine duplicate maps in the collection that differed only according to medium (i.e., blueprint and reverse blueprint) or because one had a claimant or State Engineer's signature and one did not. All maps were kept and two identical copies of the same item are indicated by the phrase "2 copies" at the end of the entry.
- Cache la Poudre River Watershed (Colo.)
- Colorado. Office of the State Engineer.
- Ditches -- Colorado.
- Irrigation -- Colorado.
- Irrigation canals and flumes -- Colorado.
- Larimer County (Colo.)
- Larimer County District Court.
- Reservoirs -- Colorado.
- Water rights -- Colorado.
- Weld County (Colo.)
- Wells -- Colorado.
- Guide to the Larimer County District Court Map Collection
- Edited Full Draft
- Prepared by Rose Laflin
- Copyright 2004
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written inEnglish.
Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository
Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA