The Law of the River: Compact and Development


This is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore records held by the Utah State Archives that help illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to tame and develop the Colorado River as a vital resource in the arid west.


The Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River originates in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado, before making its 1,750-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, emptying at the Bay of California. Along the way it gathers run-off from a drainage basin 244,000 square miles in length, carves out the dramatic cliffs and canyons of southeastern Utah and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and carries a silt load higher than any other river of comparable size.

Map of the Colorado River Basin made by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1922 (series 13912).

Map of the Colorado River Basin made by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1922 (series 13912).

The Colorado is an international river, draining water from seven western states, (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Moving from the highest peaks of the Continental Divide down to the low, arid deserts of the Sonoran and Mojave, the Colorado River is a vital artery running throughout some of the American southwest’s most spectacular (and unforgiving) landscapes.

For much of human history, the Colorado River, and its tributaries, have served a vital role in providing life-giving water to the region’s inhabitants. Many Indian tribes of the southwest practiced dry farming and simple irrigation techniques using scant available water resources. This model was later expanded on by white settlers in the region, particularly the early Mormon settlers of Utah.

The Colorado gained some measure of national celebrity from the famed expeditions taken down it by John Wesley Powell, first in 1869 and again in 1871-1872. These scientific trips gave Americans a better sense of the canyon country frontier, as described vividly by Powell, as well as providing Major Powell with some sense of the harsh environmental realities imposed by the arid deserts of the southwest.

California’s Thirst

The story of the Colorado River in the 20th century, a period when it would become the most legally regulated river on Earth, begins with the explosive population growth witnessed in Southern California at the turn of the century. Water projects that carried water from California’s Owens Valley helped fuel tremendous growth in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Fields in California's Imperial Valley irrigated with Colorado River Water (EPA photograph from Wikimedia Commons).

Fields in California’s Imperial Valley irrigated with Colorado River Water (EPA photograph from National Archives and Records Service).

Similar efforts to carry (and control) Colorado River water to the famously dry Imperial Valley for irrigation and flood control raised serious questions among all of the western states in the Colorado River Basin. The legal history of water in the west had placed water rights under the provision of prior appropriation. Simply put, the first to develop a water right was the first to own it: “first in time, first in right.”

What if California’s rapacious, and seemingly unending, thirst lay claim to the bulk of available Colorado River water, and blocked anyone upstream from making later use of it? What if earthworks built by California to tame unpredictable floods from the Colorado locked in place an inequitable infrastructure, forever in favor of the Golden State?

With these fundamental questions in mind, representatives from the seven basin states (as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover) met on January 26, 1922 and began work on an expansive interstate compact to regulate and share the Colorado River among all of its interested parties.

Negotiating a Compact

In the eleven months between January and November, 1922 multiple meetings were held that would culminate in the Colorado River Compact. Over the course of its legal history, the various compacts, agreements, and legal decisions that have been placed on the Colorado River have come to be known as “the Law of the River.” In this regard, the Colorado River Compact is the backbone that serves to connect everything else together.

Utah’s representative to the 1922 negotiations was State Engineer, R.E. Caldwell, having been appointed by Utah Governor Charles Mabey. Records from the State Engineer documenting Caldwell’s work on the Colorado River Compact (as well as other river-related records from the office) are held by the Utah State Archives in series 13912.

Utah's copy of the Colorado River Compact (series 20221).

Utah’s copy of the Colorado River Compact (series 20221).

The major provisions ultimately agreed to in the Colorado River Compact were unique, and critical in dictating all future development made on the river.

The first of these provisions was the decision to effectively create two separate artificial basins within the larger Colorado River Basin. The Upper Basin was to consist of the mountain states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico (the states that provide the bulk of the flow to the river). The Lower Basin was formed from Nevada, Arizona, and California. The line of demarcation separating these two units was designated at Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona.

A second consequential provision of the compact stipulated how much flow from the river each basin was eligible to claim. Calculations for the Colorado’s annual flow were taken from dubious readings maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation during a multi-year period that saw the river rage higher than at any other point in its recorded history.

Based on these flawed Bureau estimates, the flow of the Colorado River averaged 17.5 million acre-feet of water annually. The Colorado River Compact stipulated that 15 million acre feet of this share was to be divided equally between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin. The Lower Basin was awarded an additional 1 million acre feet under the threat that its representatives would walk away from the negotiations without that bonus allotment. The final 1.5 million acre-feet of flow was reserved for Mexico, a number that was cemented into law by an international treaty in 1944. It was left for the states within each basin to determine the percentage of their allotted flow that would go to each state.

Delayed Ratification

00200_Undated_WaterAllotmentMap

Water allotment map showing the Upper and Lower Basin’s (series 200).

