After writing about the recent press release on the ditch, and hearing about it at City Council meetings, I figured I should find out what, exactly, the ditch is and why it’s getting a $2.36 million dollar overhaul. 

Get our free mobile app

Jay Smith, Natural Resource Program Administrator for the City of Laramie, says the rehabilitation project serves three purposes: safety, habitat improvement, and future growth possibilities for the city. 

The Dowlin Dam sits on the Bath Ranch, which the city purchased in 2022 to gain more water rights as the Laramie River runs through it. The irrigation ditch from the dam takes river water to the city-owned Bath and Monolith Ranches (purchased in 1981), and a third neighbor. 

The Dam and the ranches are southwest of Laramie, in between Highways 287 and 230.

Safety concerns first: “As engineers say it, ‘they’ve outlived their useful life,’” Smith said. “One of the big benefits of this is now in high water–because high water can happen in an instant–so this will fill up, and city employees have to walk out here and open these. And it can get to be 6-12 inches, which can be really dangerous.”

“Not to mention, that structure alone gives me pause,” Smith added about the structure, which definitely looks like it…outlived its useful life. 

There are two control structures; the dam which regulates the water, and the diversion headgates, which take the water to the respective ranches. The wheels on both structures have to be cranked to adjust the gates for water flow. 

Not only are they old and dangerous, but they also leak, which makes it hard to fine-tune water levels. The structures also block fish movement. 

“My predecessors deserve a lot of credit for this, but we’re going to build in fish passage. This was identified in 2016 as a complete barrier. The passage will essentially be a rock ladder, out of engineered stones that are set in a differentiated pattern so fish can get through.”

Once safety and fish are taken care of, the city can focus on growth. 

“The goal in the future, depending on growth, is to change these water rights from agricultural to municipal, for city use. It would be very valuable for drinking water. The amount of water we’d anticipate from that would allow the city to double in size,” Smith said.  

A last point of consideration that hasn’t been hammered out yet is recreation. Fish will be able to pass through, and potentially people will be able to, as well.  

“One thing that came up was portage, for small boats like kayaks or floating. An idea is putting in a small passageway on the side for people. But we don’t know the eligibility of that in the rebuild.” 

Dowlin Ditch Project

The City of Laramie plans to reconstruct the Dowlin Diversion Dam. The project will aid with water and wildlife management, and possible recreational opportunities in the future.

More From Laramie Live