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Defend and Develop: A Brief History of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s First 75 Years

1937 was a remarkable year in the history of the state’s water resources. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Colorado River Water Conservation District were created by statute, and an act was passed enabling the creation of water conservancy districts, the first one of which – Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District – was formed the same year. All three laws were an outgrowth of the “sectional differences” which had divided the state over the proposed Colorado-Big Thompson transmountain diversion project, the threat (particularly from California) of downstream water development and the desire to put Colorado’s water to use for the benefit of the state’s then depressed economy.

Defend and Develop, authored by Bill McDonald and Tom Cech and available by late summer 2012, traces the confluence of events which led to creation of the three agencies, recounts the General Assembly’s consideration of the bill creating the CWCB (it was not without controversy!), provides short sketches of the original 1937 Board members (which included the first woman) and follows the evolution of the Board’s statutory membership over the years. The CWCB’s historical mission of defending the state’s interests in interstate rivers and promoting the development of its water resources is examined in the context of its first 30 years, the efforts to obtain construction of federal reclamation projects, renewed east slope-west slope animosities in the 1950s over further transmountain diversion projects (which also deeply divided the Board) and the towering leadership of the CWCB’s two longest serving directors, Clifford Stone and Felix Sparks.

The 1970s and 80s were transition decades for the CWCB. The book identifies what the major forces of change were, from President Carter’s “hit list” of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects to emerging environmental values, and reviews how the Board responded to these new challenges. An integral part of the transition years was the General Assembly’s enactment of laws giving the CWCB its first three major new programs since 1937 – floodplain designations, loans for water project construction and appropriation of instream flow water rights.

During the past 20 years, the CWCB has continued to defend and promote the development of Colorado’s water resources. Defend and Develop examines the interstate issues which have continued unabated, albeit with new twists and turns, and the state’s efforts to address project financing needs now that federal money has dried up. At the same time, the CWCB’s responsibilities and programs continued to evolve, as recounted in the book.

Defend and Develop chronicles the two overarching themes of the CWCB’s first 75 years – continuity in the original agency mission to “defend and develop” Colorado’s water resources and constant change. We hope you will enjoy reading it.