An Amazing Piece of Work: Construction of the Reclamation System
Armed with the financial results of Greene's and Tansill's labor, the irrigation company began large-scale construction work on its physical plant in 1889, marking a dramatic turnaround from the meager efforts of the year before. The company's planned Pecos Valley reclamation program included large canal systems near both Roswell and Eddy, and an additional irrigation network downstream in Texas. By the time Ralph Tarr of the Reclamation Service visited that March, substantial work had been completed in the Roswell area. (This was the so-called "Northern Canal," some forty miles in length, which began at a small diversion dam located on Pat Garrett's ranch.)  Of the Eddy project, which was to feature both a large diversion dam and a canal network, Tarr noted:
This description, one of the earliest written outlines of the future Carlsbad Project, is a reasonably accurate narrative of the irrigation company's system as actually built, although the estimate of the amount of land to be served by the project was dramatically and typically inflated.
Within months of Tarr's visit, construction crews were at work on the irrigation company's canal system near Eddy. As initially planned, this portion of the project included a diversion dam (at the site of present-day Avalon Dam), a "Southwestern Canal," and an "East-Side Canal." The Southwestern Canal's route began at the east end of the diversion dam and parallelled the river's east bank southward for three and one-half miles, where it crossed the river via a large wooden flume. Beyond the flume, the planned canal continued southward almost to the Texas line. The proposed East-Side Canal originated on the Southwestern Canal three miles below the dam and followed a circuitous route to the southeast. 
The reclamation system's engineering and design work was performed by the irrigation company itself; using the talents of three Colorado engineers whom Hagerman had presumably drawn to New Mexico. Engineering work was supervised by H.H. Cloud, a railway engineer who had previously worked for Hagerman on the Colorado Midland Railroad. Little else about his career is known. Cloud's assistants included Louis D. Blauvelt and Edwin S. Nettleton. Blauvelt also worked on railroad construction projects in Colorado. In the early 1900s he was chief engineer for the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (the "Moffat Road") as it constructed its torturous railway ascent of the Front Range. In the 1920s, Blauvelt worked as an engineer for the Colorado State Highway Department. 
In contrast to his co-workers, Nettleton possessed extensive experience in reclamation engineering, and this made him one of Hagerman's chief advisors. A graduate of Oberlin College in civil and mechanical engineering, Nettleton moved to Colorado in 1870 with the Union Colony of Greeley. Nettleton reportedly platted the townsite of Greeley and its surrounding irrigation systems, and later performed similar work at Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. He served as Colorado State Engineer from 1883 to 1887, and participated in John Wesley Powell's short-lived western irrigation survey of 1888-89. As early as 1878, he was termed "one of the most accomplished irrigation engineers in the west."  Nettleton was reportedly responsible for the irrigation company's initial, wildly optimistic belief that the lower Pecos River carried enough water to irrigate 200,000 acres of farmland. 
As the irrigation company began construction in the lower Pecos Valley, the town of Eddy displayed significant growth; much of that expansion occurred in direct anticipation of the prosperity and increased population which the new reclamation system seemed destined to provide. The canal system's construction was followed with considerable local interest, and monitored almost weekly in the community's newspaper, the Eddy Argus. By November 23, 1889, the Argus reported that "Work on the dam at the head gates of the great canal is being pushed at a rapid rate, and no doubt the structure will be finished by January 15, when the water is to be turned into the canal."  Not surprisingly, the January 15 completion date proved to be exceedingly optimistic, although the construction apparently encountered few technical difficulties.
The irrigation company's work between 1889-1890 centered on the diversion dam and the upper reaches of the Southwestern Canal. Work was performed on all three of the initial project's major features simultaneously the diversion dam, the canal, and the wooden flume across the Pecos River. The project's construction activity was divided among various contractors. These contractors recruited substantial numbers of out-of-area workers who were housed in temporary camps near each of the projects. These primitive camps were a source of interest to the Argus:
Day-to-day life at the construction camps was probably tedious, at best. Acts of violence among the workers were not unknown, and the hazardous working conditions posed additional dangers. In February 1890, for example, "an accidental explosion of giant powder at the dam" resulted in two fatalities and five injuries. 
