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Contrary Views of the Law of the Colorado River: An Examination of Rivalries Between the Upper and Lower Basins

John U. Carlson and Alan E. Boles, Jr., Proceedings of 32nd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1986)

Harnessed and redirected by a network of dams and diversion projects, vigorously administered by state authorities, and stewarded by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado is one of the most institutionally encompassed rivers in the country.6 A set of compacts, treaties, statutes, and judicial decisions, collectively known as the law of the river, has developed to govern the River and allocate its water among the Colorado Basin states and between the United States and Mexico. The cornerstone of the law of the river, the Colorado River Compact of 1922, materialized principally as a result of fear of a recurrence of floods that devastated parts of the lower River in 1905-07 and again in 1916. Ironically, though, the condition which has most troubled the law of the River since its inception has been the opposite problem: insufficient quantities of water.

Despite the apparent intentions of the framers of the 1922 Compact, the burden of these deficiencies is often assumed to fall largely on the states of the Upper Basin. As the Director of Colorado's Natural Resources Department recently assessed this predicament: The ultimate problem for the Upper [21-4] Basin is how to build a future on the right to leftovers.7 Perhaps, however, the more pertinent and fundamental question is really whether the Upper Basin should have to build its future on the right to leftovers, instea