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All the finding aids below refer to original records held by the Colorado State Archives. They are not available online. They are available by researching in person or by an online request.
Note on Governors' Records
The following finding aid lists records that are obviously about water issues as well as records of a more general nature such as the Executive Record, General Correspondence, Legislation etc. that may likely have information about water in them. Many of the Correspondence files include supporting documentation similar to a Subject file.
Water rights were an issue when the miners first used the “liquid gold” in their operations in the 1860s. At the same time the governors during this period tried to attract permanent settlers to the state by touting the opportunities for agriculture. The first territorial governor, William Gilpin, tried to dispel the idea that the West was a desert but it was soon apparent that some kind of irrigation and water rights regulations were needed so that farmers could get water to their fields in a fair and equitable fashion. The Office of the State Engineer was created, irrigation districts formed and water commissioners were appointed. The earliest governor records concerning water had to do with these appointments, water rights, and some water conservation measures. Drought years in the 1890s were addressed by Governor Albert McIntire in some of his correspondence and irrigation in the western states became an issue for numerous regional organizations of which the Colorado governor was a part. Pressure mounted for the Federal Government to undertake storage and irrigation projects and from 1902 (when the Bureau of Reclamation was created) Colorado was in the center of these efforts. Competition for water with other states also started to become an issue which is reflected in some of these governors’ records.
Governors from 1919-1939 - The Colorado River Compact of 1922 arose out of a conflict between seven western states and Mexico concerning the distribution of water from the Colorado River. Control over the scarce water supply in the arid West was heavily contested as the realization became more apparent that water was essential to the growth and maintenance of the cities, agrarian areas, and industry. Out of this conflict numerous water compacts were ratified between the states and also Mexico, thus providing a foundation for water policy at national as well as local levels.
Records of governors Oliver Shoup, William Sweet, Clarence Morley, William Adams, Edwin Johnson and Teller Ammons, between 1919-1939 document the period when four of the nine Colorado water compacts were developed. Delph Carpenter was appointed Interstate Streams Commissioner for Colorado and proposed a water compact between seven states in 1920. By 1922 the Colorado River Commission was created to draft the compact. Carpenter was integral in these negotiations and was also involved with passage of other important water compacts. Governor records document his involvement in these important legal negotiations.
Nationally, major efforts to tap into federal money for water storage became important. Pressure for a reliable water source took precedence for politicians as agri-business began to spread and many counties on the Colorado eastern plains dried up becoming part of the infamous Dust Bowl during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Colorado-Big Thompson water storage system was debated, fought over but finally approved and work began on it in late 1937. The Colorado Water Conservation Board was created in 1937 to deal with this and any future Bureau of Reclamation projects. Documentation concerning these water development issues exists in the archived records of these governors.
Governors from 1940-1957 – With the building of the Colorado-Big Thompson water storage system, the era of big dam building began in earnest. The governors concentrated on water development and the boon for agriculture and the economy from big, federally funded water projects. Governor Ralph Carr took a special interest in water issues as he attended most meetings of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. After World War II the population in Colorado sky rocketed as soldiers sought to live where they had been stationed in the War, federal government offices proliferated and the economy boomed. John C. Vivian, William Knous, Walter Johnson, Daniel Thornton and Edwin Johnson focused on the development of Colorado, most of which occurred on the Eastern Slopes in Denver and Colorado Springs. The Western Slopes were pitted against the Eastern Slopes as thirsty cities along the Front Range sought to provide their citizens with ample water by diverting it across the mountains from the western side of the Continental Divide.
It became apparent that while there was usually enough water to go around, periods of drought were likely such as in the 1950s. Water conservation began to be a hot topic and Colorado aggressively defended its water resources from neighboring states, such as California. Arguments amongst the states over shares of water proliferated which is documented in the governors’ records.
Governors from 1957-1975
Governor Stephen McNichols governed Colorado from 1957-1963. It became evident that water scarcity in the West was beginning to affect population growth, water reclamation efforts, industry and agriculture. Issues concerning the interstate water compacts among the western states were hotly debated. There was a greater push to get all the western state governors together to focus on these common problems. During McNichols’ administration water planning was encouraged which not only included water scarcity but also flood control. Dams were used for storage as well as for flood control which meant that the governors were in constant contact with the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corp of Engineers. McNichols’ records document these issues and emphasize the growing importance of water usage to Colorado and to the nation.
Governor John Love’s administration lasted from 1963-1973. Tourism became an important industry as people sought camping, hunting and fishing opportunities in the state’s mountains and streams. The population “explosion” reminded many of the governors that our natural resources were being used up at an alarming rate and efforts began to plan Colorado’s water usage so that competing interests could all benefit. Love’s records document the growing issues concerning water scarcity in the West, reservoir development, underground water, population growth planning and environmental threats such as water pollution. The Colorado Water Administration Act of 1969 also occurred during Love’s tenure.
Governor John Love took a position with President Richard Nixon’s administration in 1973 leaving eighteen months left in his tenure. The governor’s position was filled by Lieutenant Governor John Vanderhoof and lasted until 1975. Continuing the policies set out by John Love, Vanderhoof’s records emphasize population growth, land use concerns, energy issues, reservoir development and water conservation. Of special interest are records concerning water legislation proposed in 1973 and 1974.
Governor Richard Lamm - Governor Richard Lamm’s administration lasted twelve years from 1975-1987. During his term Colorado’s population accelerated putting increased demands on its natural resources, especially its water. Debate occurred concerning how to use and conserve water for agriculture, industry, a burgeoning Front Range population and recreation. Environmental protection was also a hot topic with Lamm being at the forefront of these national discussions. The era of federal money being infused into state water projects ended when President Jimmy Carter and Lamm both took office. Lamm was supportive of the rising environmental movement but when Carter’s “hit list” of federally funded water projects to be dropped, Lamm defended Colorado’s interests for dam systems already planned. There is much documentation concerning both the federal water projects and environmentalism in his records which include extensive subject files and correspondence with the state legislature, the courts, the federal government, other states and the numerous interest groups involved with the use of Colorado’s water. His large collection of publications and speeches about water can also provide researchers with an excellent source of information about this period of water and environmental history.
Water Incorporation Index
Colorado Supreme Court Water Case Index (1863-1933, alphabetical)
Colorado Supreme Court Water Case Index (1863-1933, chronological)
Court of Appeals Water Case Index (1891-1915) This index lists most, but not all, water cases for this time period.
Index to Water Decrees and Transfers in Water Division 1 (1899-1926) Water decrees and transfers from Water Division 1, which includes the counties of Denver, Douglas, Park, Jefferson, Weld, Larimer, Boulder, Jackson and Logan.
Index of Bills related to Water Law (1861-2011) This index lists many of the bills related to water law in Colorado. Prior to 1972 only especially important bills that became law are cataloged. From 1973 to 2011 most bills related to water law are listed, whether or not they were enacted. Use this index to decide what bills you might want to research (*** indicates a bill recording has been transferred to CD). Then, for information on how best to research legislation, refer to our Legislative Records pages.