Work on the canal was performed under contract by the firm of Bradbury & Company.  The scope of the project elicited great praise from the Argus, which reported:
The Pecos River flume was probably the most complex component of the new canal network, and was constructed under a separate contract by the Witt Brothers Company.  When the Argus viewed the completed flume in March 1890, the paper's scrivener proudly proclaimed that "It is truly a great flume, the greatest, perhaps, in the country." 
Work on the dam was frustratingly slow, preventing full use of the new canal system during the 1890 season. That March, the reporter for the Argus noted:
Both the flume and primary canal were largely finished well before the dam was completed in mid-1890, although by the end of the year both the dam and much of the canal network were ready for operation. The company had expended $90,000 building the dam and an additional $400,000 constructing its first canals.  In August 1890, the new dam faced the first of many Pecos River floods that would challenge its strength and design. Although the possibility of a dam failure caused many of Eddy's residents to make "a wild scramble for... elevated places," by all accounts the dam and its headgates performed flawlessly. The Argus boasted that the structure was "built to stay right there." 
The irrigation company's completed physical plant was both large and technically complex for its day. The new diversion dam was easily the project's most substantial engineering and construction feature. The structure was originally conceived as a simple, water diversion facility, but Cloud reportedly persuaded the irrigation company to enlarge the dam to provide water storage as well. Consequently, the completed dam impounded a reservoir six miles long, with an estimated capacity of one billion cubic feet of water.  The dam was known variously during its first years as "Eddy Dam," "Reservoir No. 2," "Six Mile Dam," and "Rock Dam," although within a few years it received its permanent appellation of "Avalon Dam."
Avalon Dam was especially significant for its rockfill design. Rockfill dams, mainly with timber facing, had first been constructed in California during the 1860s and 70s to serve hydraulic mining activities. Some of these dams were later adapted for irrigation purposes.  Avalon was one of the first rockfill dams with an impervious earthfill facing to be constructed in the United States for irrigation purposes.  In an 1892 article comparing different types of dam construction, W. W. Follett, an engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported that it was only within the "last few years that the loose rock dam has been looked on with favor by engineers." He included an extensive discussion of Avalon Dam, noting some design problems but concluding that "the general design of the structure was good. . . . Right here I want to call attention to the fact that no other kind of dam could have stood what this one has and remain intact." 
Avalon Dam was designed as a "prism of loose rock" with an upstream face of earth. It was constructed on bedrock, the river being routed to erode the earth off the bedrock as the dam was being constructed. The rockfill was placed in lifts of four to ten feet.  This fill was separated from the impervious earth by a hand-laid rock wall with a width-to-height slope of 0.5:1. The maximum height of the dam was approximately 45 feet with a crest length of approximately 1,070 feet. The rockfill was 100 feet wide at the base and 12 feet wide at the top with a downstream slope of 1.5:1. The earthfill, comprised of sacked earth, gravel, boughs, and loose earth, initially had a slope of 2:1; this fill washed out shortly after its construction and was replaced with fill 200 feet wide at the bottom and 10 feet wide at the top with an upstream slope of about 3:1. Ten feet of loose rock was placed at the toe of the upstream face of the dam to protect against undercutting. The original earthfill was protected against wave action with 18 inches of riprap.  Although not mentioned in a description of the dam while it was under construction, by the fall of 1891 the dam was described as forming an "L" shape, with the short leg pointing upstream. This short leg was constructed of earth fill and added 530 feet to the length of the dam. The reservoir's capacity was initially estimated at approximately 23,000 acre-feet, although a more accurate estimate of 6,887 acre-feet was used by 1896. 
A relatively unusual and daring feature of Avalon Dam was a scourway or sluicegate passing through the dam towards the eastern abutment. The scourway's presence added to the structure's complexity, since it is technologically difficult to obtain a solid connection between the earth of the dam and any type of conduit passing through it. Many of the dams employing such features have failed over the years.  Avalon's scourway had an opening 4 feet by 8 feet and was 90 feet long. The scourway discharged 2,000 second-feet with the reservoir full. It was constructed of stone laid in concrete and was 8 feet thick. Drawings of the dam under construction show the scourway walls flaring outward both above and below the dam. These early drawings also show a wooden flume entering and leaving the scourway. This flume supplied water to the existing Halagueno Ditch during construction of the dam. A 36-foot-long vertical screw operated a gate placed at the upper end of the scourway. In an early letter describing the system, Charles Eddy stated that the scourway was used to lower the reservoir in anticipation of floodwaters. In 1896, the Engineering News reported that the scourway "was found to be of no value and was removed." 
