State's Oldest Irrigation System Gets Facelift

Irrigation system in far western Kansas gets new, easier to operate headgates

Published on: Nov 27, 2012

The oldest system of irrigation in Kansas has just become a little more modern.

The Amazon Canal, one of six canals in the Arkansas River ditch diversion system in far western Kansas, has a new headgate system, designed to make it easier to direct the flow of water – when there is any, into the canal that brings surface water to farmer-members of the ditch association.

The ditch system was constructed in 1880 and 1881 by pioneer farmers who wanted to take advantage of the ability to irrigate their sandy fields from the river.

Today, the both the ditch and the river bed are dry, covered in brush and weeds and blown, rippled sand.

About the only time there is water in the river or the ditch is when the system managers call for a release of water from the impoundment at John Martin reservoir in Colorado. In the wake of successive years of drought in eastern Colorado and western Kansas, however, the reservoir is well below conservation pool and no water is being released.

The ditch system was constructed in 1880 and 1881 by pioneer farmers who wanted to take advantage of the ability to irrigate their sandy fields from the river.
The ditch system was constructed in 1880 and 1881 by pioneer farmers who wanted to take advantage of the ability to irrigate their sandy fields from the river.

Amazon Canal association president Hal Scheuerman is confident that the situation will change.

"We've had drought cycles before," he says. "And flood cycles."

Right now, the ditch condition he worries the most about is not the absence of water from drought but the growing presence of sand, which clogs the waterway in a number of areas.

Too much sand in the bed of the ditch distorts the information provided by computerized stream flow monitoring equipment, he said. Cleaning out the sand is an endless and time-consuming job that neither the ditch association nor its farmer members can keep up with.

Also on Scheuerman's list of concerns is the erosion of the riverbanks and the magnitude of flooding that will almost certainly occur when the drought is over and a season of high water comes to the river.

For more about the state's oldest irrigation system and its facelift see the November Kansas Farmer online.