Fryingpan-Arkansas Project History

Your investment in water


President John F. Kennedy, photo courtesy of the Pueblo Chieftain

Water truly is the lifeblood of our communities.  That was never more a statement of fact than during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.  It was at that time in modern history of the Arkansas River basin that community leaders created the vision of a more prosperous future: a future that would include a plentiful supply of water through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project (Project).  The vision became a reality 50 years ago with the signing of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act by President John F. Kennedy on August 16, 1962.   A special celebration was held in Pueblo.  The President provided special recognition of the Project and its long developmental history by saying, “When [people] come to this state and see how vitally important [water] is, not just to this state, but to the West, to the United States, then they realize how important it is that all the people of this country support this project that belongs to all the people of this country.”  Since this historic date in 1962 the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has provided our communities with 50 golden years of benefits.  The vision of our forefathers and the continued investment and commitment of the citizens of today assures us an important resource for our future…a natural resource that is indeed the lifeblood of our community…WATER.

In 1859 the discovery of gold in the Arkansas River valley brought many settlers to the area, but few were successful in their search for wealth.  More and more gold seekers turned to farming to provide for themselves and their families.  As permanent settlements were established, normal rainfall proved inadequate for farming and the era of irrigation development began.  Early irrigation in the valley depended on available stream runoff from the Arkansas River and its tributaries.  After years of drought and hardship, the residents of the Arkansas Valley sought government aid to plan and develop a project which would regulate existing water supplies for more efficient use and provide additional storage capacity for the conservation of flood-flows, reservoir space for storage, and new water supplies.

Community leaders and irrigators began pushing heavily for a project to bring water from the western slope, with its abundant snowfall and sparse population, to the Arkansas River basin, where irrigated agriculture and city water systems depended on a river that often was only a trickle by the time it reached the state line.

The popular shorthand for the project became the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The name took on even more significance when backers of the Project began peddling golden frying pans up and down the Arkansas valley to raise money for the lobbying effort that was soon to come

The sale of golden frying pans in the valley was brisk. Burros were used to carry the frying pans to towns up and down the Arkansas valley. During Water Week in January of 1955 groups were able to buy small frying pans for $5 and large ones for $100 or more. More than $30,000 was raised by the end of the week. The money was used to send backers of the Project to Washington, D.C.

Representative J. Edgar Chenoweth faithfully led the fight for the Project in the House of Representatives through the 1950's. Year after year the struggle for approval remained the same; the project passed the Senate, but failed in the House.

Finally, on June 13, 1962, the House passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The Senate approved the Project on August 6, 1962.  President John F. Kennedy signed the Project into law on August 16, 1962.

Ruedi Dam Construction, Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, photo property of United States Bureau of Reclamation


The Bureau  of Reclamation (Reclamation) started construction on the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project beginning with Ruedi Dam and Reservoir in 1964.  The Charles H. Boustead (Boustead) Tunnel,  which is used to transport Project water from the western slope to the eastern slope, was built between 1965 and 1971.

Turquoise and Twin Lakes Reservoirs were already in existence, but from 1965 – 1968, Reclamation enlarged Turquoise Reservoir, raising Sugar Loaf Dam and constructing the Mt. Elbert Conduit, which carries water from Turquoise to Twin Lakes.  Work to enlarge Twin Lakes began in 1975.  By then, Mt. Elbert Powerplant, the largest hydro-electric power plant in the State of Colorado, was being constructed on the lakes’ northern shore.  Both were complete in 1981.

Pueblo Dam and Reservoir construction began in 1970 and completed five years later.  The first sale of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project trans-mountain water occurred in July 1972.  Unit 1 of the Mt. Elbert Powerplant was made commercially available to the Western Area Power Administration in October 1981.  Unit 2 came on line in August 1984.

Reclamation began construction in 1964, and continued without interruption until September 28, 1990 when the Project was completed with the dedication of the Fish Hatchery at Pueblo Reservoir. Construction is completed on all the water supply-related features that were expected to be initially developed. Plans to construct the Arkansas Valley Conduit are currently in process. The Conduit is an original component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project but has not been built.  When completed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to approximately 50,000 people in southeastern Colorado. 




Pueblo Dam construction, photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation
Ruedi Dam construction, Photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation
Pueblo Dam construction, photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation
Pueblo Dam construction, photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation
Flood of 1921, Pueblo, CO, photo courtesy Pueblo City—County Library District
A Black Blizzard over Prowers County, CO, photo courtesy of Kansas State University
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project supporters in Washington, D.C.   Photo property of SECWCD library
Charles H. Boustead and Rep. J. Edgar Chenoweth, photo property of SECWCD library
President John F. Kennedy signing the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, photo courtesy of the Pueblo Chieftain