Besides the scour gate, the original Avalon Dam was provided with two spillways (originally called wasteways). A spillway at the west end of the dam was located in a 300-foot-long channel 5 feet below the crest of the dam and had a width of 256 feet. Another spillway was located along the outlet channel above the headgates. It had a length of 206 feet and was located 7 feet below the crest of the dam. The spillway was supplied with 31 gates, 5 feet wide by 7 feet, 2 inches high. Flashboards were provided to enable the gates to be closed. With the flashboards in place, water could flow over the top of the gates at an elevation 10 feet below the crest of the dam. If the reservoir level needed to be lowered further, the gates could be swung open horizontally by a "blow on the vertical releasing rod." Another set of gates was located below the headgates and are described as not being capable of being "lowered when the cut is full of water, but can be dropped in case of necessity. Adjacent to these was a set of 10 escape gates, each 7 feet wide, giving a clear escape-way back into the river." 
The canal headworks were located in a 500-foot-long channel, cut through solid limestone at the east side of the dam. Six wooden headgates with a combined discharge capacity of 3,000 second-feet controlled the flow of water from the reservoir into the canal system. These vertical gates, each 5 feet wide by 9 feet high, slid between pairs of wooden posts. The gates were operated by "a male screw of steel attached to each gate, on which a female screw of malleable iron is turned from above." 
At its head, the main canal was 45 feet wide at the bottom and 70 feet wide at the top; its capacity was reportedly 1,100 second-feet. The canal was a side-slope excavation permitting the flood waters from arroyos to enter the canal and spread out, creating small reservoirs. Three and one-half miles below the headgates, the canal split into the Eastern (now called the East Side Canal) and the Western Canal (now called the Main Canal). The Eastern Canal had a capacity of 150 cubic feet per second. Regulating gates controlled the flow of water into each canal and an escape-way channeled waste water back into the Pecos River. 
Just below the point of bifurcation, the Western Canal crossed the Pecos River by means of a wooden flume. The flume was located between 2 terrepleins, the approach being 1,600 feet long and the exit being 300 feet long. Both reached a height of 24 feet. The wooden flume, 475 feet long by 25 feet wide and carrying eight feet of water, was supported on a series of wooden trestle bents.  By 1891, the Main Canal was completed to the Black River, and 100 miles of lateral canals carried water to the project lands. The Engineering News noted that the $10 per acre perpetual water right and the annual water rental of $1.25 per acre were "very low" and speculated that they would rise once settlement increased in the area.  This sharply contrasted with a statement in Tarr's 1889 report suggesting that the project's water fees were excessive. 
As the irrigation company's construction projects progressed during 1889 and 1890, Hagerman, obviously enchanted with the thought of personally transforming the Pecos Valley, was making plans to revamp the company's corporate structure and expand its scope. On July 1, 1890 the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company, a Colorado corporation organized and led by Hagerman, absorbed the assets of the Pecos Irrigation and Investment Company. The new corporation was capitalized at one million dollars and designed to operate the local reclamation system as well as undertake related promotional activities. With the assistance of Greene, who was in Europe soliciting both corporate financing and immigrant farmers, a syndicate of Swiss bankers was reportedly persuaded to purchase $500,000 of irrigation company bonds. Hagerman simultaneously induced several of his Colorado business associates to invest in his newest dream. Hagerman also secured the monetary backing of C.A. Otis of Cleveland, a young financier who had spent his post-college years as a cowpuncher in Colorado.  Hagerman served as president of the new corporation, with Eddy as general manager.
The new corporation's financial resources were provided in a variety of forms. The irrigation company's 1889 bond issue was supplemented by a second offering sponsored by the Central Trust Company of New York in February 1892. This issue authorized $800,000 in six percent bonds, also protected by a deed of trust on the irrigation company's physical plant.  In general, the two bond issues represented the investments of Midwestern, Eastern, and European capitalists, while Hagerman, Otis, and their associates received stock in return for their investments. The bondholders enjoyed a relatively secure position, since their funds were protected by a lien on the company's physical plant. In contrast, the stockholders' investments were unsecured, leaving their fortunes completely dependent on the company's eventual success or failure.
