The Flume exemplifies the determined efforts of early European settlers to bring water to the Montezuma Valley, which had no natural water source. An ambitious project began in the 1890s, starting with construction of a 1-mile-long tunnel designed to divert the Dolores River into the Valley. Once completed, the subsequent irrigation system throughout the western part of the county delivered water to ranchers and farmers, creating a thriving agricultural community known for its award-winning orchards. The town of Cortez was originally established as housing for the workers who came to construct the tunnel and irrigation system.
A visit to the McElmo Creek Flume also tells the story of the 7-year historic preservation effort that restored it to its current condition. The Flume was abandoned in 1992, when the new McPhee Reservoir and its laterals replaced the old irrigation system.
The Flume fell into such disrepair that it ultimately was listed as an Endangered Place by Colorado Preservation, Inc. The stabilization of the foundation and the repair of the wooden trough depended on financial support from a variety of grantors, private water organizations, and public donations.