Tag Archives: Colorado River

The Law of the River: The Central Utah Project

 


This is the third (and final) 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.


ENVISIONING THE CENTRAL UTAH PROJECT

Due to circumstances of geology and demographics, the bulk of Utah’s population lives on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, hundreds of miles (and thousands of feet of elevation) removed from the Colorado River water promised to the state by the Colorado River Compact. In 1946 the first scheme for addressing this disconnect was conceived. Modeled on successes by the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 20th century at Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir and nearby Heber Valley, local planners developed the concept of the Central Utah Project (CUP).

According to its proponents, the CUP would guarantee full use of Utah’s allotted share of the Colorado River by implementing a series of aqueducts, diversion and storage dams, and tunnels that would effectively move water from the eastern Colorado River Basin to other areas of the state, including the growing population centers along the Wasatch Front.

1947 conception of the Central Utah Project (series 200).

1947 conception of the Central Utah Project (series 200).

The first attempt to create the CUP came in 1946 when federal legislation was proposed by Utah senator, Abe Murdock. This legislation was met with defeat, as it was determined that any attempt at such a massive project in Utah needed to be bound up with larger planning in the Upper Colorado River Basin as a whole. Up to that point, the states of the Upper Basin hadn’t even determined how the Upper Basin allotment would be divided between them. This, in turn, spurred negotiations that would lead to the 1948 Upper Colorado Basin Compact, an agreement that granted Utah 23% of the 7,500,000 acre feet of water apportioned to the Upper Basin by the Colorado River Compact.

In that same year (1948), the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) was also proposed. This legislative action proposed a comprehensive plan for developing the Upper Colorado River Basin. However, a variety of delay’s prevented the Congress from authorizing it until 1956. Upon its authorization, the Central Utah Project was born, effectively serving as the largest single participating unit in the CRSPA plan.

This early history of the CUP’s origination and initial planning is reflected in records held by the Utah State Archives, which includes correspondence records from the office of Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee (1946-1956), as well as Colorado River Commission case files created by the Utah Attorney General.

CUP ORGANIZATION

In simplest terms, the CUP serves to build the infrastructure needed to impound and transport water from the eastern Utah river basin to other water-starved regions in America’s second most arid state. The organizational apparatus for developing the CUP water delivery systems was born in 1964, with the legal organization of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD). The original seven-member board of the CUWCD was composed of one representative from each county in Utah impacted by CUP projects. This original board included members from the counties of Salt Lake, Summit, Wasatch, Utah, Juab, Uintah, and Duchesne. Later the board would expand to include representation from Garfield, Piute, and Sanpete counties. The CUWCD was established to both oversee the management of water projects associated with the CUP, as well as manage Utah’s repayment of federal funds that had been allocated for CUP projects by the Colorado River Storage Project Act.

1968 Central Utah Water Conservancy District Ribbon Cutting event (series 200).

1968 Central Utah Water Conservancy District Ribbon Cutting event (series 200).

The CUWCD set to work by first organizing water development projects around the state into seven distinct geographic units: Vernal, Upalco, Jensen, Bonneville, Uinta, and Ute Indian. Setting project priorities and allocating resources has often proved contentious, particularly as projects went over time and budget throughout the latter 20th century. For example, in 1965 the Bonneville Unit (the single largest unit of the CUP) was allotted $302 million in funds to complete its associated water projects. Construction delays and the passage of time meant that, by 1985, over $2 billion in funds had actually been spent developing the Bonneville Unit.

The early history of work done for the CUP, as well as ongoing debates of how to fund the project appear throughout several record series held by the Utah State Archives. These include Upper Colorado River project files from the office of Governor George D. Clyde (1957-1965), correspondence records from the office of Governor Calvin Rampton (1965-1977), natural resource working files from the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson (1977-1985), and correspondence records from Governor Matheson’s office.