In addition to the sounder financial base provided by the reorganized irrigation company, Hagerman had other motives for changing the project's corporate structure. He later stated that the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company's charter "did not suit us, did not allow us to do what we wanted to do."  Hagerman was presumably referring to the right to acquire, hold, and sell land.
In an 1890 description of the Irrigation and Improvement Company, Eddy emphasized that "The Company owns no land, has never sought to acquire any, and is prohibited by law from acquiring more than is necessary for canal and reservoir purposes."  These legal constraints vanished with the formation of the Pecos Irrigation and Investment Company, however, and during the early 1890s the company's backers acquired thousands of acres of land near the canal network. Again, the Desert Land Act proved to be an efficient vehicle for land procurement. Many of the first 150 or so Desert Land Certificates issued in Eddy County went to irrigation company directors and their families, as well as other prominent out-of-state individuals, mainly from New York, Chicago, and Colorado.  These lands were formally transferred to the Pecos Irrigation and Investment Company during the first few months of 1892. Unlike the earlier transactions involving Stevens, the company ostensibly paid these individuals from nine to thirty-five dollars per acre for their lands.  The integrity of these transactions was later questioned by observers. While testifying in a 1926 district court lawsuit, Tracy was asked whether "from your observation that those desert entries were of the most part bogus characters." Tracy brusquely replied, "I think that is immaterial," and the subject was dropped. 
The irrigation company also added to its land holdings by acquiring the tracts of legitimate Desert Land entrymen. Reportedly, the company would either purchase the land outright at 10 to 30 dollars per acre, or would trade permanent water rights for 80 acres in exchange for a deed to the remaining 560 acres. The company seemingly had little trouble selling these lands for a minimum of 40 dollars per acre. 
In an apparent good-faith effort to comply with the Desert Land Act, the irrigation company did build a water distribution system capable of serving at least 40 acres of each 640 acre Desert Land tract. In total, the company issued water rights and built lateral canals to some 54,000 acres, although it never actually supplied water to more than 14,000 acres in a given year.  The lands receiving water were scattered throughout the lower Pecos Valley, "depending very largely on where the General Manager of the company individually owned land he wanted to sell." 
The Federal government attempted to curb the more blatant abuses of the land laws with passage of the General Revision Act on March 3, 1891. One of the Act's provisions, however, was of potential benefit to the irrigation company: it granted organized irrigation companies rights-of-way across public lands and reservations. Once an application was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, all subsequent Federal land disposals were made subject to the platted rights-of-way.  Despite the large acquisitions that had already taken place, substantial tracts of vacant land still remained in the valley and the irrigation company quickly requested right-of-way approval for the three existing and proposed reservoir sites. For an unknown reason, however, the company neglected to file similar requests for the associated canal network. The company's site maps were returned several times for corrections, and the area was completely re-surveyed in 1895; consequently, the Secretary of the Interior's approval of the withdrawals was delayed until 1897. 
An additional legal requirement for the company involved the formal procurement of the necessary Pecos River water rights. Nineteenth-century New Mexico water right claims are incompletely documented, due largely to the somewhat fragmentary nature of the territory's water law. The first comprehensive water code for New Mexico was not enacted until 1905. An 1891 law, however, formalized a procedure for filing water right claims with county probate offices, and still earlier rights were based simply on prior use of the water.  Based on these sources, twentieth-century research by the Reclamation Service determined that the company's formal rights to Pecos River water began with an October 31, 1887 filing by the Pecos Valley Land and Ditch Company. This right was succeeded by a July 16, 1888 right filed by the Pecos Irrigation and Investment Company, which was in turn replaced by a May 15, 1890 filing by the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company. The latter two claims appropriated all of the Pecos River water not previously appropriated. 
Meanwhile, Hagerman realized that the region's ultimate success would require the ability to easily transport farm products to market. In a reprise of his 1880s role in the construction of the Colorado Midland Railroad, Hagerman decided to provide the Pecos Valley with a railroad link to the outside world. In 1890, he announced the incorporation of the Pecos Valley Railroad Company. The proposed line would connect Eddy with Pecos, Texas, and the main line of the Texas & Pacific Railroad. Bradbury & Company, builder of the irrigation company's canals, was contracted to build the railroad. Construction continued throughout the summer and fall of 1890 with the first train reaching Eddy in January 1891. 
