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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Our ditches and why they’re important

Our ditches and why they’re important

Irrigation ditches meander through the Denver metro area, including the City of Westminster. Many of the ditches were constructed in the 1860s, including the Farmers’ High Line Canal (FHL), Croke Canal and the Church Ditch.

Urban areas have grown up around the ditches. Since they run water seasonally, not everyone realizes their purpose and importance. Do you live nearby, walk along or ever wonder about ditches? Here is a quick FAQ. 

What are irrigation ditches? 
Irrigation ditches own water rights. The FHL, Croke and Church ditches deliver water seasonally from Clear Creek to Standley Lake, which is the city’s primary water supply. In addition, the FHL and Church continue past Standley Lake.

How can I find out the name of the ditch near me? 
Google Maps has some of the ditches mapped and labeled. Another good resource is your library, or your city’s Parks and Recreation or Public Works departments. 

Who owns irrigation ditches? 
Each irrigation ditch is an independent company. Individuals and municipalities own shares in the company, making them shareholders who own the company jointly. Westminster owns shares in multiple ditches, including the above mentioned ditches. 

How are irrigation ditches different than stormwater ditches?
Stormwater ditches are swales that receive storm runoff from your neighborhood and direct the water to the nearest natural stream, such as Big Dry or Little Dry Creek. Because irrigation ditches are an important source of drinking water, they should only convey high-quality water from Clear Creek. 

I live adjacent to a ditch. Who will trim the trees along the ditch? 
If you are an adjacent landowner, the vegetation along the ditch is your responsibility. The ditch company generally does not own the land under and along the ditch. Instead, they have prescriptive easements, which allow them to dictate the use of the land within the easement. The ditch companies prioritize removal of trees and vegetation that impede water flow. The rest is up to you. 

Can I throw yard waste or other trash in the ditch? 
Please do not throw anything in the ditches, even grass clippings. Never throw dog poop in the ditch. Keep in mind that the ditches are a vital water source, and you or someone downstream may drink this water (after treatment). Yard waste left piled on the ditch banks tend to promote sloughing of the banks by trapping moisture underneath. 

I have a ditch in my backyard. Can I use the water? 
No, not unless you have purchased shares in that ditch company and are a recognized shareholder. Using the water without owning shares is considered water theft. 

For more information:
FHL: 303-451-7604
Church Ditch: 303-423-6010
Croke Canal: 303-659-7373

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