Each member representative from the compact negotiations signed the accord and returned to their respective state, leaving final ratification of the compact to state legislatures or voters. In Utah, the Colorado River Compact was ratified immediately by the Utah state legislature during its 1923 session, and the compact was filed with the lieutenant governor, where it is currently found in series 20221.

The process of ratifying the agreement did not come easily for other states, however, as interstate squabbles arose over a host of issues. The most divisive of these occurred between Arizona and California, who couldn’t agree on how to divide the 8,500,000 acre-feet granted to the lower basin.

For six years the Colorado River Compact languished until the U.S. Congress intervened with passage of a bill that simultaneously provided a path for formal ratification of the Colorado River Compact, as well as authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to begin work on what would become the largest dam project on Earth, up to that point.

Boulder Canyon Project Act

The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 paved the way for nearly a century of reclamation activity on the Colorado River that has left a decidedly mixed legacy. One major provision of this piece of legislation was to make the Colorado River Compact legally binding. It sought to do this by settling the feud between California and Arizona over their shared water allocation. Accordingly, California was limited in its annual diversion to 4.4 million acre-feet per year, while Arizona was granted 2.8 million acre-feet (leaving the remaining 300,000 acre feet in the lower basin to Nevada). The Boulder Canyon Project Act went on to say that the Compact would become legally binding upon ratification by six of the states, one of those states needing to be the compact’s biggest player, California. This was accomplished, in spite of the fact that Arizona (out of protest) refused to formally ratify the compact until 1944.

In 1927, the year before the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed, the Utah legislature formally repealed their original 1923 ratification of the compact. This was followed, in 1929, by a second ratification of the Colorado River Compact by the state of Utah, as well as the creation of a Utah Colorado River Commission. This commission, whose records can be found in series 165, was made up of three members appointed by Governor George Dern, and tasked with representing Utah’s interest on all matters related to the Colorado River.

The second major provision of the Boulder Canyon Project Act, was a mandate to build the first major dam site on the Colorado River. The location chosen for this was in the Black Canyon near Las Vegas. Construction on the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover) commenced during the heart of the Great Depression, in 1931. Over the course of six years thousands of workers built massive diversion tunnels, rerouted the Colorado River from its bed, sunk the foundations for the dam at bedrock, and ultimately constructed a 726′ plug in the Black Canyon that could hold back up to 28,537,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in the impounded area named Lake Mead.

Photograph of the Boulder Canyon Dam site before construction (series 13912).

Photograph of the Boulder Canyon Dam site before construction (series 13912).

The water held at Hoover Dam has served a variety of purposes in the ensuing decades. A canal built downstream (named the All-American Canal) carries water from the Boulder project west, into California’s Imperial Valley. The water of Lake Mead has been used for recreation, irrigation, industrial use, and municipal use in both Las Vegas and the cities that mushroomed in southern California throughout the 20th century. Hydroelectric power derived from the dam has played a pivotal role in growing the populations in one of North America’s most inhospitable environments. Electricity generated at Hoover Dam has helped build industry, attract tourism, and provide critical hydration and conditioned air in a region often devoid of both.

View from the Upper Basin

The Hoover Dam served as the first vivid example of what a massive, federally backed water project on the Colorado River could look like. Upstream, leaders of the Upper Basin states kept a keen eye on the tremendous growth in the Lower Basin spurred by the Boulder Canyon Project. In many ways, the dam provided a template for future projects in the Upper Basin, as well as providing incentive for the Upper Basin states to organize into a coalition, lest they eventually lose their allotted water share to future projects in the Lower Basin.

Evidence that developing the state’s Colorado River share was a pressing issue for Utah leaders is found in records kept by two different governor’s of that era. Governor George Dern (1925-1933) maintained a subject file on the Colorado River Compact (series 206) that reflect Utah’s interaction with other western states on Colorado River issues, as well as the negotiations and discussions that went on with the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project.

Dern’s successor, Governor Henry Blood (1933-1941), in turn, maintained a Colorado River correspondence files (series 22918), which contains legislative bills, resolutions, general correspondence, minutes and reports related to Utah’s earliest attempts to help devise an Upper Basin reclamation plans to assure its share of water as designated in the Colorado River Compact of 1922.

The Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act provided the thread upon which all of the states in the Colorado River Basin would ultimately go about drawing on their share of the Colorado River’s seemingly vast potential.

The story of Utah’s participation in developing a reclamation plan for the Upper Basin, and the implementation of projects based on that plan, will serve as the story for the next blog in this series.


SOURCES

Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Worster, Donald.  Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.


Top Baby Names in Utah 1908 Edition

Birth certificates issued by the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics in 1908 are now online and freely available to the public. The searchable index and digital images may be accessed from archives.utah.gov/research/indexes/81443.htm.

