From Reclamation to Sustainability: Water, Agriculture, and the Environment in the American West

By Lawrence J. MacDonnell | Go to book overview

3
STRETCHING A LIMITED WATER SUPPLY

To build a heavily water-dependent economy in the Arkansas Valley was, in many respects, an act of human defiance. Yet by the turn of the century the fortunes of many people living in this valley were closely linked to the use of the limited water resources of the Arkansas River. Most obvious was the substantial irrigation economy now developing rapidly along the length of the valley. 39 In addition, the city of Pueblo boasted the Rocky Mountain West's only iron-and- steel works, run by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. 40 This facility was itself a major user of water from the Arkansas River. 41 And, of course, the growing urban populations in Pueblo and Colorado Springs demanded additional water.

If white settlement and the development of an economy were the major events of the Arkansas Valley in the nineteenth century, development of sufficient usable supplies of water to maintain that economy dominated the first half of the twentieth century. Adding to this challenge was the increasingly insistent claim of Kansas irrigators to some share of the river that also passed through their lands on its way to the Mississippi.

In 1901 the state of Kansas filed an action against Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court. 42 It sought an order from the Court prohibiting any additional water development in the Arkansas Basin of Colorado. Colorado responded that Kansas had no legal basis on which to dictate uses of water in another state. A more technical aspect of the case turned on the contrasting legal doctrines in the two

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