USGS Logo Geological Survey Professional Paper 17
Preliminary Report on the Geology and Water Resources of Nebraska West of the One Hundred and Third Meridian


There is in this region considerable acreage under cultivation with the assistance of irrigation. There are extensive canals along the valley of North Platte River, several ditches along White and Niobrara rivers, and local arrangements for irrigation have been made in some of the smaller valleys. The results have been so satisfactory that there is prospect of some extension of irrigation operations. Much of the country is distant from good markets, and during the last few years farm products usually have not sold at profitable prices. The local demands, however, have often been sufficient to yield satisfactory returns to many of the irrigators. In Pls. XL and XLI are shown the canals and irrigated and irrigable areas in Nebraska west of the one hundred and third meridian and north of latitude 41° 30'.




The large volume of water in North Platte River and the wide bottom lands bordered by long zones of gentle slopes afford ideal conditions for irrigation in this valley. The soil is usually thick and rich and, although somewhat alkaline, responds most satisfactorily.

The history of irrigation in the valley dates back to the latter part of 1887, with the organization of the Farmers' Canal Company in Cheyenne County. Soon there after the Winter Creek, Minatare, and Enterprise canals were built, in 1888 and 1889, although the Enterprise canal was not entirely completed until somewhat later. The Minatare canal was begun in February, 1888, and opened August 20, 1888. These canals are all in Cheyenne and Scotts Bluff counties. The Mitchell canal was soon after constructed, in Scotts Bluff County, on the south side of the river west of Scotts Bluff. It is about 25 miles in length, 24 feet wide at the bottom, and conveys water to about 20,000 acres of bottom land. Early in 1888 the Castle Rock canal was constructed. It has a width of 18 feet on the bottom for the first 9 miles and then divides into two branches, each about 8 feet wide on the bottom and carrying 3 feet of water. Another large canal was built at Bayard. In 1893 the Ramshorn ditch was built in the western part of Scotts Bluff County. The Farmers canal has a head gate with a front opening 156 feet wide, with 27 individual gates. It is capable of taking an 8-foot head of water. The canal is 60 feet wide at the bottom and carries 8 feet of water. The first mile is completed 60 feet wide on the bottom, and for the remainder of its length its width is 30 feet. A gaging made at its head gate by Mr. E. T. Youngfelt on June 19, 1896, showed a flow of 2.28 cubic feet a second.

The following list comprises all the main canals, but not the many miles of laterals into which they empty:

List of irrigation canals in valley of North Platte River, in Nebraska, west of the one hundred and third meridian.

Name. Location of intake. Length.

Scotts Bluff County:
   Lawrence canalHorse CreekWyoming5
   Mitchell canalNorth Platte River   do25

Sec. T. R.
   Farmers canal   do19 23 5815
   Ramshorn canal   do34 23 586
   Enterprise canal   do12 23 5722
   Winter canal   do35 22 5611
   Gering canal   do7 21 555
   Minatare canal   do14 21 5510
   Castle Rock canal   do19 21 5415
   Bayard canal   do35 21 548


Cheyenne County:

   Bayard canal   do35 21 547
   Chimney Rock canal    do22 20 5311
   Alliance canal   do23 20 5310
   Belmont canal   do34 20 5215
   Browns Creek canal   do11 19 516



The Lawrence canal derives its water from Horse Creek, in Wyoming, and it is supplemented by one 400-acre storage reservoir 10 feet deep and another covering 180 acres 11 feet deep.

The following estimates of crops raised in the Platte Valley are based on data obtained by Mr. C. A. Fisher and others during the autumn of 1897. In Scotts Bluff County the area irrigated from North Platte River in 1897 was 16,080 acres, in which wild hay, alfalfa, corn, and wheat were the principal crops. Oats and garden vegetables were also irrigated extensively. In Cheyenne County the area irrigated from North Platte River in 1897 was 4,150 acres, of which hay and alfalfa were the principal products, together with smaller amounts of various cereals and vegetables. The yield per acre of crops under irrigation is somewhat variable. Wheat usually harvests from 30 to 40 bushels an acre; potatoes, 150 to 200 bushels, and wild hay, 1-1/2 tons. Alfalfa yields 2 tons to the cutting, and is cut three times a season. Near Sunflower post-office there is an extensive orchard under irrigation, which promises to be very successful. It contains about 3,200 trees, many berry bushes, and 5,000 strawberry plants.