Two little babies sitting on the grass, each wearing caps and warm jumpers

Photo: State Library Queensland

And that means it’s time to see the most popular baby names that were given in 1908 (see 1905, 1906, and 1907).

1908 Girls

All girl names with larger sizes for most popular.

Girls

  1. Mary
  2. Ruth
  3. Helen
  4. Alice
  5. Margaret
  6. Edna
  7. Florence
  8. Thelma
  9. Dorothy
  10. Grace
1908 Boys

All boy names with larger sizes for most popular.

Boys

  1. John
  2. William
  3. George
  4. James
  5. Joseph
  6. Charles
  7. Robert
  8. Thomas
  9. Harold
  10. Arthur

Also, it is interesting to consider the names of the mothers and fathers bestowing these names. Many seem similar, though the popularity shifts over generations. Perhaps reflecting that the parents could have been born in a range of years, the variety of names is larger and the most popular are much more popular (for example, 844 for mothers named Mary compared to 183 daughters).

Mothers of babies born in 1908

  1. Mary
  2. Alice
  3. Margaret
  4. Florence
  5. Anna
  6. Sarah
  7. Edith
  8. Elizabeth
  9. Annie
  10. Emma

Fathers of babies born in 1908

  1. John
  2. William
  3. Joseph
  4. James
  5. George
  6. Charles
  7. Thomas
  8. Frank
  9. Henry
  10. David

 

 


Newly Processed: January-February 2015

Grand County Courthouse

Grand County Courthouse

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during January and February 2015:


RootsTech 2015

RootsTech banner 72x24 webThe combined RootsTech and Federation of Genealogical Societies conferences in Salt Lake City was a great experience for the Utah State Archives. We were able to meet many old friends and some new ones we hope to see again soon.


Law in the Utah Territory

Utah’s First Legislative Assembly

The first legislative assembly in Utah’s history was convened in Salt Lake City on September 22, 1851. Over the course of six months, 13 members of the Territorial Council and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives passed a series of acts and bills that formally codified the first laws of the Utah Territory.

The Utah Territory had been established by an act of the U.S. Congress on September 09, 1850, after a failed March 08, 1849 petition by Utah leaders to create a new state named Deseret. When the petition for the state of Deseret was submitted, the first Mormon settlers had been in region for nearly two years (having arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847). At the time of Mormon settlement in Salt Lake, the U.S. government was in the midst of the Mexican American War. U.S. Victory in this conflict would eventually lead to Mexico ceding large chunks of western North America over to federal control.

Wpdms_deseret_utah_territory_legend

Utah Territory with Deseret Border by Matthew Trump licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The designation of the Utah Territory by Congress was part of a much larger set of bills passed that would come to be known as the Compromise of 1850. This “compromise” attempted to maintain a balance of power between free states and territories and slave states and territories in the Union. As part of complex package of legislation, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were admitted under the provision that slavery in each territory would be decided by the popular sovereignty of its citizens.

With the designation of the Utah Territory, the size of Deseret was dramatically scaled back. Mormon leaders had originally called for a state that would have encompassed all of the Great Basin, the entire Colorado River Drainage Basin, and an outlet to the Pacific Ocean running through San Diego. Instead, the new territory was scaled back to include much of modern-day Utah, Nevada, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. In addition, legislation creating the territory called for the designation of territorial officials, the formation of a territorial legislative assembly responsible for enacting laws and a civil code for the territory, and the creation of a territorial judiciary.

On February 03, 1851, Mormon church president, Brigham Young was designated as the first Territorial Governor of the Utah Territory, and by September of that year, the 13 members of the Territorial Council (with Willard Richards as president) and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives (with William W. Phelps as speaker) had been chosen and met to conduct the business of Utah’s first legislative session.

Business of the First Utah Legislative Assembly

Between September 1851 and March 1852, the first legislative assembly in Utah’s history met in Salt Lake City and enacted Utah’s first set of formally recognized laws. Much of the work done by this legislative body came out of efforts that had already been made in drafting a proposed legal code for the failed State of Deseret. The Utah State Archives holds the records from this first legislative session. Examples from this series reveal the scope and variety of laws debated and passed by Utah’s first Territorial Legislative Assembly.

03150001001_SLCCharter

An act affirming Salt Lake City’s Charter (series 3150).

Among the most important pieces of legislation passed was an act approving charters for the cities of Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Manti, and Parowan. A portion of this record reads:

“Be it enacted by the Counsel and House of Representatives of Utah Territory Assembly that we reenact the following ordinances, passed by the Legislature of the State of Deseret, January the 9th and February the 6th A.D. 1851 granting the several petitions for the above named charters…And be it further enacted that we do grant unto the City Counsel of Ogden City the entire control of all the timber lying west of the Corporation to the Great Salt Lake.”

