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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

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Water Education Colorado

Water Archives Help History Come Alive By Kevin Darst

By Kevin Darst

The well-known 20th century water lawyer Delph Carpenter helped divide the waters of the Colorado River by developing a legal agreement in use to this day. In the process, he kept voluminous reports, diaries and letters that decades later would almost be lost to, of all things, a flood.

Now those records are safe and will soon be available to researchers and the public alike at Colorado State University’s Water Resources Archive. Created in 2001, the archive is a collaborative venture by CSU and the Colorado Water

Resources Research Institute to preserve and protect Colorado’s water history. Water engineers, historians and researchers say the archives will play an invaluable role in centralizing and preserving the photographs, maps, records, letters and other primary sources that can help modern-day scholars understand how Colorado’s communities, economy and lifestyle have been shaped by our scarce water resources.

Carpenter, a leader in the creation of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, became known as the “Father of Colorado River Treaties.” His commitment to negotiation, not litigation, spawned many complex interstate compacts which determined how Colorado would share its rivers with adjacent states. Carpenter died in 1951, leaving his collection of water memoirs with his family.

But when a clogged culvert pushed groundwater into the Greeley-area basement of Donald Carpenter—Delph’s son—and threatened boxes of irreplaceable documents, the family knew the papers needed a new home.
In a triage effort, the documents were first stored at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District offices in Loveland. But the collection was molding and in need of professional restoration. Looking for a place that could both care for and provide access to the papers, the Carpenter family decided to donate the collection to Colorado State University in May 2004. Currently, the university is busy restoring and organizing Carpenter’s 90 boxes of water history that make up what is likely one of the most valuable assets in its archives.

Among the documents in the Carpenter collection are letters from President Herbert Hoover, who became a friend of Delph’s during the compact negotiations and credited Carpenter’s “tenacity and intelligence” with seeing the compact negotiations to their end.

Prolonged drought in the West accompanied with unprecedented water use and growth has recently renewed tensions in the Colorado River Basin—tensions quite similar to those present 80 years ago when Delph worked to craft the Colorado River and other compacts. As author and historian Daniel Tyler found in his recent book “Silver Fox of the Rockies: Delphus E. Carpenter and Western Water Compacts,” many of Carpenter’s strategies and lessons-learned are very salient to the tough water negotiations facing Colorado and the West today.

That’s what makes the Carpenter collection the most important acquisition to the university’s water archives, says Robert Ward, director of the Colorado Water Resource Research Institute at CSU.

“It’s going to be a very contentious time and understanding history is going to be more important than ever,” Ward says. “The Carpenter collection is most significant because it deals with a key segment of the evolution of water development in the West. Carpenter led the charge.”

Other collections in the archives include the personal papers of the inventor of modern-day water measurement devices, Ralph L. Parshall, a collection of historic groundwater data, as well as organizational records from groups such as the Colorado Association of (Soil) Conservation Districts.

Patty Rettig, head archivist for the university’s water and agricultural collections, knows these collections are one of a kind.

Although she acknowledges the university will allow limited access to some collections until they can be better organized and restored, Rettig says she is pleased the university is working toward providing public access to all these important and one-of-a-kind materials

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