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Colton Bell
Colton Bell

The Florida Project

Yet all that Walt Disney envisioned for this project in those early days was subsidiary to the importance of EPCOT. It was to be filled with idyllic playgrounds, entertainment zones, churches, schools, and suburban divisions all encircling a central business district and linked together by electric monorail. Best of all, it would be completely climate controlled, concealed beneath a huge dome to protect its residents from the outside elements, be it hurricanes or urban decay.

The Florida Project

Remember and cherish that name, not least for its playful suggestion of royalty: Moonee is very much the princess in this contemporary American fairy tale, and her kingdom is the Magic Castle, a sprawling, three-story motel located not far from another Florida project called Disney World.

Lemon Dam is the principal feature of the Florida Project, which is a participating project of the Colorado River Storage Project. The dam is located in southwestern Colorado on the Florida River, approximately 14 miles northeast of the city of Durango in La Plata County. Floodwaters of the Florida River are stored in the reservoir formed by the dam, and regulated releases can provide supplemental irrigation water for 19,450 acres.

The contract for construction of Lemon Dam was awarded June 30, 1961, and all contract work was completed in December 1963. Rehabilitation of Florida Farmers Diversion Dam and enlargement and relocation of Florida Farmers Ditch and Florida Canal were conducted in 1962-63. Construction of the lateral system, with a total length of 14.1 miles and ranging in capacity from 2 to 50 cubic feet per second, was initiated in June 1963 and essentially completed in November 1964. The Florida Water Conservancy District began rehabilitation of the existing lateral system in March 1963 and completed the work in 1965. Irrigated lands are used largely for the support of livestock enterprises. Climatically adaptable crops such as small grains, alfalfa, pasture, and corn are the principal products. Recreation facilities at Lemon Reservoir were constructed by the National Park Service and are operated by the Forest Service. For specific information on recreational opportunities at Lemon Reservoir click on the name below. =55 Flood control benefits result from reduced snowmelt flooding due to the operation of Lemon Reservoir. Lemon Reservoir has 39,030 acre-feet specific reservoir capacity assigned for flood control. The Florida Project has provided an accumulated $136,000 in flood control benefits from 1950 to 1999. The Florida Project The Florida Project is a land of medians. In this small triangle-shaped plot of southwestern Colorado, nature, the past, and present meet and exert influence on the future. Historically, it is where the Ute Indians, Spanish, and Americans converged and claimed the area as their own. Climatically, it is a place where the warm, arid wind of the southwest desert plateau meets the gusts of the San Juan mountains to the north. Reclamation stepped into the middle of this middle ground at the height of the anything is possible, go-go 1960s. As an initial component of the Colorado River Storage Project, the Florida Project was a piece on the assembly line of construction. From foundation excavation to first deliveries of water, Florida`s Lemon Dam and Reservoir were brought into this world with an air of business as usual nonchalance. Recently, a new turning point appeared, as cattle raising and agriculture have felt the intrusion of paved streets, sewage systems and tract homes. Since the early 1990s, the city of Durango, the largest community nearest the project has grown without limits. Dealing with the creeping menace of suburban subdivisions constrains the people and the mission of the Florida Project to travel an increasingly narrow road. In La Plata County Colorado, `Florida` is pronounced in the same manner the Spanish explorers first called the river 200 years ago, with the emphasis on the last syllable. Instead of tropical breezes and endless sunshine, this Florida gets a taste of both the desert climate of the Colorado Plateau and the coolness of the 14,000 foot high San Juan mountains nearby. Toward the east and southeast of project lands, the San Juan mountains extend to the San Luis Valley with an outlier running south into New Mexico at a rapidly decreasing elevation. Northeast and north of the project, the San Juan`s are more or less directly joined to the rest of the Rocky Mountains. Project lands are almost entirely on the Florida Mesa, one of the largest and most compact bodies of land in the Florida River basin. This diamond-shaped plot is 15 miles long, six miles wide with its northern apex five miles due east of the city of Durango. The project`s southern extremity is near the junction of the Florida and Animas Rivers, about 15 miles south of Durango. The dam and reservoir are about 14 miles northeast of town. One of the few chroniclers of La Plata County`s past believed that to call the Florida a river was `rather an undeserved dignity.