Law of the River

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Law of the River: A Timeline

1869

John Wesley Powell begins journey that is first to navigate the Colorado River and Grand Canyon by boat

1869
1889

International Boundary and Water Commission is created between U.S. and Mexico

1889
1902

Congress passes the Newlands Act, which creates the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation to help reclaim the arid West

1902
1903

Salt River Valley Water Users Association is incorporated becoming the first multipurpose reclamation project authorized under the Newlands Act

1903
1905-1907

Colorado River breaks through its banks during high flows and floods Imperial Valley creating the Salton Sea

1905-1907
May 13, 1907

U.S. Supreme Court adopts the doctrine of equitable apportionment of benefits for rivers flowing between states. Kansas v. Colorado, 206 U.S. 46. The equitable apportionment doctrine is based on the “cardinal rule” of “equality of right” among states. “Each state stands on the same level with all the rest.” The Court later explains that “equality of right” refers “not to an equal division of the water, but to the equal level or plane on which all the states stand, in point or power and right, under our constitutional system.” Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 U.S. 419, 465 (1922).

May 13, 1907
1911

Arizona’s Theodore Roosevelt Dam completed 

1911
1912

Yuma Project begins using Colorado River water

1912
1919

Grand Canyon National Park created

Seven basin states organize League of the Southwest in Salt Lake City to promote Colorado River development

1919
1921

Congress approves renaming the Grand River above its confluence with the Green River as the Colorado River

Congress authorizes the seven basin states to negotiate and enter into an interstate compact providing for the equitable division and apportionment of the Colorado River

1921
Jan. 26, 1922

The Colorado River Commission is organized at Washington, D.C.

Jan. 26, 1922
1922

The Fall-Davis Report submitted to Congress recommends construction of the All-American Canal in California and a dam at Boulder Canyon in Nevada

1922
June 5, 1922

U.S. Supreme Court rules that the doctrine of prior appropriation can be applied between states where each of the states adheres to that doctrine. Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 U.S. 419.

June 5, 1922
1922

Colorado River Compact signed in Santa Fe, New Mexico 

1922
1923

All states, except Arizona, ratify the Colorado River Compact

1923
1928

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California formed to build the Colorado River Aqueduct to deliver Colorado River water to Southern California

1928
1928

Boulder Canyon Project Act approves the 1922 Compact and authorizes construction of the All-American Canal and Boulder Dam (later renamed for President Herbert Hoover)

1928
1929

California enacts the California Limitation Act, agreeing to limit its use of Colorado River water to 4.4 million acre feet per year

1929
June 25, 1929

President Hoover declares the Boulder Canyon Project Act to be in effect.

June 25, 1929
Oct. 13, 1930

Arizona files suit in the Supreme Court against the Secretary of the Interior and the other six basin states seeking to block implementation of the Boulder Canyon Project Act.

Oct. 13, 1930
Nov. 5, 1930

Secretary of the Interior asks California to recommend an apportionment of its share of the Colorado River among water users in that state.

Nov. 5, 1930
May 18, 1931

The U.S. Supreme Court dismisses Arizona’s action without prejudice, holding that the Boulder Canyon Project Act is a valid exercise of congressional authority and does not purport to abridge any of Arizona’s rights. Arizona v. California (I), 283 U.S. 423.

May 18, 1931
Aug. 18, 1931

California Seven Party Agreement among Palo Verde Irrigation District, Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley County Water District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, City of Los Angeles, City of San Diego and County of San Diego establishes their relative priorities to Colorado River water.

Aug. 18, 1931
Sept. 28, 1931

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California enters into an amended contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of Colorado River water in accordance with the California Seven Party Agreement.

Sept. 28, 1931
Dec. 1, 1932

Imperial Irrigation District enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of Colorado River water in accordance with the California Seven Party Agreement. Contract also provides that the United States will construct Imperial Dam and the All-American Canal.

Dec. 1, 1932
Feb. 7, 1933

Palo Verde Irrigation District enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of Colorado River water in accordance with the California Seven Party Agreement.

Feb. 7, 1933
Feb. 15, 1933

City of San Diego enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of Colorado River water in accordance with the California Seven Party Agreement.

