When I pulled up to the Monger ranch in Hayden, CO I received a warm welcome from Doug Monger, a CWC member and past Board Member, and a warning to really cover myself in bug spray. The Monger’s ranch is located between Steamboat Springs and Craig, next door to the well-known Carpenter Ranch, and is apparently a mecca for mosquitoes.
After a quick chat about this year’s legislative session, we fired up the 4-wheelers and headed out to open the first head gate.
On the way, Kyle Monger, Doug’s son, explained to me which pasture served which purpose and how the land rises and falls in each, creating easy and more difficult areas to irrigate.
After arriving at the head gate on the Williams ditch, Kyle noticed that it was clogged. Using the rod end of an old street sign, Kyle unclogged the opening and water started to rush through the head gate and into a small ditch headed for a hay field. The new water was easy to track and filled the hay field in front of us in a period of about two minutes.
We hopped back on our 4-wheelers and rode to the spot where the small ditch from the Williams splits into two smaller ditches (seen here). Even with both ditches flowing at full capacity the Monger’s need to use a series of canvas dams to move water onto areas that do not receive the natural flow.
How To: Set a Canvas Dam
- Find a spot on the ditch where the ground is soft and concave on the side of the bank that meets your pasture.
- Drive a stake into the ground on either side of the ditch.
- Place the rope loops attached to the canvas corners around the stakes.
- Use a shovel (or your boots) to push the canvas opening to the bottom of the ditch so that the flowing water is caught and slowed down. This process backs up the water in the ditch, forcing it outward onto the pasture by way of the concave ditch bank.
The day ended after we’d completed the same tasks on the Walker ditch and visited the diversion point on the Yampa River. Tired and hungry I left with a valuable experience and some very important take-aways:
- Irrigation involves both manual labor and strategic seasonal planning.
- Flood irrigation, while great for hay, uses a lot of water. In some areas of a hay pasture the water is ankle deep. In other parts of the same pasture, there is no water at all.
- The culture associated with a multi-generational ranching family like the Mongers generates inspiring energy derived from a love for the land, agriculture, and family history.
- Water is related to hay, which is related to cows, which are related to weight for beef, which is related to our Colorado economy. Without the right amount of water and perfect hay growing conditions, it’s going to be a hard year for everybody.
- Mosquitos are real and one must wear extra bug spray when doing ditch work.
- Watch where you stomp or you’ll have wet jeans and flooded muck boots. Wet jeans are not fun.
- The Mongers were happy to see city folk from the water community in Denver coming out to rural Colorado for hands on experience; he hopes that more people will follow suit (Legislators too!)