` The Florida River heads on the south slopes of the Needle Mountains, about 10 miles southwest of the Continental Divide. The 68-mile drainage area above Lemon Dam varies in elevation from 7,950 feet at the damsite to more than 13,000 feet at the headwaters. The frost free season comes and goes quickly between the warmth of early June and the cool of late September, approximately 112 to 130 days. Temperatures in Durango vary from 99 to -27 below, and town averages 19.16 inches of precipitation. The growing months between June and September, however are usually dry, as the region collects less than eight inches of rainfall. The Florida Mesa can boast of `more uniform and better soil than usual for areas of similar size in Western Colorado,` with red sandy to red clay loam of good quality and great depth.(1) Project History The first known inhabitants of Southwestern Colorado date back more than 10,000 years. The most intriguing of these early cultures was the Anasazi, a Navajo word meaning `the old people.` Their attempts at farming produced only a single variety of corn and squash, but they sustained themselves by hunting and gathering wild seeds, fruits and plants. The Anasazi disappeared from the region around 1300 A.D. for reasons anthropologists still only guess at.(2) The next group to live off this land were the Ute Indians. The exact date of the first contact between the nomadic Utes and Spanish explorers remains in doubt, but the Utes possessed their first horses as early as 1640 as the result of encounters with Spanish expeditions in New Mexico. Between 1761 and 1765, the first Spaniards venturing through what would become La Plata County were led by Juan Maria de Rivera. Rivera`s journal of his trek is lost to history, but it is commonly believed he named most of the streams and mountains in La Plata County. One of those streams was described as Florida, or `blooming` in English. A little more than a decade later, in 1776, Padres Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco V. Dominguez joined by eight companions, followed Rivera`s route permanently establishing the names given to the landmarks by the earlier party.(3) Despite Spanish exploration, Southwestern Colorado remained a part of the enormous Ute hunting and tribal land. After the United States claimed this area from their victory in the Mexican War, treaties in 1863 and 1868 between the United States government and the Utes established the first boundaries on the tribe. The treaties were designed to protect and limit the increasing numbers of whites trespassing onto Ute land. Regardless of the agreement, gold miners and their lust for ore turned friction between whites and the Utes into open warfare. In 1873, U.S. Army Captain John Moss attempted to negotiate a private treaty between both sides in La Plata County. His efforts were stymied by combat between both sides, but a temporary truce was called the following year. According to the terms of the arrangement, the Federal government purchased three million acres from the Utes, including most of the mountains and all of the prospective mineral land. An 1875 dispatch to a Denver newspaper depicted the Florida Valley as empty with a few unoccupied cabins along the river and patches of grass unable to sustain a herd of cattle. By the beginning of the 1880s, other bands of Utes were moved into the Utah Territory. Only the Southern Utes were allowed to stay in Colorado on a 15-mile wide, 100 mile-long strip of reservation land.(4) The settlement of the San Juan Basin was incidental to the discovery of gold and the rapid expansion of mining in the nearby mountains. Attracting people to raise crops instead of prospecting for gold was a more daunting proposition. There was little desirable land outside of the reservation, and it was not until the reservation was opened to outside settlement on May 4, 1899, that another land grab began. In another deal with the government, the Southern Utes accepted 374 allotments of land totaling 60,000 acres for their own use. The remaining 636,000 acres purchased by the Federal Government were soon sifted through by whites and the better lands settled. Typical of other newly inhabited parts of the west, irrigators unfamiliar with their surroundings unsuccessfully experimented. The overproduction of crops not suited to the area and the inaccessibility of certain markets were the two primary drawbacks to farming the Florida Mesa. Successful farmers quickly learned any agricultural production in the area served as an adjunct to the livestock business. Local winter rangelands were not sufficient to support the Hereford cattle and sheep coming down from the mountain pastures at the end of summer. In order to support the hungry herds and flocks, and keep themselves in business, farmers grew alfalfa hay, grains, and grass hay. At the turn of the century, 23 ditches watered an