Feb. 15, 1933
Feb. 14, 1934

Arizona seeks to file a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court to perpetuate testimony for a future action arising out of the Boulder Canyon Project Act to be brought against California and others.

Feb. 14, 1934
May 21, 1934

The Supreme Court denies Arizona’s motion. Arizona v. California (II), 292 U.S. 341.

May 21, 1934
Oct. 15, 1934

Coachella Valley County Water District enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of Colorado River water in accordance with the California Seven Party Agreement.

Oct. 15, 1934
1935

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicates Hoover Dam

1935
May 25, 1936

The Supreme Court again denies Arizona’s motion, holding that the United States is an indispensable party to any adjudication of the Colorado River but that it cannot be joined without its consent. Arizona v. California (III), 298 U.S. 558.

May 25, 1936
1937

Congress approves Senate Document 80 authorizing construction of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Colorado

1937
July 1, 1938

Parker Dam is completed.

July 1, 1938
1938

The seven basin states organize the Committee of Fourteen, comprised of two representatives from each state, to address Colorado River issues

1938
Jan. 7, 1939

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California begins diverting water through the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Jan. 7, 1939
1940

Reclamation completes construction of the All-American Canal

1940
1941

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California completes construction of the initial Colorado River Aqueduct facilities

1941
1944

Mexican Treaty signed whereby the U.S. commits to deliver 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water annually to Mexico

1944
Jan. 3, 1944

Nevada enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of 300,000 af of Colorado River water.

Jan. 3, 1944
Feb. 3, 1944

United States and Mexico enter into a Treaty on the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande. The Treaty guarantees Mexico 1.5 maf from the Colorado River in a normal water supply year. In the event of a surplus, Mexico is entitled to an additional 200,000 af. In the case of “extraordinary drought or serious accident to the irrigation system in the United States,” delivery of water to Mexico “will be reduced in the same proportion as consumptive uses in the United States are reduced.” United States agrees to construct Davis Dam to regulate deliveries to Mexico under the Treaty.

Feb. 3, 1944
Feb. 9, 1944

Arizona enters into a contract with the Secretary of the Interior for delivery of 2.8 maf of Colorado River water.

Feb. 9, 1944
1944

Arizona ratifies the Colorado River Compact

1944
Jan. 13, 1945

The Colorado River Water Users Association formed at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada 

Jan. 13, 1945
June 11, 1945

The Supreme Court retreats somewhat from its ruling in Wyoming v. Colorado, holding that “strict adherence to the priority rule” when equitably apportioning the flow of a river among prior appropriation states “may not be possible.” While priority remains the “guiding principle,” the Court identifies a number of additional factors that may be taken into account. “For example, the economy of a region may have been established on the basis of junior appropriations. So far as possible those established uses should be protected though strict application of the priority rule might jeopardize them.” Nebraska v. Wyoming, 325 U.S. 589, 618.

June 11, 1945
1947

Arizona seeks legislation authorizing the CAP. California opposes.

1947
1948

Upper Colorado River Basin Compact signed by Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming 

1948
1949

Upper Colorado River Commission established pursuant to the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact

1949
Feb. 21, 1950

Senate passes CAP legislation.

Feb. 21, 1950
Dec. 15, 1950

CAP legislation dies in House committee.

Dec. 15, 1950
June 5, 1951

Senate passes CAP legislation for the second time.

June 5, 1951
Aug. 13, 1952

Arizona files suit against California in Supreme Court to establish its right to Colorado River water.

Aug. 13, 1952
June 1, 1954

U.S. Supreme Court grants Nevada’s motion to intervene in Arizona v. California (IV).

June 1, 1954
Dec. 12, 1955

U.S. Supreme Court denies California’s motion to join the four upper basin states in Arizona v. California (IV), but joins New Mexico and Utah as lower basin states.

Dec. 12, 1955
1956

Colorado River Storage Project Act authorizes construction of Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Curecanti Storage Units 

1956
1962

San Juan-Chama Project completed in New Mexico

1962
1963

U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. California

1963
1963

Reclamation completes Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell)

1963
June 1963

In reaction to the Supreme Court’s opinion, California immediately announces that it will oppose authorization of the Central Arizona Project.