The cost of irrigation was found to vary greatly. Figures were obtained for 7,500 acres in the Platte Valley, which indicate an average cost of 41 cents an acre. The farms are mostly from 80 to 160 acres. The individual cost an acre varied in greater part from 30 to 75 cents. In many cases the water was paid for partly in cash and partly in labor.


Pumpkinseed Creek is available for irrigation of a small marginal acreage along the greater part of its course, but the waters are used only to a small extent. There is a ditch, known as the Courthouse Rock canal, extending from the west line of range 50 to Greenwood Creek, a distance of 5 miles, and there are several small local ditches and reservoirs at various points, shown in Pl. XL. The area of crops is about 90 acres, embracing several hay meadows. Lawrence Fork is used locally for irrigation 2 miles south of Redington, and its excellent water supply would admit of much more extensive use.


The waters of Niobrara River are utilized extensively for the irrigation of narrow strips of the bottom lands. There are canals at frequent intervals along its course, which furnish water mainly for hay meadows. Some grain crops are raised, but their acreage is small. The total area under irrigation in 1897 was about 7,015 acres.

The following is a list of the canals, compiled from data recently obtained by the State engineer:

List of irrigation ditches along Niobrara River, in Nebraska, west of the one hundred and third meridian.

Name. Location of

Sioux County:Miles.
Bigelow & Seymour ditch1931571.75
Warneke's ditch2731572.00
Johnson's ditch363157.75
Lacota ditch130573.00
Peter Bourett's ditch2930562.00
Earnest ditch929564.00
McGinley & Stover upper ditch2329563.50
McGinley & Stover lower ditch2529563.00
Harris & Neece ditch3285510.00
La Belle ditch628542.00
______ ditch428544.00
Irion Brothers' ditch128542.00
Moore's ditch928533.50

Boxbutte County:
McLaughlin ditch928523.00
Vincent ditch1028521.00
Hughes ditch128522.00

Dawes County:
Snow ditch3529511.00
Painter ditch3629515.00
Furman ditch2929503.00
Enterprise ditch2829503.50
Hatch & Cross ditch2529503.00
McMannis & Neeland ditch2929492.00


The relatively large volumes of running water in White River and those of its branches which head in the canyons on the north front of Pine Ridge have been utilized at various points for irrigation. Many ditches have been constructed, and there are plans for a more extensive use of the waters. At present about 3,655 acres are under irrigation, in greater part along the main valley.

The following list of ditches is compiled from data obtained by the State engineer during 1897:

List of irrigation ditches in White River Basin, in Nebraska, west of the one hundred and third meridian.

Name. Location of intake. Length.

Sioux County:Sec. T. R. Miles.
   Lewis ditchWhite River27 31 550.50
   Schwartz-Hughson ditch   do26 31 55.25
   Tucker's ditch   do34 31 54.75
   Colville ditchKyle Creek3 30 541.00
   Diedrichson ditchWhite River1 30 54.50
   Johnson ditch    do7 30 53.50
   Jacobson ditch   do32 31 53.50
   Mason ditch   do32 31 53.25
   Crawford Citizens' ditch   do23 31 531.50


Dawes County:
   Crawford Citizens' ditch   do23 31 5318.50
   Hazleton ditchWhite Clay Creek13 31 521.00
   Cooper ditch   do2 31 521.75
   Butterworth ditchWhite River3 31 52.50
   Hall's ditch   do34 32 5113.00
   White River Irrigation Company's ditch   do34 32 522.00
   McFarland's ditchWhite Clay Creek35 32 52.75
   Harris & Cooper ditchWhite River25 32 5210.00
   Rasher ditch   do19 32 511.00
   Welling ditch   do17 32 51.50
   Harris ditch   do17 32 512.00
   McManus ditchHooker Creek7 31 511.00
   Stewart Brothers' ditchLittle Cottonwood Creek8 32 521.50
   Thomas Stewart ditch   do8 32 52.75
   Spring Creek ditchSpring Creek13 32 52.75
   Spring Creek ditch No. 1   do18 32 511.00
   Kusil ditchLittle Cottonwood Creek9 32 511.00
   Mace ditchWest Ash Creek2 31 511.00
   West Ash Creek Irrigation Company's ditch   do36 32 512.00
   Baron ditchEast Ash Creek32 32 50.50
   Ox Yoke ditch   do31 32 501.50
   James Wilson ditchIndian Creek10 31 50.125
   Seegrist ditch   do3 31 50.50
   Flood ditchEast Fork of Indian Creek33 32 500.75
   Smock's ditchTrunk Butte Creek26 32 50.50
   Goff ditchDead Horse Creek9 31 491.00
   Norton ditch   do9 31 49.75
   Woodruff ditch   do32 32 49.75
   Kemery Ram   do32 32 49.50
   W. Wilson's ditchChadron Creek12 32 49.50
   H. M. Wilson's ditch   do12 32 49.75
   Half Diamond   do1 32 491.00




