'Big Ditch' brought river water to gold mines by
recent column about The
Moreno Valley, home of Eagle Nest town and lake, generated questions about
The Big Ditch Project constructed in 1868 to furnish water to the new gold mines.
In 1867, gold had been discovered in the deep placer gravels on the sides
of Baldy Mountain near Elizabethtown.
Vast amounts of water were needed to successfully recover the gold deposits.
the only water available for this purpose lay over the mountains to the northwest
in the Red River Basin above today's town of Red River.
engineer was hired to survey and assess the situation to see if the Red River
water could be transported to the gold-discovery sites. This study spawned The
Big Ditch Project which used ditches, flumes and trestles to carry the water over
the mountains to the gold fields.
At the time, the project was considered
the most astonishing engineering feat in the early West. Completed in six months
time, it required approximately 420 men and cost $280,000, a fortune at the time.
All work was done by hand including building three miles of wooden flumes,
one was 79 feet high and 2,376 feet in length. More than five miles of ditch had
to be blasted from solid rock, one section was dug more than 10 feet deep.
as the crow flies, The Big Ditch crossed only eleven miles. But to keep the grades
right and keep the water flowing, the ditch traveled 41 miles, 660 feet before
reaching the gold-strike site.
The Big Ditch Project was owned by a water company, not the mining companies.
Originally designed to provide 7.65 million gallons of water each 24 hours, the
water was sold and recycled three times to various mining interests before being
The project was continually beset with serious problems. Floods
and winter freeze damage kept the ditch in bad repair. Loss of water to leaks,
evaporation and seepage cut the production to where the water company went broke.
Matthew Lynch of Trinidad, Colo., who owned a rich gold claim on Baldy,
bought the Big Ditch Project, repaired and maintained the operation in order to
continue successful mining for many years.
History records that as spring
thaws came each year, the miners all gathered in the mountains to clean and repair
the many flumes and ditches of The Big Ditch. It became a sort of annual celebration
like the old Spanish acequia-cleaning traditions of the past.
remains of The Big Ditch today except for the old ditches cut in rock, rotted
lumber and rusty nails. But up on the Red River, the source of water for The Big
Ditch, three lakes remain. Ditch Lake No. 1 now is Horseshoe Lake, Ditch
Lake No. 2 now is Lost Lake and Ditch Lake No. 3 is Middle Fork Lake.
Its hard to believe that a project of this size and scope could be carried
out in that early time with just picks, shovels, hand saws and a few sticks of
Never underestimate the power of potential profit when man is
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" September 23, 2008 Column
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