Much of the Territorial Legislative Assembly’s initial business sought to spell out property rights and resource regulation, as evidenced by the passage of another act granting access to water rights from Mill Creek Canyon to Brigham Young. In this record the assembly states:

“Be it enacted by the Governor and the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, that the privilege is hereby granted unto President Brigham Young to take the waters from the channel of Millcreek, immediately below Neff’s Mill, and to convey the same to the channel of Big Kanyon creek agreeably to the provisions of the act passed in the Legislative Council of the State of Deseret, January 15, 1850.”

03150001045_BYMillcreek

An act granting Mill Creek water rights to Brigham Young (series 3150).

A third act demonstrates the lengths the Territorial Legislative Assembly went to provide social order in the new territory. This, “act in relation to the inspection of Spirituous Liquors,” serves as the first piece of liquor control legislation in Utah’s history. It established an office of Territorial Liquor Inspector, mandated the methods for determining alcohol levels, and establishes fines for anyone caught selling contraband liquor in the territory.

03150001036_SpiritousLiquors

An act establishing Utah’s first Liquor Inspector (series 3150).

These examples, all signed by powerful Mormon leaders acting in a secular government capacity, show just how intertwined church and state were in the early history of the Utah Territory. In the coming years this dynamic would shift as outside, non-Mormon populations began to settle in the territory and call it home. With increased federal influence, national westward expansion, mining booms, and eventually the birth of an intercontinental railroad system, the hold over government held by Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders would incrementally lessen over the years, though the influence the Mormon Church would wield over local affairs remained very much in tact. The legislative records of Utah tell the story of this growth and the profound changes that would come to the Utah Territory as it evolved towards eventual statehood in 1896.

Legislative Resources Today

Today the Utah State Archives preserves and provides access to a vast collection of historic records documenting Utah’s legislative history. In addition, the Utah State Legislature has made many of the records related to contemporary legislation freely accessible to the public through the Legislative website.

The Utah Legislature and Utah State Archives have also made a variety of useful guides available online that help explain the complexity of the legislative process, as well as how researchers can draw on historic legislative records to conduct important research, such as the discovery of legislative intent.

An effective democracy relies on the checks and balances placed upon its representatives by informed citizens. The Utah State Archives and the Office of Legislative Research and General Council serve as important government agencies in terms of promoting this ideal and ensuring that transparency remains an unassailable part of Utah’s annual legislative process.


Join Us at RootsTech 2015

RootsTech_logo

Military Records at Utah State Archives.

Military Records at Utah State Archives.

The Utah State Archives is proud to announce that we will be an exhibitor at one of the largest genealogical conferences in the world, a combined meeting for RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Salt Lake City, Utah from February 12-14, 2015. We’re excited to connect with both those who know of our extensive resources available for family history and those who may not (yet). Look for us in the Expo Hall of the Salt Palace in booth #1226!


Holiday Closure: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

0938 Dover Spot -  Books

The Research Center will be closed Monday, January 19, 2015 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It will open once again Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9 a.m.


1907 Birth Certificates Available in Online Name Index

Birth CertificatesBirth certificates issued by the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics in 1907 are now online and freely available to the public. The searchable index and digital images may be accessed from archives.utah.gov/research/indexes/81443.htm.

In addition to identity and proof of citizenship, the registration of births assists with monitoring public health issues and the programs created to alleviate them. The original permanent records were transferred from Vital Records to the Utah State Archives and Records Service in 2006, prompted by the Inspection of Vital Records Act passed in 1998 making historical records public. The name index is a collaborative effort of the staff of Vital Records,  volunteers and staff of the State Archives, and includes the child’s full name, parents’ full names, date of birth, sex and county. FamilySearch captured digital images of the original paper records.

The Utah State Digital Archives provides over a million images of historical records online and free to the public, including death certificates from 1904-1961. With worldwide online access, patrons have the ability to do research from anywhere while the State Archives efficiently fulfills its mission “to provide quality access to public information.”

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at FamilySearch.org or through over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Top Baby Names in Utah 1907 Edition

It’s time to update and compare the most popular baby names, as found in birth certificates that are now public.

Girls

  1. Mary
  2. Alice
  3. Helen
  4. Edna
  5. Florence
  6. Thelma
  7. Ruth
  8. Margaret
  9. Grace
  10. Mildred

Boys

  1. John
  2. William
  3. James
  4. George
  5. Joseph
  6. Charles
  7. Arthur
  8. Thomas
  9. Clarence
  10. Robert

Newly Processed: December 2014

Juab Co. LetterheadAll public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of December 2014:


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