The water of Lodgepole Creek has been utilized for irrigation for several years, and at times practically all the stream has been diverted into the fields. Hay has been the principal crop, but grains and vegetables have also been irrigated to some extent. The average volume of the creek is about 4 cubic feet per second, but along some portion of the valley the waters sink beneath the surface and, traveling underground for some distance, emerge again in springs. The following facts relating to this valley are taken from notes by Mr. Adna Dobson, made in the summer of 1895:a

Commencing from the west, the first ditch is the Hoover, which supplies water for about 50 acres; then come the ditches of S. A. Pierce and L. C. Kinney, which supply water for about 575 acres, mainly of hay lands. In the next 4 miles no more water is taken out, and then comes the head of the Young ditch, which supplies water for about 30 acres, extending to sec. 34, T. 15, R. 57. Five miles lower down is the ditch of Carl Ruttner, which takes water on each side of the creek, the total amount being 4.9 cubic feet a second, which is used for covering about 40 acres. One mile lower down is the beginning of J. J. Kinney's south ditch, which takes all the water in the creek, 3.6 cubic feet a second, for the cultivation of about 140 acres. One-half mile below this is the head of J. J. Kinney's north ditch, into which the entire creek is diverted. The amount of water is 2.1 cubic feet a second for the watering of 190 acres. These ditches are used alternately in order to obtain greater volume. The amount of water in the creek increases rapidly below the head of Mr. Kinney's ditch, and at the east line of sec. 34, one-half mile below, the creek is running about 6 cubic feet per second. Within the next 3 miles is the Hurley, Liley & Polly ditch, which takes 4.5 cubic feet of water a second for the irrigation of 160 acres. Two miles below this is the head of the Hurley & Polly ditch for the irrigation of about 125 acres. One-half mile lower down the valley is the head of the Bay State ditch, which takes 2.5 cubic feet of water a second for 100 acres. In the next 7 miles are the McIntosh, Circle Arrow, and Brady ditches, with only limited supplies of water, the creek becoming practically dry above Mr. Brady's head gate in sec. 28, T. 15, R. 54, and continuing so to a point in sec. 4, T. 14, R. 52, where it again appears. A measurement at the head of the Adams ditch, in sec. 31, T. 14, R. 52, showed 2-1/4 cubic feet a second, which is taken by the Adams ditch for the cultivation of 245 acres, mainly of hay. Next below is Thomas Gunderson's ditch, which has 5 cubic feet of water a second for 100 acres. In sec. 7, T. 14, R. 51, is the ditch of Mr. Hans Christianson, which takes about 1 cubic foot of water a second for 70 acres. One and one-half miles below this is the ditch of Mr. James Mitchell, which takes 3.5 cubic feet a second for 60 acres; and next below is the head of Mr. John Anderson's ditch, for 200 acres. This ditch is used alternately with the Mitchell ditch in order to have a sufficient volume of water. Then comes the very small ditch of Mr. J. A. Shanahan for the irrigation of 2 or 3 acres. The next dam below is for Mr. Mr Urback's ditch. Then there is the ditch of N. P. Lingholm, which heads in the SE. 1/4 sec. 14, T. 14, R. 51, and provides water for 30 acres. It was taking 1.5 cubic feet of water a second at the time of observation. The creek is dry below this through sec. 13 and nearly through sec. 19. Near the east line of sec. 19 the water rises again, and at the head of the Couch ditches, in the SW. 1/4 sec. 20, T. 14, R. 50, 2 cubic feet a second is available for the irrigation of about 40 acres. Runge's ditches, Nos. 1 and 2, are in secs. 28 and 29, T. 14, R. 50, and provide for about 105 acres. The Ickes ditch comes next, but the amount of water is hardly sufficient to cover more than 100 acres. About one-half cubic foot of water a second passes the Ickes dam and fills a small pond at the head of the Adams & Tobin ditch, but the supply was inadequate to cover the 180 acres to be irrigated. Below this dam the creek is entirely dry for the next mile, where the water rises again in springs; and at the head of the Trognitz ditch, in sec. 36, T. 14, R. 50, one-half a cubic foot of water a second flows into the ditch and is used for the irrigation of about 34 acres. It is the same ditch that was built by the United States to supply water for Fort Sidney.

