One of the universal truths of living in the West is the idea that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”
Also, you can’t fight over water without history.
Sam Hackett was described in Marion Savage Sabin’s 1957 book, “Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative,” as a young Scotch-Irishman looking for a way to get up in the world.
“There was a very odd thing about Sam Hackett, ” wrote Sabin. “His was an unmistakably Irish physiognomy and his rich, deep brogue matched his face — yet there was little or nothing of Irish in his inner makeup. The genial gift of gab had been left entirely out of his composition; he was taciturn and cautious, like a Scotchman. His humor — few guessed he had any — was the sly, self-contained sort and his habitual aspect was dour. He was frugal and a confirmed woman-hater. Yet he was never a mean man and stories are told of his generosity to visitors and harvest hands in later years.”
Hackett worked, ate and slept at the railroad section house managed by Camillus Weiss. Among his early duties there was pumping water from Palmer Lake for the engines. Because of his general standoffishness and other reasons related to economics, he eventually decided to reside elsewhere.
“He went some distance away to the west of the railroad, nearer the mountains, and made himself a dug-out. It was just a hole in the ground, a low mound set in a hillside. The entrance which faced south, was held up by logs; and a few pine planks hewn in the woods, chipped out by himself and secured overhead in his cave, kept the roof from falling in…” according to Sabin.
At the time of her writing in the 1950s, the ruin of that abode could still be seen on the very edge of the field to west of the Little Log Church.
In order to augment the amount of water available in Palmer Lake to use to fill the 12 or so daily train engines that required water to push over the hump, Weiss, as the section boss for railroad, asked Hackett to dig a ditch.
The ditch diverted water from Monument Creek by use of a small dam and reservoir and solved the water problem for the railroad at the time.
“On Dec. 29, 1882, Samuel Hackett filed, in the Office of Clerk and Recorder of El Paso County, an affidavit describing his ditch and claiming water rights for domestic, mechanical and irrigation purposes,” wrote Lloyd McFarling in footnotes to Sabin’s book in December of 1956.
“He said the ditch was constructed about the year 1872. Two other ditches were also important in establishing water rights, which were later acquired by the Town of Palmer Lake. One was the Anchor Ditch, dug in 1867, and the other was the Monument Ditch, dug in 1868 and enlarged in 1875. These ditches were downstream from the Hackett Ditch. Their headgates were within the limits of the town as established at the time of incorporation in 1889,” wrote McFarling.
In time, Hackett eventually left the employ of the railroad, purchased Weiss’ property and turned to raising potatoes. His prowess at that activity helped create an industry — and a dominant one at that — in this area for several years and earned him the title “the potato king.”
He became very prosperous. Much of his success in the potato farming business, however, was heavily reliant on his ability to irrigate. His irrigation, of course, relied mostly on the Hackett Ditch.
Water was also on the minds of the founders of Monument.
“The citizens of Monument were very concerned about water for their community,” wrote Lucille Lavelett in “Through the Years at Monument, Colorado.”
“For several years, each family had dug a well in their back yard with hand-drawn buckets to bring the water to the top. In the early 1880s, the citizens had civic progress and created a bonded debt. It was small at first, but it grew and was cared for, extended and kept alive for 20 years until the interest payments exceeded the principal more than 50 percent,” she wrote.
“Old records show a ditch was being promoted by a stock company in 1874 to bring water into Monument for irrigation. News reports were that the ditch was partly dug in 1875. Apparently it was abandoned within a few years,” Lavelett said.
But in September of 1881, the Monument Town Council took another run at it by calling a special election for issuing bonds to bring water into town.
By November, the council passed a resolution issuing $2,500 worth bonds dating Jan. 2, 1882, and by March, George Newbrough was awarded a contract for construction of a ditch for $1,650 and soon other contracts were made for installing a flume in the upper end of the ditch, and for building bridges.
“On March 27, 1884, Charles D. Ford and Henry Limbach were appointed to make a plan and have the ditch recorded. On May 22, 1885, a plat and statement of the priority of the Monument ditch was recorded in book 60, pages 35 and 36. The ditch ran in an easterly direction from a point on Monument Creek about two miles northwest of Monument and within the present limits of Palmer Lake, to a reservoir in the southwest quarter of Section 11, then turned southwest to another reservoir in the northwest quarter of Section 14,” Lavelett wrote.
By 1892, according to photographs recorded, water began flowing through the pipes for the first time from Monument Reservoir. Ed Limbach, (Henry’s oldest son) was described as the engineer of that project.
Of course, there were many other important water events in the next 100 years, or so, but following are some highlights.
- Monument Lake Dam was authorized by an act of the General Assembly of the state of Colorado approved April 16, 1891, for the purposes of flood control and irrigation. It was one of three built by the state of Colorado in 1893. Since that time, one dam has been taken over by a water district, one has been breached and one remains in disrepair (Monument).
- April 7, 1899, the Legislature adopted an enactment under the provisions of which the Board of County Commissioners of any county in which a state reservoir was situated were charged with the duty of controlling and maintaining the same without expense to the state and providing for the storage of water as contemplated by the statute authorizing its construction and also for its distribution under the direction of the water commissioners for the district in which the reservoir may be situated. El Paso County government was given an unfunded mandate to control and maintain the dam.
- On June 7, 1937, the Colorado State Legislature authorized the governor to execute a deed of conveyance to the Board of Trustees of the town of Monument of all the interest of the state of Colorado in and to the land under the reservoir. The act authorizes and directs only the conveyance of the right, title and interest of the state in the land and makes no reference of any kind to the dam structure itself or the right to store water in the reservoir.
Flash forward to the turn of the next century.
Betty Konarski, chair of the Monument Lake Preservation Committee at the time, describes what happened then, and the process to save the lake.
“I got involved in 1999 when the state engineer notified the town of Monument that it was going to ‘poke a hole in the dam’ because it was leaking and the town would have to pay the approximately $2 billion to do it,” she said.
“Once we decided to save the lake, I began digging into the history. Long story short, it would appear that Monument never owned the water in the lake (even in the 1800s when ice was cut and sold along the Front Range or when it leased fishing rights to a sportsman group) and still doesn’t until the state engineer issue is settled,” says Konarski.
“Monument had not annexed land under the lake until a few years ago when we had a drought and were afraid of bears being hunted as they came down to drink, endangering people who lived next to the lake. Then the town annexed the land and posted it for no hunting. The town still doesn’t own the deed to the dam (see Dam Story about legislation). The town has now been in water court for 16 years to get the right to store its own water behind the dam (we pay an annual evaporative loss fee to Colorado Springs Utilities for their allowing us to hold primarily their water behind the dam so as to have a lake).”
And other challenges cropped up in the process.
“Then there was the issue of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse mitigation and what I call the ‘bra’ that we had to put on the dam (a mylar layer under dirt so plants could grow over the west side of the dam for protection for the mouse, but so the roots would not again destabilize the dam structure). The dam, alone, and its redesign to accommodate the sewer pipes coming from Palmer Lake, as well as its reconstruction, have several interesting elements. But the water issue is even more interesting as it fits into the need for renewed focus on potable water for the town and the new water rates.”
In the case of local water, it seems, there is still an opportunity to sit down, perhaps with small bottle of single malt and appropriate glassware, maybe some ice, and discuss history of water in the area. Or at least get the fight started.
___ Rob Carrigan
1. Monument Lake was threatened by disrepair and other problems at the turn of the Millennium.
2. Monument pioneer Mary Schubarth goes to the well to draw up her bucket of household water in her backyard.