Documents from Father of Colorado River Treaties to be Preserved at Colorado State University

Colorado State University’s Morgan Library will preserve and make available a collection of recently donated papers that document the work of Delph Carpenter, a water lawyer often called the father of Colorado River Treaties.

Carpenter’s significant contributions to Western water development will be preserved in the Water Resources Archive at Morgan Library. Born in Greeley in 1877, Carpenter originated the idea of states appropriating the waters of shared rivers through compacts instead of ongoing legal battles. Once referred to as "Colorado’s most valuable citizen of all time" by Denver Post columnist Roscoe Fleming, Carpenter is best known for negotiating the Colorado River Compact of 1922, an agreement which divides the waters of the Colorado River among seven western states.

The 90 boxes of the Carpenter collection were donated by Carpenter’s grandsons, Ward Carpenter of Ridgefield, Conn., and William Carpenter of Thornton.

The collection documents thoughts, feelings and actions that went into the negotiations for the compacts that now govern rivers throughout the West. The documents contain a wealth of correspondence, drafts and reports related to compact negotiations. In addition, the collection documents other aspects of Carpenter’s professional, family and personal life through diaries, photographs, newspaper clippings and objects, including his briefcase and billfold. The papers shed light on interstate water treaties, prior appropriation, water-rights adjudication, the role of the federal government and state sovereignty.

The collection also contains important original documents related to the Union Colony and its early settlers, as well as papers related to Delph Carpenter’s son Donald Carpenter, who was a Weld County judge.

In a state where the availability of water is a perpetually important issue, Carpenter’s actions in the early twentieth century to save Colorado’s water for development within the state continue to effect the West even today.

"The multi-year drought that currently grips the West focuses considerable attention upon interstate agreements which divide limited water resources among western states," said Robert Ward, director of the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute. "The Carpenter Papers will be available for use by current and future water managers to learn how men of great insight led the West out of previous difficulties in managing limited water resources. Colorado and the West will need people with similar vision and leadership skills if we are to successfully confront the water management issues of the 21st century."

Colorado State Professor Emeritus and historian Daniel Tyler relied on the Carpenter collection when writing his book, "The Silver Fox of the Rockies: Delphus E. Carpenter and Western Water Compacts." In the book, Tyler quotes a letter from President Hoover to Carpenter: "That (Colorado River) Compact was your conception and your creation, and it was due to your tenacity and intelligence that it succeeded."

After review, cleaning and reorganization, the collection will be open to all researchers. The collection requires major stabilization and preservation work before it will be accessible to the public. Individuals interested in helping to fund this effort can contact Susan Hyatt, development director, at (970) 491-6823.

The Water Resources Archive was established at the CSU Libraries in 2001 as a joint effort with the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute. The archive’s mission is to preserve, provide access to and promote the rich water heritage of Colorado.