A century ago in the #ColoradoRiver Compact: Wordsmithing details as time runs short — InkStain @jfleck @R_EricKuhn #COriver #CRWUA2022

View showing steamboat Cochan on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona in 1900. A photograph of the Cochan, last stern-wheel steamboat running on the Colorado River for the Colorado Steam Navigation Company between 1899 and 1909. This photo was taken in 1900. Cochan was sold to the U.S Reclamation Service in 1909. Not required by the Service, Cochan was dismantled in 1910. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16588505

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck):

It was snowing like crazy at Bishop’s Lodge outside Santa Fe as the Colorado River Commission Chairman Herbert Hoover called the 24th meeting to order at 9:45 AM on the morning of Nov. 23, 1922. The Commission had only about 30 hours left before its Friday afternoon target for signing the compact and the “punch list” was long. Conceptually, the commissioners agreed on all of the compact’s major provisions, but drafting challenges remained.

They began with a discussion of “domestic.”  For the purposes of Articles III (e) and IV, rather than include a long list of water uses like mining, milling, manufacturing, and so on, they decided to define a broad group of uses as “domestic.” They could agree on what it didn’t include – it didn’t include agricultural, power generation, and navigation, so everything else would be domestic.  But it wasn’t that simple. What if a mine had its own hydroelectric power plant? Was that a mining or a power generation purpose?  They ended up agreeing to “The term ‘domestic use’ shall include the use of water for household, stock, municipal, mining, milling, industrial, and other like purposes, but shall exclude the generation of electrical power.”

The discussion then turned to Article III(d). Overnight Winfield Norviel had changed his mind. He was now OK with dropping the four million acre-feet minimum annual Lee Ferry flow requirement. It was one of many compromises Norviel had made during the negotiations, and it wouldn’t be his last.

The Commission then had a long and difficult conversation about Article IV, the priority of uses. The article had three paragraphs

  • IV(a) was a statement that the Colorado River was no longer navigable, but with language added that if Congress did not agree, the “the other provisions of this compact shall nevertheless remain binding.”
  • IV(b) made it clear power generation was a legal use but made it subservient to agricultural and domestic uses.
  • IV(c) stated that this article did not apply to the internal appropriation, use, and distribution of water within a state.

Utah’s R.E. Caldwell was opposed to the provision protecting the compact if Congress didn’t accept the navigation clause. Although he understood the reason Hoover suggested including the provision, his concern was including the language would be giving Congress the opportunity to step in and interfere with water projects within states. Ultimately, Caldwell agreed that, despite his objections, he would not vote against “the pact.”

Similarly, Colorado’s Delph Carpenter wanted to expand paragraph IV©, but ultimately agreed to only minor wording changes.

By the end of the 24th meeting, which lasted much of the day, their punch list has been whittled down to several minor wording changes and paragraph VIII. Hoover adjourned the meeting at 3 PM but asked the drafting committee to reconvene immediately. The 25th meeting would convene at the Chairman’s call after the drafting committee had done its work.

Hoover called the 25th meeting for 7:30 PM that evening. The Commission then went through a list of editing changes. Importantly, the Commission finally reached agreement on Article I, the purpose of the compact:

Turning to Article VIII, the commissioners and their advisors considered and debated 16 drafts before calling it a night without reaching a final agreement on the language.

They would have to meet again on Friday morning. There was more snow in the forecast.

In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

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