It may be cliché to say that water is the lifeblood of the West, but it is hardly an exaggeration. On this side of the hundredth meridian, rainfall is generally less than twenty inches annually, making the region largely semiarid or arid, dependent on irrigation for the growing of crops. It was a necessity for the ancient Fremont and Anasazi Indians, it was a necessity for Mormon settlers in the nineteenth century, and it remains a necessity for inhabitants of the West today. John Wesley Powell, in his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, with a More Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah (1879), concluded that there was not enough water to “reclaim” all of the western states. But he advocated development of irrigation works and urged federal involvement to encourage the formation of local irrigation districts. Powell may not have been the first to recognize the importance of water to this part of the country, but he was the first to call broad attention to it—and to conduct a systematic study of its distribution and potential uses in Utah Territory.
The following is our attempt to review research materials in the Utah State Historical Society and at the Utah State Archives that address the central theme of water. We present below a listing of collections on water use, development, and recreation in Utah. To whet your palate, we also provide a sampling of their contents.
Utah State Historical Society
The Frank B. Robinson Papers, 1915–1931, MSS B 158, 0.5 lin. ft.
Account books and studies for the adjudication of the Beaver River.
Winsor, Luther M., Autobiography, MSS A 1428-1, 76 pp., photocopy of typescript
Born in Hebron, Utah, Winsor lived in Washington County as a child, graduated from Utah Agricultural College as an engineer, and worked as a water and irrigation expert.
Utah Water Regulation Collection, 1965–1979, MSS B 719, 0.5 lin. ft.
Collection includes “Code for Waste Disposal Regulations,” “Design and Construction Standards for Public Drinking Water Systems,” “Program Description and Evaluation” for Salt Lake City-County Health Department.
Utah Water Records Project Inventory, 1979–1981, MSS B 219, 4.5 lin. ft.
An inventory of water records pertaining to Utah in the custody of Utah State Archives, private water companies, and the LDS church. From 1979 through 1981, with funding by a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission, the Utah State Historical Society conducted the survey.
Irrigation Company and District Records
Steed Creek Irrigation and Water Company Records, ca. 1920–1985, MSS B 599 2.5 lin. ft.
Located in Farmington, Utah, the SCIWC was organized in the early 1890s and incorporated in 1924 to supply shareholders with water for irrigation and household use. This collection contains articles of incorporation, bank statements, census of irrigation, correspondence, legal papers, minutes, stock certificates, and other company records.
The correspondence in this collection gives researchers a sense for the district’s evolution from its founding to dissolution in approximately 1985. Like other irrigation systems of the time, SCIWC originally had an open ditch system. The company sought to install a pressure irrigation system in the early 1960s. Although pressure irrigation enabled “a more beneficial use of water,” early priority users tend to be “loath to place this priority in a common system without extra consideration.” This reason, coupled with the small size of the irrigation company, led the Utah State Engineer to recommend against construction of pressure irrigation (Hubert C. Lambert to Steed Creek Irrigation Company, March 1, 1962, box 2, fd. 6). This negative assessment did not long delay plans for pipelines. Within only a few years officials approved plans for a pressurized system, though construction did not immediately commence. In 1974 Gallard C. Carr, secretary and treasurer of the company, claimed that “[o]ur present system” had become “obsolete” and nearly “unmanageable,” and he urged swift commencement of pipeline construction (Gallard C. Carr to Aaron Richards, May 16, 1974, box 2, fd. 7).
Correspondence also details conflicts between the Steed Creek Irrigation and Water Company and water users, as was typical in the West. Hattie Devas initiated a case against the company for failure to deliver her share of culinary water from the district. The court ordered the company to ensure that “the culinary water will always be available” and advised that it unclog the “rocks and other debris” constricting the pipe delivering water from the river (Leland S. McCullough, McCullough, Boyce & McCullough, to “Gentlemen,” SCIWC, July 19, 1957, box 2, fd. 5). In 1960, Edward Barrett, writing on behalf of Devas, berated Gallard Carr “over your hypocritical falseness and personal revenge in stopping the flow of water to Mrs. Devas who badly needs irrigating water.” Barrett accused Carr of placing a pipe “in the middle of the creek to dispossess a stockholder in the company” and urged him to follow the letter of the law and not be swayed by “your personal views” (Edward Barnett to Gallard Carr, May 11, 1960, box 2, fd. 6).
Dry Creek Reservoir and Irrigation Company Records, ca. 1951–1988, MSS B 546, 2.5 lin. ft.
These records include account books, company records, correspondence, and stock certificates.
Casto Spring Irrigation Company Records, ca. 1901–1986, 2 lin. ft.
The records of the Casto Spring Irrigation Company was part of the Salt Lake Water Conservancy District. Collection consists of account books, articles of incorpation, bank statements, minute books, stock certificate books, etc.
Irrigation Ditches, Dams and Reservoirs Photograph Collection, n.d., MSS C 785, 1 fd. (12 photographs)
Bonneville Irrigation District Records, 1941–1964, MSS B 17, 0.5 lin. ft.
