The History of Grand Valley Irrigation Company

The system of canals under operation today by the Grand Valley Irrigation Company had its beginning in late 1881 under the name of the Grand River Ditch Company. The initial 22 miles of canal from Palisade to Fruita, known as the Mainline, was dug by approximately 2,500 men and 1,700 horses with picks, shovels, and fresnos (large iron shovels hitched to teams of horses).

34-foot-diameter wooden water wheel designed to take and lift water 30 feet from the river in 1896
A wooden water wheel designed and constructed by John A. Wellington to take water from the Grand River Ditch in 1896.

The canal carried water for the first time on May 16, 1883. The Highline portion of the canal was completed in early 1884, which ended at the Big Salt Wash near present-day 17 1/2 Road.

pile driver is used to construct flumes along the canal routes with workers and a horse team surrounding it
men standing on top of a headgate with the river below in 1883
The original headgate for the Grand River Ditch constructed in 1883.

On January 27, 1894, the Grand Valley Irrigation Company incorporated and subsequently purchased all rights of the Grand River Ditch Company, the Grand Valley Canal Company, the Mesa County Ditch Company, the Pioneer Extension, and the Independent Ranchmen’s Ditch Association.

workers standing on top of a headgate under construction in 1947
workers surrounding the construction of a flume in 1947
Main line lateral stretched

The Company obtained a perpetual charter from the state in December 1933. In 1894, brothers Frank, Ben, and Joe Kiefer started a 14-mile extension of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Highline canal known as the Kiefer Extension, which was owned by the Fruita Canal and Land Company. The Kiefer Extension remained a separate entity until January 1, 1979, when it merged with the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.


For those interested in further details of the history of this canal system, download our History of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company and its Predecessor Companies and Canals booklet.

A wooden flume conveys water down the big drop below the division of the Highline and Mainline laterals of the Grand River Ditch about 1883


Our system comprises nearly 100 miles of canal stretching from Palisade to Mack

map of Grand Valley Irrigation District's historical ditches
Historic ditches associated with the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.