average of a hundred acres each directly from the Florida River. Two of these, the eastern mesa`s Florida Farmers Ditch System, and the Florida Canal system supporting the western mesa, continue to serve practically all local irrigators. The town of Durango built a log crib dam and a 200 acre-foot capacity reservoir near the head of the Florida River in an area known as Upper Park. It was eventually abandoned due to its inaccessibility and poor condition of the dam and outlet works. In the dry year of 1902, it was apparent that a water storage facility was needed, and there was talk among Durango residents and mesa farmers about building a dam. Heavy rainfall in following years washed from local memory the fact that storage would be needed when the next dry cycle arrived.(5) Seasons of excess moisture were dim recollections by the late 1920s. The first federal investigation of the Florida River was packaged with other western Colorado damsite surveys as part of a Public Works Project. An allotment of $150,000 from an appropriation made available under the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933 launched the initial investigation of the Florida River. In September 1938, the work conducted under the 1933 appropriation was transferred to the Colorado River Basin Investigations and continued under provisions of Section 15 of the Boulder Canyon Act. These studies were held in the midst of the century`s worst dry spell; twelve years of drought commencing in the late 1920s before annual precipitation returned to normal at the dawn of the 1940s. At summer`s close in each of those dry years, the small amount of water left in the ditches could only nurture the hay and grain flush against the canals. Lack of water for the second cutting of hay resulted in an inadequate feed supply for cattle during the winter. Farmed acreage on in Florida dropped from 18,351 acres in 1929 to 13,794 in 1938 -- a 25 per cent reduction in irrigated lands. Hard times in the fields snowballed into increased farm indebtedness, loss of farms, consolidation of holdings under one management, and an increase in tenancy. A 1939 Bureau examination of the Florida Mesa perceived local farmers as "naturally alert, progressive and receptive to new ideas," but after more than a decade of unforgiving weather, "they have become skeptical of new proposals and become resigned to their present condition."(6) The Bureau`s 1939 study thoroughly covered the logistics of bringing a water project to the Florida Mesa. The sandstone for the dam would be quarried near the site, the sand and gravel for the concrete would come from washing and crushing the stones of the riverbed, and cement and equipment would be hauled from Durango. Reclamation noted the main drawbacks to both crews and design would be the project`s elevation of 8,000 feet and a short construction season of six months.(7) Isolation and the war delayed construction from 1939 to 1945, and a series of post-war studies would delay construction. In an effort to get the government to notice them, the Florida Water Conservancy District (FWCD) was born on July 20, 1948, in the La Plata County Courthouse in Durango. The FWCD would be the agent in all actions with the Federal Government when the decision would be made to build a facility across the Florida River. From the birth of the FWCD in 1948 to the late 1950s, reports in favor of developing Florida were commissioned. In each passing report, it became more likely the federal government would construct Florida as part of the Colorado River Storage Project. The proposed dam would be named after the site`s landowner, Charles H. Lemon. The coincidence of a Lemon and Florida at the base of the San Juan Mountains was not amusing to a certain group of New Mexican politicians. A brief game of political hardball, played in congressional appropriations committee rooms, awaited the Florida Project before it could have its own day in the sun. Construction of the project as a participating element of the Colorado River Storage project was authorized by Act of April 11, 1956 (70 Stat. 105) P.L. 485. Actual construction was authorized by Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton on April 4, 1960. However, a month of acrimony between the states of Colorado and New Mexico almost killed the Florida Project. New Mexico`s Governor John Burroughs, and its delegation to the Senate, felt Florida and other Federal water projects in Colorado`s San Juan Basin would deprive citizens near Farmington, New Mexico their dry year water rights. Florida was held hostage by New Mexican politicians demanding the House Appropriations Committee withhold funds until the two states reconciled their differences. La Plata County was downcast, and three weeks after Seaton`s authorization, the Durango Herald-News headlined the project as a `Dead Duck.