A unit of the Davis County Irrigation Company, 1920–1959. Minutes and financial records, 1941–1962. Correspondence, 1953–1964. Petitions for dissolution, ballots and tabulation, and quit-claim deeds.
Tooele City-Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company Records, 1873–1972, MSS B 25, 1.5 lin. ft.
Minute books, annual financial reports, certificates, some correspondence.
Bills, Lenore Johnson, oral history interviews, August 8, 1972 and May 2, 1973, MSS A 2867, 29 leaves, typescript
Discusses management and development of water in Mapleton, Utah.
Gardner, Wallace, oral history interview, August 7, 1972, MSS A 2869, 5 leaves, typescript
Evaluation of the importance of Utah’s first federal reclamation project, Strawberry Valley Project, to Utah County.
Huber, Alma, oral history interview, March 1, 1972, MSS A 2870, 18 leaves, typescript
Discusses water development in Wasatch County.
Taylor, Roy, oral history interview, August 8, 1972, MSS A 2872, 20 pp., typescript
Evaluation of the importance of the Strawberry Valley Project to Utah County.
Sulser, Earl, Mr. and Mrs., oral history interviews, March 1972, MSS A 2873, 9 leaves, typescript
Discusses water development in Midway, Utah.
Wilson, Charles, oral history interview, March 1976, MSS A 2874, 129 pp., typescript
Discusses water development in Salt Lake County.
Jensen, Lincoln, oral history interview, March 7, 1977, MSS A 2871, 25 leaves, typescript
Discusses Weber River water development.
Siddoway, Ralph, oral history interview, December 4, 1978, MSS A 2859, 14 leaves, typescript
Reminiscences of the proposed federal dam at Echo Park.
Colton, Hugh, oral history interview, December 18, 1978, MSS A 2868, 10 leaves, typescript
Recollections of lobbying for the proposed dam at Echo Park.
Baker, Pearl Biddlecome, Trail on the Water Papers, 1898–1969, MSS B 1634, 0.75 lin. ft.
The collection includes the manuscript and research notes made by Pearl Baker for her biography of Bert Loper, Trail on the Water (ca. 1969). Baker had access to transcriptions of Loper’s diary, which are included in the collection under the series “Diary Transcriptions” and organized chronologically according to diary entry. Also, several sheets of Baker’s handwritten notes are contained under the series “Notes.”
Marston, Otis R., “River Runners: Fast Water Navigation,” MSS A 1044, 24 pp., typewritten.
Bill Schlotthauer Water Resources Collection, 1939–1941, MSS B 614, 1.5 lin. ft.
This miscellaneous collection of water records includes a proclamation for enlarging the Dinosaur National Monument, remarks on geology of various dam sites in Utah, and a report on Great Salt Lake.
Utah State Archives
Water: Series in Utah State Archives
Water and Power Board Minutes, 1958–1967, Series 12314, 1 cubic ft.
Minutes from the meetings held by the Utah Water and Power Board, established in 1947 with the responsibility of promoting the orderly and timely planning, conservation, development, utilization, and protection of Utah’s water resources. Records include financial statements, meeting agenda summaries, project proposals, meeting reports, and transcripts. Of particular interest are meeting discussions concerned with managing the waters of the Colorado River, including construction of Glen Canyon Dam.
The major emphasis of this report prepared by the Department of Natural Resources’s Division of Water Resources was to analyze and combine pertinent data to present a total picture of the time and spacial variations of climate and stream flow of Utah in a manner readily usable by many individuals.
State Planning Board Water Resources Reports, 1912–1941, Series 1180, 1 cubic ft. and 2 microfilm reels
The water resources division of the State Planning Board collected the various reports contained in this series. The State Planning Board actively cooperated with federal, state, and local agencies for the development and conservation of water resources.
School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration Colorado River Basin Transcripts, 1928–1931, Series 11926, 1 cubic ft.
This series contains published transcripts of testimony in a dispute between the federal government and the state of Utah before the Supreme Court over the navigability (and thereby the federal oil leases) of the Grand, Green, and Colorado rivers. This series contains published transcripts of testimony in a dispute between the federal government and the state of Utah before the Supreme Court over the navigability (and thereby the federal oil leases) of the Grand, Green, and Colorado rivers. Also present are other miscellaneous court briefs, related publications, and news clippings.
Governor Bamberger Water Rights and Irrigation Records, 1919, Series 185, 0.21 cubic ft. and 1 microfilm reel
This series consists of correspondence to and from the Governor Bamberger’s Water Rights Commission created under Chapter 37 of the Laws of Utah in 1917.
Governor Blood Colorado River Correspondence, 1933–1940, Series 22918, 1 cubic ft. and 2 microfilm reels
This series contains correspondence concerning the Colorado River and the distribution of its water. Utah is one of the four members of the upper basin states.
State Planning Board Water resources flood control hearings, 1934–1940, Series 21002, 0.35 cubic ft. and 1 microfilm reel
Reports prepared and submitted by the Planning Board and Soil Conservation Committee.