COMPLETING THE CUP

Over time it became increasingly clear that the broad, ambitious goals of the CUP would be bogged down by both slow construction, as well as a lack of adequate ongoing funding and support from the federal government. Funding for the CUP (through the Bureau of Reclamation) was often a contentious point of debate among federal lawmakers, and the entire project was nearly defunded completely during the term of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

1968 CUP News Report (series 200).

1968 CUP News Report (series 200).

The tendency to stall or delay water projects ultimately led to an unprecedented action in 1992, when Utah’s state and local officials asked the federal government to turn over authority to complete all unfinished CUP work to the CUWCD. This request was granted with passage of the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA). This legislation authorizes the CUWCD to oversee completion of CUP projects, particularly those in the Bonneville unit which includes areas of exploding population growth along the Wasatch Front. In addition, the legislation provides a means for over-site and environmental mitigation of CUP work to be overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior through a newly created CUPCA office.

This climactic moment in the CUP’s history, as well as the negotiations that took place to secure passage of the CUPCA, can be traced in records held by the Utah State Archives, including Governor Norman Bangerter’s Washington Office records, as well as Governor Bangerter’s Chief of Staff correspondence records.

UNKNOWN FUTURES

The future of the Colorado River, and its millions of users, is a hazy one. How reliable will the river’s flow remain, particularly in the face of changing environmental conditions and exploding population centers in the western United States? Water allocations from the Colorado River have been re-calibrated at points in the past, based on lower flows and the fact that the original numbers agreed to in the 1922 Colorado River Compact were based on unusually (and unsustainable) high years of river flow.

A similarly unknown future faces the major water storage projects along the river, including those that compose the Central Utah Project. Consider, for example, the unknown fate of the Hoover Dam, an aging structure holding back a dwindling water supply that is currently being drawn on by more people than at any other point in its history.

Major questions concerning the Colorado River, and its use, face each of the western states that rely heavily on its water. Will the answer be a doubling down on the types of costly reclamation efforts that were meant to help the arid southwest “bloom like a rose?” Or will the answers increasingly take the shape of users learning how to more efficiently utilize the regions most critical resource? Whatever way the future flows, it is clear that the Law of the River is still, very much, a work in progress.


The Law of the River: Developing the Upper Basin


This is the second 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.


UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN COMPACT

Map of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin's (series 200).

Map of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin’s (series 200).

With the passage of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Colorado River Basin was divided into a Lower Basin unit (comprised of Arizona, California, and Nevada), and an Upper Basin unit (composed of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). For the first twenty-five years after the compact was ratified, the bulk of development that took place on the river occurred in the Lower Basin. The construction of Hoover Dam, and other projects in the Lower Basin, had a direct impact on growing the human populations of the southwest. This, in turn, fueled the need for ever-more water in the region.

With the lower basin’s voracious hunger for water, a movement to begin developing the Upper Basin’s water allotment gained real momentum. This movement was fueled, in part, by concerns among leaders in the Upper Basin that unclaimed water in the north could be forever captured and taken by the unquenchable thirst of agriculture and populations sprouting up in California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.

Negotiations for how to divide the Upper Basin share of the river began when representatives from each Upper Basin state met to discuss the issue in 1946. Utah’s interests in this ongoing negotiation were represented by both Governor Henry Hooper Blood, as well as Utah State Engineer, Ed H. Watson.  Records from Watson’s office, in particular, reveal how prominently involved the State Engineer was in ensuring Utah received an equitable portion of the Upper Basin river allotment.

Two years of negotiation and planning ultimately culminated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948. This new accord added another chapter to the expanding Law of the River by guaranteeing a fixed percentage of water from the Colorado River to each Upper Basin state on an ongoing annual basis. Under the terms of this agreement, Colorado would 52% of the Upper Basin share, Utah 23%, Wyoming 14%, and New Mexico 11%. In addition, Arizona wasr allotted a 50,000 acre foot share for the small portion of the state that lies north of the division boundary line at Lee’s Ferry.

With agreement between the Upper Basin states on how to share their allotment of the Colorado River, the stage was set for the emergence of a massive, federally backed plan that would usher in an era of unprecedented change in the Intermountain West.

THE COLORADO RIVER STORAGE PROJECT ACT

With a compact among the Upper Basin states in place, a plan begin to take shape that would coordinate and guide development in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.  Over the course of eight years, planning and negotiations took place that finally culminated with passage of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) of 1956.

President Eisenhower triggering construction of dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon (series 200).

President Eisenhower triggering construction of dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon (series 200).

