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Colorado Water History

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

Moments that Matter: Innovative Water Research at Colorado State University

Old MainSince its founding in 1870, the future of Colorado State University was shaped by the innovative water resources research and education programs. Groundbreaking programs offered at CSU allowed research facilities to grow and adapt, which stimulated more programs and faculty to join and expand research even further. This cycle of growth created a surge of progress and education that inspired the entire campus.

Key moments over the first 100 years reflect the goals of the institution and its desire for advanced research and education. The water programs within Civil Engineering, along with those created in other departments, echo the importance of water research across the globe. These programs needed advanced laboratories to further experiments and research for not only the university, but outside contracts as well.

From unique programs to energetic faculty and students, water research in several departments led the university in scientific research. Because of this work, the university gained funding, contracts, research recognition, and an increase in specialized faculty. These efforts, along with support from the university president, and advancements in different colleges, enabled CSU to become a Carnegie Classified Research I Institution in 1976, the highest classification for a university.

Image at right: Old Main. All images from the Water Resources Archive or the University Archives.


Elwood Mead

During the its first 100 years, CSU was a leader in creating original programs. In 1883, Elwood Mead proposed an Irrigation Engineering course, the first in the United States. Although he left a few years later, Mead inspired other professors, created a need for laboratories, and elevated the Civil & Irrigation Engineering degree.During the its first 100 years, CSU was a leader in creating original programs. In 1883, Elwood Mead proposed an Irrigation Engineering course, the first in the United States. Although he left a few years later, Mead inspired other professors, created a need for laboratories, and elevated the Civil & Irrigation Engineering degree.

Chamberlain and Christensen in lab

Nephi Christensen, the dean of engineering in 1938, wanted higher education programs for Irrigation Engineering, and Hydraulics. He created graduate programs throughout the 1940s, and by 1951, the first Ph.D. was awarded. Future CSU president, A.R. “Ray” Chamberlain, earned it in Civil Engineering.

Albertson and students in lab

In 1947, Christensen hired an energetic hydraulics professor, Dr. Maurice Albertson. He was the first faculty member with a Ph.D. in this department and made advancements across the institution as a whole. From creating new courses, to securing contracts, to implementing international relationships and programs, Albertson proved essential to the growth of the university.

Mountain Campus

The watershed management program began in 1947. It was one of the first in the U.S. in conjunction with the United States Forest Service. By 1958, the Watershed Sciences degree began. Programs like snow hydrology, pioneered by Dr. Jim Meiman were innovative components to the degree. The CSU Mountain Campus (originally Pingree Park) opened in 1915 and continues to serve as a center of research.

By the 1970s, the university had experienced over 100 years of cutting-edge programs, groundbreaking degrees, and exceptional students. In addition to those achievements, the university awarded its first Ph.D. in Civil Engineering to Della Laura in 1974. This achievement demonstrated the continuing progress of the Civil Engineering department and the university.

Alice Pennock

The first woman to receive a B.S. in Civil & Irrigation Engineering was Alice Louise Pennock in 1936. (She was involved in many campus activities, like the Pistol Club.) She married future Bureau of Reclamation employee and fellow classmate, H.P. Dugan.

Lab in 1917

As irrigation and engineering research advanced at the institution, professors and students needed laboratory spaces to further their studies. These scientific facilities served as the center of experimentation and innovation for the campus and field of study as a whole. The first large-scale laboratory on campus was built in 1912. Since then, laboratories have been the workplace for experiments and scientific advancement.

Bellvue Hydraulic Laboratory

Ralph Parshall, a leader in irrigation engineering, designed the new Hydraulics Lab alongside the USDA Office of Irrigation Investigations in 1912. It became a crucial workspace for future students and faculty. It eventually proved too small and outdated, and an additional lab was built

The Bellvue Hydraulic Laboratory, built on the banks of the Cache la Poudre River, was finished in the early 1920s. Parshall was again a critical member of the design and planning team. This site served as a testing ground in the field for live flow experiments and was where Parshall conducted tests for the Parshall flume.

Maury Albertson, Della Laura, and group

During the post-World War II boom in scientific research, a modernized laboratory was needed. In 1948, Dr. Albertson secured a contract to conduct the lab work for an international dams project in Pakistan. This funded the refurbishment of the 1912 hydraulics lab with advanced equipment and new materials.

Bellvue lab
Albertson and Parshall

Ralph Parshall (right) retired shortly after Dr. Albertson (center) was hired, but they still worked together at the Bellvue Lab.

Engineering Research Center brochure

Although the lab was torn down to make way for the Lory Student Center, it enabled a new facility to be built. The Engineering Research Center opened in 1963 on the foothills campus and continues to serve as the center of irrigation, hydraulic, and engineering research.

Man at Jackson Ditch

The laboratories served as centers of innovation and continue to advance water resources research. The people involved in these laboratories and the programs associated with them fueled a need for greater research and higher education at the institution. As CSU continues to develop and diversify, its water resources programs continue their innovative work in the laboratory, and out in the world.

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