History of the Wheatland Irrigation District

One day in 1881, an Irish immigrant named John Gordon visited the Hunton Ranch in the Bordeaux area, and then later, visited a ranch in the Uva vicinity. He was so enthralled by the looks of the area and the potential that it had, that he moved his family from Greeley, Colo., to a small claim he had made in the Uva area. After moving his family to Uva, he met with a very good friend, Judge John Carey, at his ranch, located on the North Platte River.
During his conversation with Mr. Carey, he made a suggestion to him that the Wheatland Flats had a great potential of creating a community similar to the Greeley Colo. community.
With that suggestion to Judge Carey, the wheels were put into motion to organize a small party to investigate the Wheatland Flats. A civil engineer named G.E. Bailey produced the first map showing the first canal system, beginning at the mouth of the Laramie River Canyon, through what is now known as the Wheatland Tunnel Diversion, then extending down through the valley until it crossed Sybille Creek by way of a flume, which would have to be constructed to allow the conveyance of the Laramie River Water to be delivered into a canal system, known today as the No. 1 Canal. This canal is the main delivery conveyance system for the current Wheatland Irrigation District’s water supply.
In the summer of 1883, the promoters of the Wheatland Project realized the extent of their work, and in August of 1883, organized what was known as the Wyoming Development Company in order to accomplish their objectives. Construction began on the Bluegrass Tunnel Company in order to accomplish their objectives. Construction began on the Bluegrass Tunnel and also on the No. 1 and No. 2 Canals in 1883, with a 2380 foot tunnel through decomposed granite mountain that was completed in 1886. The Wyoming Development Company had organized its own construction company in order to begin the massive undertaking of completing a conveyance system for the irrigation project. The Bluegrass Tunnel construction project consisted of over a thousand Chinese workers, who laid a small railroad track system that began at the downstream conveyance system, and made its way up into the irrigation tunnel. The railroad system was made in order to haul out the rubble generated from construction of the tunnel.
As rock was removed from the tunnel, it was halted out in small train cars and placed on what today is the conveyance system.
There are still huts built by the Chinese workers for shelter, which can be seen along the conveyance system.
At the time when the Wyoming Development Company was putting together one of the largest irrigation projects in the nation, Wyoming was still under a Territorial form of government.
One of the driving forces behind the irrigation project was to make a case for to the Territorial Engineer, and later, to what is known as the Board of Control. IN 1888 Elwood Mead was appointed as the first Territorial Engineer thanks to some intense lobbying by the Wyoming Development Company’s engineer, J.A. Johnson. Irrigation of lands within the project began before the Bluegrass Tunnel was completed, using Sybille Creek water. When portions of the No. 1 and No.2 Canal were completed, water was diverted for irrigation to some of the first lands under the project. The United States Secretary of Interior mutually agreed that the lands should be taken up under what is known as the “Desert Law”. The plan was put forth, that each Entrymen filed on 640 acres and applied the water to the lands, and in turn received a patent for those lands from the government. This was a difficult process for settlers in obtaining a patent to their lands, because of the slow government process. This delayed the settlement of the Wheatland Flats area.
The Wyoming Development Company stepped in and planted roughly 1,000 acres of farm crops each year, just to build up a

In the summer of 1883, the promoters of the Wheatland Project realized the extent of their work, and in August of 1883, organized what was known as the Wyoming Development Company in order to accomplish their objectives. Construction began on the Bluegra

case for a water right.
The Company also ran water onto 30,000 – 40,000 acres of prairie lands in order to preserve water rights.
As settlements finally began to increase in the area around 1894, the price was set at $15 per acre for the irrigated lands, which included water rights.
With the economy struggling in the area, the Wyoming Development Company began selling lands to any buyer, no matter the personal situation of the buyer, in order to get settlers in the area working the land.
Many settlers came into the area from Kansas, Nebraska, and Eastern Colorado during these hard times.
In the second annual report by Mead, Wyoming Development received praise for their hard work and accomplishments in Wheatland Flats. Mead expressed how productive the lands had become, and showed over 50,000 acres of irrigated land managed by one of the best systems of canals in the nation. The system was already ranked as one of the most important irrigation works on the continent.
A direct flow water right for 633 cfs from the Laramie River and 135 cfs from Sybille Creek with a priority date of May 23, 1883, was eventually obtained by the Company. Soon thereafter, they realized what the natural flows in the Laramie River and Sybille Creek went dry early in the season, making it difficult to sustain crops that required water into September of each year.
To remedy this, the Company began constructing Wheatland Reservoir No. 1, and the supply canal from Sybille Creek to Reservoir 1 began in 1894, and was completed in 1896 for a storage capacity of 5360 AF.
The reservoir was enlarged in 1938, and again in 1958 for a total capacity of 9369.7 AF storage.
In 1895, the Company filed a capacity and design map to the Wyoming Engineer’s office for the Wheatland Reservoir No. 2. The permit to construct was issued on Feb 1, 1898, with the stipulation required by Engineer Mead that more acres must be found to irrigate. He was convinced that the Development Company would have more water than could be used on the 58,000 acres they serviced.
As the Company expanded into Reservoirs 2 and 3, it eventually outgrew its own resources, and the Wheatland Industrial Company was formed to help finance expansion projects.
During the construction of Reservoir No. 3 in 1932, a public organization was formed in order to obtain drought assistance money to complete the Reservoir 3 project. Government monies could only be used for the good of the general public, and not by a private organization. As a result, the two companies formed the Wheatland Irrigation System, a public entity. After completing Reservoir 3 in 1934, the capacity for the System stood at 71,318.8 A.F., and a surcharge capacity of 28,952.2 A.F.
IN 1947, The Wheatland Irrigation System incorporated under the name of Wheatland Irrigation District, and was organized under Wyoming State Statutes as a public irrigation district. The District was the first to apply and receive the first trans-basin diversion in Wyoming. They purchased what was known as the Rigsby Ranch in the McFadden area, and transferred the territorial water rights from the Rock Creek Drainage to the Laramie River Drainage.
IN order to make this transfer a success, they had to build 11 miles of canal along with 2 siphons in order to convey the water to the Laramie River and onto Wheatland Reservoir No. 2, and then down to what is known today as the Ringsby Ranch transfer land.
Today, Wheatland Irrigation District owns 11 reservoirs, and maintains roughly 120 miles of cnals and laterals for their conveyance system, which serves some 54,000 adjudicated acres of land.

Special thanks from the author goes to Don Britton, manager of the Wheatland Irrigation District, for allowing him to got through archives of maps as well as letters and correspondence, which have been stored at the District office. With all the materials available, he could have written 10 pages on the history of the District, but had to condense it down to a simple summary.