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Front Page » May 13, 2003 » Local News » Escalating demands for water accompany basin development
Published 4,217 days ago

Escalating demands for water accompany basin development


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter

In the early years of the West, water seemed to be there for the taking, although the sources could rarely be predicted. High spring stream flows change to dry creek beds by mid-July.

During the development years, Utah pioneer farmers and western settlers started to harness the water resources of the area, forming cooperatives and partnerships between land owners to privately tie up water resources.

Then state governments entered into the picture. The public officials began to recognize how critical water supplies were for all citizens

The drainage of the Colorado River became more important as upstream states began to harness the water that had flowed into the Gulf of California for eons.

The signing of the Colorado River Compact in 1922 was the beginning of a new era of water development and management in the West.

The declared purposes of the agreement included multiple points which would affect every person who resided or would live at locations across the thousands of square miles encompassed by the Colorado River basin's boundaries.

First, the compact divided the water of the basin between seven states: Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.

The states were divided into two different groups.

The upper basin states consisted of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.

The lower basin states included Arizona, Nevada and California. The groups received about 7.5 million acre feet of water annually.

At the time, many officials hailed the move as a triumph of cooperation between the states, particularly Nevada and California in the lower basin.

On the other hand, some individuals in the private enterprise sector and people serving in government viewed the compact as an unfair division of water.

The negative viewpoint about the compact stemmed from the fact that two of the lower basin states - Nevada and California - contribute little water to the actual flow of the Colorado River.

Second, the compact's intention was to create cooperation rather than fuel ongoing conflicts between the states in the drainage system.

The conflicts regarding the distribution of the water had not only caused costly lawsuits between some of the states, but also led to other negative consequences in terms of political power and private business.

The third goal of the compact was to help figure division for agricultural uses as opposed to water for municipal and industrial purposes.

At the time, agricultural was by far the largest user of the water because of the small populations of people in the drainage area.

While agricultural remains a key part of the overall picture, the growth of cities like Las Vegas in Nevada, Phoenix in Arizona and Los Angeles in California is taking more and more water out of the basin for municipal and industrial purposes.

The fourth objective of the compact was to secure locations for dams to not only provide storage, but to protect downstream communities from the devastating floods that often happened along the river and some of the Colorado's tributaries.

After the compact was signed, all the states with the exception of Arizona quickly ratified the agreement.

While California was scrambling to put the state's signature on the agreement, the people, more particularly many of the politicians in the driest state in the union, were hesitant for a number of reasons.

One reason was that Arizonans disliked the fact that California was getting so much water out of the deal when they added little to it.

Arizona was in a peculiar position. While being considered a lower basin state, they actually fell within both basins by virtue of the fact that Lee's Ferry is the dividing point between the upper and lower basin, and it is located in extreme northern Arizona. The Arizona landscape also greatly adds to the flow of the Colorado.

At the time, Arizona's governor, W.P. Hunt, felt that his state was not receiving as much water as it should.

Considering that the state did contribute substantially to the waterways flow, Hunt also did not trust California politicians which he had done battle with over water many times.

But despite this fact, Congress passed the compact in 1928 (it fell within federal laws because of it's interstate nature) and within a few years, the first of the great dams on the river would be approved and started.

But even at that, Arizona still did not sign the compact until 22 years after it was originally agreed upon. The signing came in 1944.

There is so much to the story of Arizona's resistance to the compact (including a point in which Arizona governor Benjamin Baker Moeur ordered out the Arizona National Guard to keep construction of the Parker Dam from proceeding) that it fills volumes.

While it may seem Carbon County is removed from these interstate and national goings on, it is not.

The local area is part of the Colorado River drainage, and what goes on elsewhere in the system affects daily life here in the Castle Valley area.

The process of changing more and more of the waters of the plateau and drainage basin from agricultural to municipal will have a greater and greater impact.

Water use in the area, how much is trapped in reservoirs and what goes down stream is becoming more important every day.


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