aFirst Biennial Report of the State Board of Irrigation of the State of Nebraska for 1895 and 1896, prepared by W. R. Akers, Lincoln, 1897, pp. 151-157.

The table following gives the acreage of crops irrigated in the Lodgepole Valley west of the one hundred and third meridian in 1896, according to the first report of the State board of irrigation (p. 158).

Acreage of crops irrigated in the Lodgepole Valley west of the one hundred and third meridian in 1896.


Native bay2,160
Garden trees, etc25


The upper portions of Hat Creek and its numerous branches rising in canyons in the northern slopes of Pine Ridge contain water in sufficient supply for the irrigation of many local areas. These are mainly in the relatively narrow canyons, where only small strips of land are so situated as to be easily watered. The volume of water in most cases is ample and is derived from ever-flowing springs. Nearly all the canyons contain small, short canals, which serve for the irrigation of numerous small farms. The total area under irrigation in 1897 was estimated to be 1,860 acres.

The following is a list of the canals according to the plots of the State engineer:

List of irrigation ditches in Hat Creek Basin, Sioux County, Nebr.

Name.Location of intake.Length.

Sec. T. R.Miles.
Steel ditchHat Creek16 32 551.50
Coffee's ditch   do26 33 555.00
Miller ditch   do23 33 55.75
Holly's ditchBoggy Creek31 33 541.00
Old Sowbelly ditchSowbelly Creek7 32 552.00
Hall's ditch   do6 32 55.50
M. D. Jordan's ditch   do21 33 551.50
Schlitz ditchCedar Creek35 33 562.00
Valdeg ditchPrairie Dog Creek3 32 56.50
Zerbst ditch   do25 33 561.00
Big Monroe Creek ditchBig Monroe Creek33 33 562.00
Biehle ditch------32 33 56.75
Nolan's ditches, No. 1 and No. 2Warbonnet Creek23 33 571.25
Kay's ditch   do26 33 57.75
Daut ditch   do30 33 561.00
______ ditch   do31 33 561.00
Warbonnet ditch   do21 33 561.50
Woodruff's ditchJim Creek14 33 571.00
Slattery's ditch   do13 33 571.00
Jim Creek ditch   do8 33 56.50
Hamlin ditchSquaw Creek10 33 57.50
Dunn's ditch   do11 33 572.00
P. D. Dunn's ditch   do3 33 571.00
Turner's ditchAntelope Creek26 34 571.50
Story's ditch   do8 34 561.00
Cherry Creek ditchCherry Creek29 33 54.25
aUniversity of Nebraska, Bull. Agric. Exper. Stat., vol. 8. article 4, 1896.


Several farmers in western Nebraska have experimented with windmill irrigation with encouraging results. There are large supplies of underground waters under the high table-lands, beginning with Pine Ridge and lying in broad expanse between the larger valleys. This is notably the case on the fine table lying between the valleys of Lodgepole Creek and Pumpkinseed Creek. These waters are usually at a depth of over 175 feet, but a large windmill soon raises sufficient water to fill a fair-sized reservoir. About 10 acres seems to be the limit for irrigation from one windmill, but this area will afford sufficient crops for local use. A reservoir is essential for satisfactory irrigation from a pump, but there usually is no difficulty in constructing one in the table-land areas.

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Last Updated: 24-Aug-2009