By Jack Curtis

The States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, having resolved to enter into a compact under the Act of Congress of the United States of America approved it on August 19, 1921. The Acts of the Legislatures of the said States, have through their Governors, appointed Commissioners to sign the Compact. The Colorado River Compact is a 1922 agreement among the seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin governing the allocation of the water rights to the Colorado River’s water among the parties of the interstate compact. The agreement was signed on November 24th by the representatives of the seven states that the Colorado River and its tributaries pass through to a small corner of Mexico on its way to the Gulf of California. The agreement was also approved and signed by Herbert Hoover who was appointed by President Harding to take part in the Compact decisions.

The Colorado River is managed and operated under numerous compacts, federal laws, an international treaty, court decisions and decrees, and regulatory guidelines collectively known as “the Law of the River”. Each of the seven states is responsible for water actions within its state. The Department of The Interior is currently involved in decisions made regarding the Colorado River Basin. The compact divided the river into two “basins”. The original compact required the Upper Basin states not to deplete the flow of the river below 75,000,000 acre-feet during any period of ten consecutive years. This was based on rainfall patterns observed in the years before the treaty’s signing in 1922. The amount specified in the compact was assumed to allow a roughly equal division of water between the two basins. The states within each basin were required to divide their share allotment among themselves. The current specific annual allotments in the Lower Basin were established in 1928 as part of the Boulder Canyon Project, while the current specific annual allotments in the Upper Basin were established by the Upper Colorado Basin Compact of 1948. In addition to this, 1.5 million acre-feet per year of Colorado River water is allocated to Mexico.

Prior to the 1922 compact, the name of the Colorado River was standardized along its length. Previously the portion of the river upstream from its confluence with the Green River had still been known locally as the “Grand River”. In 1934, Arizona, unhappy with California’s decision to dam and divert the river, called out the National Guard and even commissioned a two-boat “navy”. The matter was eventually settled in court. The agreement was controversial even at the time however. Arizona for example, was dissatisfied with the lower basin allotment. The compact enabled the widespread irrigation of the Southwest, as well as the subsequent development of state and federal water works projects under the United States Bureau of Reclamation, such as the Hoover Dam and Lake Powell. The 1.5 million acre-feet of water allocated to Mexico was pursuant to the treaty relating to the use of waters of the Colorado and Tijuana rivers and the Rio Grande River. The treaty was signed on February 3, 1944, and its supplementary protocol signed on November 14, 1944.

The 1922 compact was the fruit of several years of negotiations among the seven states. They had previously formed the “League of the Southwest” in 1917 to promote development along the river. The 1922 compact agreement was controversial and Arizona was dissatisfied with the lower basin allotment. The state refused to officially sign the agreement until 1944. The specific allotments were not settled until the United States Supreme Court upheld the amounts in the 1963 decision in Arizona v. California. The case lasted 11 years. While the court ultimately ruled in favor of Arizona, it agreed with California’s interpretation that how it received surplus water supplies was correct. The agreement cleared the way for the Central Arizona Project, authorized by Congress in 1968.

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