The completion of the first canals and of the railroad made Hagerman the controlling owner of the Pecos Valley's two largest and most important business enterprises. However, a third major company, the Pecos Valley Town Company, remained controlled by the Eddy interests. Reportedly, internal conflicts among the companies increased as their level of operations grew. These conflicts may have been symptomatic of an increasing discord between Hagerman, Eddy, and the other corporate promoters. In an effort to reduce these squabbles, the three companies were united under a single holding corporation, the Pecos Valley Company, in 1893. This improved the coordination among the valley's various development enterprises, although it did not heal the discord between Hagerman and Eddy. 
By the summer of 1891, the valley's irrigation system and railroad were in place and operational, and the community of Eddy was growing rapidly. Eddy was proud to report that the irrigation company's efforts had brought tremendous growth to the lower Pecos Valley:
One of the many men and women who moved to Eddy in response to the company's promise of agricultural plenty was a young New Yorker named Francis G. Tracy. After learning of the Pecos country from Joseph Stevens, his cousin, Tracy visited New Mexico in 1889 and settled in Eddy early the following year with "a brace of fine Collie shepherd dogs" and land interests south of town.  He soon developed a variety of entrepreneurial interests and became a leading figure in the irrigation company's operations. In recalling those early years, Tracy mused:
Such expansive corporate expectations were still far from fulfillment by the early 1890s. Most of the irrigation company's physical plant had been constructed relatively quickly and cheaply, accompanied by extremely unrealistic assumptions of the system's efficiency. The irrigation company soon discovered that it was simply unable to supply water to all (or even most) of the lands within reach of the canals. This was partially due to a tremendous water loss caused by seepage from the company's reservoir and canal network. The irrigation company had also accepted the then-popular notion that "rain follows the plow," suggesting that the area's irrigated farmlands would require less annual water after they had been under irrigation for a time. This fallacious belief; combined with the equally implausible idea that the company's canals would "become cemented and better conveyors of water" through years of use, doomed the company to initial disappointment. 
7. Eddy [New Mexico] Argus, November 23, 1889, as quoted in Lee C. Myers, The Pearl of the Pecos, 1974 typescript, located in the Pecos Valley Projects Office, Bureau of Reclamation, Carlsbad, New Mexico.
19. Although no conclusive data has been found dating the construction of rockfill dams for irrigation purposes, Avalon Dam is listed as the earliest surviving among "important composite rock-fill and earth dams" in: William P. Creager, Joel D. Justin, and Julian Hinds, Engineering for Dams, Vol. 3, Earth, Rock-fill, Steel and Timber Dams (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1945), 810; Avalon Dam is described as "a great dam" heading one of the "three most important canal systems in New Mexico"" (the other two are the dam across the Hondo and a dam being constructed just across the Texas state line, both also owned by the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company). Avalon Dam and its canal system are described as the project of principle interest to the engineer "from its construction and magnitude" in Wilson, "Pecos Valley Canals," 350.
26. For early descriptions of Avalon Dam see: "Rock Fill Dam Across the Pecos River," Engineering News 23 (May 17, 1890): 459-460; Follett, "Earthen vs. Masonry Dams,"" 28-29; and Wilson, "Pecos Valley Canals," 350-351.
32. Tracy, "Eddy County, New Mexico." For a capsule biography of Otis, see Elroy McKendree Avery, A History of Cleveland and Its Environs, Vol. 2 (Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1918), 31-32.
34. J.J. Hagerman, "In the Matter of the Hondo Reservoir," transcript of testimony given against building the Hondo Reservoir, September 6, 1904, 1, RG 115, Entry 4, Box 1, File 25, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
38. "United States of America vs. Hope Community Ditch, et. al.," testimony taken at Carlsbad, New Mexico, January 4, 1926, typescript located at the Office of the State Engineer, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
45. A compilation of these rights is found in an undated typescript forming a part of the Reclamation Service's "Project Reports" collection, RG 115, Box 134, National Archives, Denver Branch, Denver, Colorado.
Last Updated: 01-Feb-2008