` It would take the weighty influence of House Interior Committee Chairman Wayne Aspinall (D-Colo.) to smooth the ruffled feathers of both sides and put the Florida Project back on track. Six months later with the dispute between the two states forgotten, Seaton certified project lands good for irrigation. In November 1960, FWCD members voted to enter into a repayment contract with the United States by a 315-to-1 margin. The repayment contract ordered FWCD to pay the project`s reimbursable construction costs totaling $1,775,000. The reimbursable costs included delivery from project works to the FWCD, water for irrigation of irrigable land within the FWCD, and for the operation and maintenance of project works. The FWCD would pay 50 successive installments with the first annual payment of $35,500 due December 31, 1971. A $125,000 construction cost premium assigned to 785 acres of irrigable lands held by the Utes was deferred under provisions of the Act of July 1, 1932 (47 Stat. 564) until the tribal title was extinguished. After the legalities were settled, Reclamation assigned William F. Cr The Florida Construction Division office on Main Avenue in downtown Durango was the scene of the bid opening on June 1, 1961. Construction Engineer Miller`s announcement of the bid raised gasps in the audience of contractors and representatives. J.F. White Engineering Corporation of Englewood, Colorado held the apparent low bid. White offered a proposal $700,000 less than the engineer`s estimate of $5.5 million. Miller admitted that afternoon to the Durango News-Herald that he was `not overjoyed` by White`s offer. Miller`s misgivings were born from his belief that `most of our problems come from contractors who bid too low and then they can`t make any money on the job. But I`m not worried about it. Maybe he has some ideas the others didn`t think of.` On the final day of June, Reclamation`s Comptroller General found enough errors in White`s bid to cancel their offer. The next lowest bid of $5.8 million was tendered through a joint venture of Colorado Constructors, Inc. (CCI) and A.S. Horner Construction, Co., Inc., both of Denver.(9) Colorado Constructors and Horner`s moved equipment on July 6 to begin preparatory work on separate offices and maintenance yards. While their bid was presented jointly, the two contractors operated independently. Horner would build all concrete structures, excavating and placing the lining in the outlet works tunnel, adit, and shift. They would also install the high pressure gates and miscellaneous metal work, and make all electrical and mechanical installations. Colorado Constructors would move all the earthwork to the damsite. A subcontractor cleared the dam and reservoir sites, a right of way for a county road and a Rural Electrification Administration (REA) powerline. Horner and CCI would also spilt the work on the Florida Farmers Ditch Diversion Dam.(10) Looking like a shopping center parking lot on Christmas Day, only a few trucks and other pieces of equipment scurried along the foundation`s surface in preparation for laying the dam`s material. Encompassed by sturdy evergreens and spindly aspens, the dam site soon was a hive of activity. A battery of machines, including a 50-ton pneumatic-tired roller, a rock-saw wheeled trencher, and a 8,100-lb. Essick vibrating compactor, gouged and formed the site according to Reclamation`s design. Horner installed a portable batching plant in their maintenance compound 600 yards south of the dam on the river`s west bank, delivering concrete to the site by 6.5-yard transit mixers. Placement was made with a mobile crane.(11) Highly porous glacial gravel over the river channel and badly weathered rock on the abutments required digging a positive cutoff. The deeper the crew dug, the more seepage flowed out of the foundation. Continuous pumping was the method used to control the elevation of the water. Design specifications dictated pressure grouting of many areas. These included the rock foundation of the embankment and spillway crest structure, the heel of the left spillway footing, and the rock surrounding the outlet works tunnel, gate chamber, adit, and shaft. A grout cap trench, 3 feet wide and 3 to 5 feet deep was cut into the rock foundation and sealed off by a fan-shaped grout curtain. A key element to the success of the project, drilling and grouting operations across the dam site went ahead with only minor difficulties.(12) On August 18, 1961, excavation of the intake channel`s outlet works began, continuing until September 11 when crews cut into the toe of an old land slide on the right side of the channel. Removing a support at the toe triggered a new slide and digging immediately ended. Several hundred thousand yards of loose dirt needed to be removed to save the intake. After four days of consultations, Reclamation engineers decided to move the intake approximately 300 feet upstream to an area better suited to excavation. Digging the repositioned intake channel at the new site lasted from mid-September to November 1. The same day the intake was moved, September 15, employees of Colorado


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