June 1963
1963

Navajo Reservoir completed in New Mexico

1963
1964

U.S. Supreme Court original decree in Arizona v. California

1964
1965

Western governors establish the Western States Water Council to avoid interstate conflict by developing regional solutions to water problems

1965
August 20, 1965

Meeting in Washington, D.C., representatives of the seven basin states reach agreement on four general principles:

  • The Lower Basin’s temporary use of unused Upper Basin water will not jeopardize Upper Basin rights.

  • Importation of water from outside the Colorado River basin is essential and pending legislation should authorize construction of works to import at least 2.5 maf.

  • Imported water should be available no later than 1980, although there appears to be sufficient water to meet all needs, including CAP, until the 1990s.

  • Satisfaction of the Mexican treaty obligation should be a national obligation and the first priority for imported water.

August 20, 1965
1968

Colorado River Basin Project Act authorizes construction of the Central Arizona Project and six Upper Basin projects 

1968
1971

Southern Nevada Water Project completes Intake 1 at Lake Mead 

1971
1973

U.S. and Mexico enter Minute 242 to the 1944 Treaty addressing salinity of water delivered to Mexico at Morelos Dam 

1973
1975

Reclamation completes Westwide Study Report

1975
1977

Lowest Colorado River natural flow since recordkeeping began in 1906

1977
1984

Highest Colorado River natural flow since 1906

1984
1988

Upper Colorado River Recovery Program authorized to protect endangered fish

1988
1990

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project completed in Colorado

1990
1992

Ten Tribes Colorado River Basin Partnership formed and formally join CRWUA. The ten tribes are: the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe; the Cocopah Indian Community; the Colorado River Indian Tribes; the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe; the Jicarilla Apache Tribe; the Navajo Nation; the Northern Ute Tribe; the Quechan Indian Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation; the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe. 

1992
1993

Central Arizona Project construction completed

1993
1998

Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority negotiate water transfer agreement 

1998
1999

Secretary of the Interior adopts regulations for offstream storage and release of unused apportionment enabling interstate water banking in the Lower Basin

1999
2000

Multiyear Colorado River drought begins

2000
2000

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California dedicates Diamond Valley Lake, the largest storage reservoir in Southern California

2000
2001

Arizona and Nevada Water Banking Agreement signed

2001
2001

Secretary of the Interior adopts Interim Surplus Guidelines establishing criteria for declaring surpluses in the Lower Basin states

2001
2002

Animas-La Plata Project begins construction in Colorado

2002
2003

Quantification Settlement Agreement executed memorializing U.S. commitment to deliver water to California

2003
2004

California and Nevada Water Banking Agreement signed

2004
2004
2005

Lower Basin Multi-Species Conservation Program Implementing Agreement signed to protect habitat between Hoover Dam and U. S. – Mexico boundary

2005
May 2, 2005

Secretary of the Interior announces her intent to develop guidelines for conjunctive management of Lakes Powell and Mead and shortage sharing in the Lower Basin by December 31, 2007, and initiates a public process toward that end. The Basin States are encouraged to reach agreement.

May 2, 2005
Feb. 3, 2006

Basin States submit a Preliminary Proposal Regarding Colorado River Interim Operations, including coordinated management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead and shortage guidelines for the lower basin.

Feb. 3, 2006
2006

U.S. Supreme Court enters its Consolidated Decree in Arizona v. California

2006
2009

Imperial Irrigation District completes 23-mile concrete lined section of All American Canal

2009
2010

Magnitude 7.2 Easter Sunday earthquake damages Mexico irrigation systems prompting Minute 318 to the 1944 Treaty, allowing Mexico temporary water storage in Lake Mead

2010
2012

U.S. and Mexico enterMinute 319 to the 1944 Treaty establishing criteria to share in water surpluses and shortages

2012
2012

Glen Canyon Dam High Flow Experimental Flow Release

2012
2014

Environmental pulse flow and base flow, allowed by Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty, are released through the Colorado River channel in Mexico to start new vegetation for wildlife habitat

2014
2019

The Drought Contingency Plan is passed by all seven states and Congress.

2019