Colorado is the headwaters for four major western rivers (Arkansas, Colorado, Platte, and Rio Grande) but shares those waters with downstream users. The Colorado, which carries more water than all the other rivers combined, has been the most fought over river in the United States. This detailed history of the struggle of Colorado’s Western Slopers to keep Colorado River water is told from the often underrepresented viewpoint of folks west of the Continental Divide clinging to their much sought after Colorado River water. Steven C. Schulte, a history professor at Mesa State University in Grand Junction, Colorado, has researched battle after battle. He concludes that skillful western Colorado US representatives, Edward T. Taylor (of Taylor Grazing Act fame) and his successor Wayne N. Aspinall, who both chaired the powerful House Interior Committee, held up eastern Colorado’s water schemes to extract concessions for western Colorado in the form of smaller Western Colorado dams and agreements to return some of the waylaid water to the Western Slope. Villains are the Denver Water Board and it star lawyer Glenn “There is no reason that Western Colorado should have a representative in Congress” Saunders. The core problem is that Colorado’s Western Slope has roughly 80 percent of the state’s stream flow but only about 20 percent of the population. Denver and other large East Slope cities early on began diverting water from the Colorado River into the South Platte and, later, Arkansas River. Major diversions such as the Blue River–South Platte, Moffat Tunnel Pioneer Bore, Colorado-Big Thomson, and Fryingpan-Arkansas Projects are also explored. Not everyone will agree that Representatives Taylor and Aspinall were heroes. Critics included many environmentalists, such as the one who defeated Aspinall for the Democratic nomination for the US House in 1972. This happened after one of Aspinall’s greatest successes, holding up the Central Arizona Project until five water projects in his Western Slope congressional districts were added to that legislation. Schulte, who previously authored Wayne Aspinall and the Shaping of the American West, gives little attention to the growing environmental protest against dam building except for the successful effort to kill the Echo Park Dam within Dinosaur National Monument. Books galore explore the Colorado River, but this one is unique in focusing on the water wars and defending Western Slope dams built to enable future growth such as that of the oil shale industry. Hydro energy is covered slightly but not more recent efforts at using alternative energy and better water conservation. The writing is clear and well supported by secondary, primary, and legal sources as well as oral history interviews and government documents. Although probably too detailed for general readers, this book should serve scholars and water lawyers well. In rushing into the legislative and legal battles, Schulte largely ignores Native American water use that had been explored lately in places such as Mesa Verde where scholars are now discovering canals and reservoirs with the help of infrared photography and other new technology. Hispanic water practices are also overlooked, although their communal approach has lessons for later disciples of the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation encouraging hoarding and overuse so as not to lose water rights. The Western Slope fought on two fronts: not only against Denver and the Eastern Slopers but also the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada that were even faster growing and thirstier. Ironically, the 1922 Colorado River Compact among all involved states was championed as a way to avoid endless litigation and legislative wrangling. Both have been persistent ever since. In-state wrangling has distracted Colorado from intrastate water losses. This readable, well-researched work explores what now looks to be the high point of those water wars because the era of big dams and hydraulic engineering appears to be over. Schulte notes that the 1969 Environmental Protection Act, emphasis on the Wilderness, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, increased white-water rafting, and Native American water claims have all become hurdles for dam builders. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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