I had defeated John Murdock, the chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, in 1952. As such, he was in a strategic position to aid the authorization of the Central Arizona Project. Therefore I felt a great responsibility to get myself into a position to be effective in getting the Central Arizona Project authorized and financed, assuming a favorable Supreme Court decision would establish Arizona’s title to sufficient waters of the Colorado River to make the Project possible. I was convinced that the best position I could be in would be as a member of the Public Works Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, because money for the CAP had to come from that subcommittee. I was eventually able to gain that seat.
Much has been written about the early struggles of Arizona to acquire the use of waters of the Colorado River. Therefore, I will not dwell on the early history except as a prelude to the events leading up to our success.
The growth of Southern California soon outstripped water supplies easily available. By the end of World War I, California not only had eyes on the Colorado River, but also had plans to use its waters. Some of the Colorado water had for many years been diverted to irrigate the Imperial Valley of California, and floods from that diversion had created the Salton Sea.
But those Arizonans who had dreams could picture the day when some of the Colorado’s waters would be diverted to irrigate the vast and fertile valleys of Central Arizona. The water doctrine of the West—first in time, first in right—caused them to look with concern on the extensive plans of California for the further use of Colorado River water.
Arizona wasn’t the only state worried that California would acquire the right to all, or substantially all, of the Colorado. The states of New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado were also alarmed. This led to an Act of Congress allowing the states of the Colorado Basin to enter into an interstate compact dividing the waters of the Colorado among them.
President Harding appointed an eminent engineer, Herbert C. Hoover, as the federal member and chairman of the Compact Commission. Mr. Hoover called the delegates of the various states into session at Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The sessions were long and arduous, but they finally resulted in a compact dividing the waters of the Colorado between the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and the part of Arizona comprising the Navajo Reservation) and the Lower Basin (California, Nevada and the main portion of Arizona). The states of each basin were to divide that basin’s water among themselves. The Upper Basin states did. Those of the Lower Basin did not.
The Compact settled nothing in Arizona. In fact, it sparked political furor which lasted for years before the Arizona Legislature finally ratified the Compact. While Arizona was involved in internecine strife, California was proceeding in the Congress to authorize the construction of a huge dam on the Colorado at Boulder Canyon. This dam was necessary to impound waters for domestic and municipal use in the Lower Basin and to produce hydroelectric power, both to help finance agricultural development and provide pumping energy.
The Boulder Canyon Act was finally passed by Congress, but only after Arizona Senators Ashurst and Hayden forced adoption of an amendment requiring California’s legislature to pass an act limiting that state’s diversion to no more than 4.4 million acre feet (AF) per year from the Colorado River mainstream.
Thus California’s Self-Limitation Act, in effect, divided the 7.5 million AF apportioned to the Lower Basin in this ratio: 4.4 to California, 2.8 to Arizona, and 0.3 to Nevada. But Arizona still refused to agree to this division. In fact, when Parker Dam was being built, Arizona Governor Benjamin B. Moeur dispatched a portion of the Arizona National Guard to stop construction. Luckily, there was no bloodshed.
Finally, in 1944, Arizona’s legislature ratified the Santa Fe Compact, making it possible to begin the action necessary to divert Colorado River waters into the state. This brought to a head the disputes over the route to be used to bring the water into central Arizona.
One proposal would have built a dam in Marble Canyon (just downstream from Lees Ferry), tunneling through volcanic mountains to the headwaters of the Verde River, and bringing the Verde-delivered water to a diversion dam northeast of Phoenix. This plan was expensive, and drilling through volcanic formations was iffy, to say the least.
The other plan was to lift the water from Lake Havasu, behind Parker Dam, about 700 feet to a tunnel through the Buckskin Mountains, and thence through a to system of canals to a storage lake to be built near the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers, and thence to Phoenix and Tucson. This is the plan which was agreed upon, was finally authorized, and has been essentially brought to completion.
But legislation to authorize the project was not easy to obtain. Ten years elapsed between the California Self-Limitation Act and Arizona’s ratification of the Santa Fe Compact. During that time, California’s annual use of Colorado River water was not 4.4 million AF per year, but had risen to 5.2 million and beyond.
It was much more attractive for Californians to use their political muscle (25 representatives to Arizona’s 2) to deny Arizona the means to put its water to use than to try to reduce its Colorado water use to the required 4.4 million AF. So California was adamantly opposed to the authorization of any project which would allow Arizona to use Colorado River water.
Even so, a Central Arizona Project bill passed the Senate in 1949 and again in 1951. Our two senators, Carl Hayden and Ernest McFarland, were so prominent that the CAP bill passed easily. Hayden was chairman of the Appropriations Committee and McFarland was Majority Leader of the Senate.
In the House it was a different matter. Because of California’s muscle, the CAP bill was not even voted out of the House Interior Committee. After having considered it in two Congresses, that committee not only voted not to report the bill, but told Arizona not to try again for authorization until the Supreme Court had verified its claim to enough water to ensure feasibility of the CAP.
So Arizona had no choice but to file suit in the Supreme Court to, in effect, quiet title to 2.8 million AF per year of Colorado River water. Again I will not deal with this suit and all its ramifications because much has been written by others who have more knowledge than I as to its details. Suffice it to say that the lawyers (particularly Mark Wilmer and Charles Reed) who were counsel for Arizona were remarkably effective, and they came off with a clear-cut victory for Arizona, giving it title to 2.8 million AF of Colorado River water, plus all the waters of the Gila River system.
The lawsuit was filed in 1952, but no judgment came down until 1963. In the interim, the Bureau of Reclamation was studying the Central Arizona Project, and in January 1962 it released an “Appraisal Report—Central Arizona Project,” which later became the basis for the preparation of legislation. An authorization bill was introduced by members of the Arizona delegation in late 1963, again in 1964, and again in 1966.
In 1965 and 1966, the plans for the CAP were completed and much necessary data were gathered. In 1967 the House Interior Committee began its preparation for hearings.
Now came a shock for CAP proponents: we were hardly prepared for the violent opposition we received from the Upper Colorado River Basin states, especially Colorado. We assumed that when it came our turn to apply for authorization to divert water to which we were now legally entitled, our previous efforts on behalf of our sister states would be remembered. Right?