Skip to Main Content

Colorado Water History

A guide to finding and using historical information about water in Colorado and beyond

Big Thompson River: Basin Breakdown

undefinedWith its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Big Thompson River flows 78 miles through Estes Park, down the scenic Big Thompson Canyon and onto the plains where it joins the South Platte River near Greeley. As the site of catastrophic floods in both 1976 and 2013, the Big Thompson Canyon stands as an important landmark in Colorado's history. The river plays an integral role in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project—the largest transmountain diversion in the state—helping to supply water from the Colorado River to over 30 Front Range cities for agricultural, commercial, residential, and recreational purposes.

On this page, find information about books and archival collections documenting Big Thompson River Basin history, along with a list of additional organizations.

Photo: Damage resulting from 1976 Big Thompson flood. From the David McComb Big Thompson Flood Collection.

Big Thompson River: Best Books

Big Thompson River: Relevant Collections

Papers of Maurice L. Albertson
Maurice Albertson (1918-2009) was a hydraulic engineering expert who helped Colorado State University (CSU) gain international recognition in a variety of research fields, including water resources management. This collection contains field trip reports, notes, and photographs related to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Records of the Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Company
Formed in 1882 in Loveland, the Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Company delivers water from the Big Thompson for agricultural purposes through a system of ditches and reservoirs. This collection includes minute books, financial, legal, and water records, as well as photographs, maps, plans, and drawings related to the Big Thompson river system.

Papers of W. D. Farr
William Daven "W. D." Farr (1910-2007) was a leading water pioneer, cattleman, and businessman in northern Colorado. Farr's work alongside his father and many others turned into the Colorado-Big Thompson transmountain diversion project. This collection includes brochures, maps, progress reports, newspaper clippings, and other publications related to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Papers of Robert E. Glover
A civil engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Colorado State University, Robert Glover (1896-1984) conducted significant research on concrete cooling, dam construction, groundwater flow, and more. This collection includes reports on and photographs of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Irrigation Research Papers
In 1911, the Irrigation Investigations Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was established in Fort Collins in conjunction with Colorado Agricultural College (now Colorado State University) to study flow measurement devices and investigate various irrigation projects. Documents in this collection include reports, maps, and data related to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

David McComb Big Thompson Flood Collection
On July 31, 1976, the Big Thompson Canyon was the scene of a flash flood which claimed 144 lives. The collection consists of oral history tapes, transcripts, photographs, slides, audiotapes, newspaper clippings, and other material Colorado State University history professor Dr. David McComb compiled while researching for his book Big Thompson: Profile of a Natural Disaster.

Northern Colorado Flood Oral History Collection
For six days in September 2013, historic levels of rain fell over much of the Northern Colorado Front Range causing massive flooding and landslides that killed eight people and caused over $2 billion in damage. This collection features oral history interviews on the 2013 flood events.

Papers of James L. Ogilvie
James L. Ogilvie (1911-1995) had a long and fruitful career with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the field of irrigation and water management. This collection includes professional files on the Colorado-Big Thompson project for which Ogilvie performed office engineering, contract administration, budgeting and reporting duties.

Records of the Reorganized Farmers Ditch Company
The Reorganized Farmers Ditch Company, created in 1983, draws water from the Big Thompson River for irrigation. The predecessor organization was the Farmers Irrigating Ditch and Reservoir Company. This collection documents ditch infrastructure and activities along the river.

Records of Wright Water Engineers, Inc.
Wright Water Engineers, Inc., a Colorado-based water resources consulting firm founded by Kenneth R. Wright, has undertaken projects water-related engineering projects in Colorado. This collection contains papers, reports, and photographs documenting Wright Water Engineers' role in rebuilding U.S. Route 34 after the 1976 Big Thompson flood.

Big Thompson River: Other Organizations

Your Archivist

Profile Photo
Patricia Rettig
Archives & Special Collections
Morgan Library
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1019
Subjects: Water

24/7 Library Help

24/7 Library Help

Connect with library staff via chat, email, phone or text.

URL: | Print Page