Cattle graze on the banks of the North Poudre Irrigation Ditch near Fort Collins, Colorado. Courtesy Fort Collins Local History Archive, H09851

For the last hundred years, residents of Larimer County and Fort Collins have been transferring water from agricultural to urban uses. However, without farms and ranches, Fort Collins’ development into a city of 148,000 people today might never have come to be, and agriculture would not have been possible around Fort Collins without irrigation. The Cache la Poudre River passes through the area, but it is still arid. Settlers who came to what is now Fort Collins in the mid-1800s found that growing crops was difficult and, sometimes, impossible without diverting water from the river and nearby streams to their fields. The scarcity of water in the Cache la Poudre River region required people to apply their ingenuity to get water to plant crops, raise livestock, tend vegetable gardens, and shade their homes with large trees, and the ways in which agricultural users engineered the landscapes around them to mitigate water supply shortages created the system of dams, canals, and pipelines that shape Fort Collins today. Almost from the beginning, though, industrial and urban water entities competed with crops and livestock for water from the river, a trend that intensified in the mid-twentieth century. Now, the system farmers and ranchers created serves municipal, industrial, and recreational users as well as agricultural ones.