Nov 272005
Authors: Vimal Patel

Growing up on a Greeley farm in the late 1800s, Delph Carpenter knew water's life-sustaining power. Later in life, he discovered a knack for law.

Those two basic elements, combined with unwavering determination, made Carpenter a legend in water politics who sorted out several western states' claims to the mighty Colorado River.

Now, the star water attorney's papers are available at CSU, unveiled at Morgan Library earlier this month after more than a year of restoration work.

"We consider this our flagship collection," said Patricia Rettig , archivist at CSU's Water Resources Archive, which consists of about 30 collections. "It's a key to water history in the state."

The massive 127-box collection includes newspaper clippings, photographs, artifacts, speeches, legal briefs and more that shed light on Carpenter, who was also a river commissioner and state senator.

"I had to go through every box, item by item, page by page, and put it in some kind of order," Rettig said. A "finding aid" that documents and outlines the collection is available online.

Carpenter's two grandsons, Ward and William, donated the collection to CSU, which is open to researchers and the general public.

Delph Carpenter's most memorable achievement was penning the 1922 Colorado River Compact, an interstate agreement that divided the water body into an upper and lower basin and governs how water is distributed among the Western states.

Gliding through the complexities and nuances of states' water claims and spawning the compact earned Carpenter praise from the highest public figures in the land, including President Herbert Hoover.

"The work that he did in establishing the Colorado River Compact was precedent setting," Ward Carpenter said from his home in Ridgefield, Conn. "It showed that states could reach an agreement without the federal government dictating the terms."

Ward Carpenter said his grandfather, also a Republican state senator who represented Weld County, was a strong advocate of states' rights.

Carpenter will be remembered most for negotiating the deal among the seven states – California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming – and proving that water disputes could be settled by talking instead of running to court, Ward Carpenter said.

"Through a tremendous amount of effort on his part, he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure the state received its fair share of water," he said. "He wouldn't let go of something until he accomplished what he set out to do."

The only book-length biography on Carpenter, "Silver Fox of the Rockies: Delphus E. Carpenter and Western Water Compacts," was written by CSU emeritus professor Daniel Tyler and heavily relied on the Carpenter papers.

Tyler, who spearheaded the restoration effort, summed up Carpenter's legacy succinctly: "Negotiate, don't litigate."

As intrastate water disputes arise in light of the recent drought, Colorado lawmakers and water analysts are delving into Carpenter's work scavenging for insight on how to solve water issues.

The lower basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada – are looking for a larger share of water as their populations increase. But the upper basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – where the water originates, also seek to preserve their share.

In the event of a legal battle, lawyers could flock to the source: Carpenter and Colorado's historical water compacts.

"I think his work is going to become increasingly significant," Tyler said.

Perhaps the best place to conduct water research in Colorado is CSU. Every state has a water research center or institute, and Colorado's is located at CSU. The Colorado Water Resources Research Institute keeps track of all water research in the state.

Also, the second floor of Morgan Library houses the university's Water Resources Archive, which preserves and promotes Colorado's water history.

The archive contains about 30 collections and 700 boxes of materials, but Carpenter's papers are considered the cornerstone.

"So much of the other things that we have wouldn't have happened if (Carpenter) didn't do what he did," Rettig said.

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