The provisions of this plan were broad and complex. At its heart the CRSPA sought to set in motion the construction of major water storage projects in the Upper Basin, as well as devise the means for transporting water across vast areas for the benefit of municipalities in the Colorado River Basin. CRSPA also marked a moment of important transition for the Bureau of Reclamation, and how it approached dam construction in the arid west. Prior development in the Lower Basin was done for the primary purpose of impounding a water supply that could be used for irrigation. Hoover Dam allowed for the generation of electrical power, but power generated by the dam was sold to growing populations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with the cash generated from that sale being used to pay off the original construction costs for the dam.

With CRSPA, a new model employed by the Bureau of Reclamation in its dam construction and management. Under this new method, the preeminent use of impounded water in the Upper Basin was no longer for irrigation, but rather for hydroelectric power generation that could be sold cheaply to the public. Revenues generated by these “cash register” dams were then used to subsidize farmers in the Upper Basin who, due to environmental constraints inherent to the Intermountain West, were generally unable to grow the wide variety of agricultural commodities routinely produced by their counterparts in the Lower Basin. This thorny issue of balancing a public utility produced by a government agency against the interests of private public utility companies became one of extreme importance to the administration of Utah Governor George D. Clyde in the early 1960’s.

Pamphlet advertising the economic benefits of Upper Basin development (series 200).

Pamphlet advertising the economic benefits of Upper Basin development (series 200).

In the ensuing decades after the passage of the CRSPA, its ambitious goals began to take tangible shape on the western landscape. One of its faces became the dams associated with the Curecanti Project in Colorado. Another was the Navajo Dam constructed in northwestern New Mexico. Along the Utah and Wyoming border CRSPA took shape in the form of the Flaming Gorge Dam. And, perhaps most famously, CRSPA led directly to the controversial construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Utah and Arizona border.

CONTROVERSY IN ECHO PARK

The story of Glen Canyon Dam remains a contentious moment in U.S. environmental history, as it squarely pitted the interests of the Bureau of Reclamation and western developers against those of a burgeoning American environmental movement.

Pamphlet promoting reclamation efforts at Echo Park (series 200).

Pamphlet promoting reclamation efforts at Echo Park (series 200).

When planning first began on the Upper Basin developments that would culminate with dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, planners first cast their eyes east towards Utah’s Uinta Basin. In the mid-1950’s planners and promoters pushed for the construction of two dam sites in Dinosaur National Monument, one at Echo Park (at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers), and one at Split Mountain.

An unexpected push against placing the dams in Dinosaur National Monument by an organized environmental movement ultimately led planners to abandon the effort, and the U.S. Congress to enact laws that better spelled out the types of development that could occur in National Park Service areas. The complex legal discussions pertaining to Echo Park and Glen Canyon can be traced through records created by Utah’s Attorney General, and held at the Utah State Archives. With the Echo Park development off the table, and a promise from the Sierra Club not to oppose a dam site at Glen Canyon, the Bureau of Reclamation moved forward with development along the border of Utah and Arizona.

With passage of CRSPA, and allocation of $760 million in federal funds for Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, construction on Glen Canyon Dam began in late 1956. Upon its completion in 1966 its impounded waters (named Lake Powell after General John Wesley Powell who had first navigated the whole of the Colorado River in 1869) could reach a full capacity of 26, 214,900 acre feet, making it the second largest development along the Colorado after Lake Mead. The construction of the Glen Canyon Dam has long served as a significant moment of loss for many who were able to witness Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the dam.

Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (series 25473).

Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (series 25473).

CRSPA was a crucial moment in both the river’s history, as well as Utah’s relationship to it. In addition to providing the mandate and funds to build the dam sites at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, this legislation also authorized the creation of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a federal water project specifically tasked with overseeing Utah’s use and development of its allotted share from the river.

The story of federal efforts to establish and manage the Central Utah Water Project, which has proven to be among the most complex and costly provisions of CRSPA, will serve as the subject for the final blog post 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.


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.


Newly Processed: March 2013

Call's Fort Cemetery Map

Call’s Fort Cemetery Map

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 the month of Marc 2013:

Honeyville (Utah)

Salt Lake City Recorder

Tremonton (Utah)

Governor Clyde

School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration


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