Colorado Water History
Colorado Groundwater: Topic Breakdown
Groundwater is unseen yet has had a more significant role in Colorado history than most suspect. From agriculture and industry to public supply and domestic use, groundwater has helped support growth in the most arid regions of the state.
Though its use was once largely unregulated, groundwater supplies were gradually subsumed under the state's Prior Appropriation Doctrine over the course of the twentieth century. Today, Colorado's over-appropriated surface water resources and rapid population growth have caused water managers to turn their attention to groundwater as a way to meet the state's future water storage and supply needs.
On this page, find information about books and archival collections documenting Colorado groundwater history, along with a list of related organizations.
Photo: Measuring water, undated. From the Groundwater Data Collection.
Colorado Groundwater: Best Books
To get started, see these:
Citizen's Guide to Colorado Groundwater from Water Education Colorado (2020)
Citizen's Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater from Water Education Colorado (2007)
Colorado Groundwater Atlas by Peter Barkmann et al. (2020)
For additional resources, consult our brand new "Colorado Groundwater History Bibliography" (December 2021) -- the most comprehensive list of books, theses, and scholarly articles ever compiled on the topic:
Colorado Groundwater: Relevant Collections
Papers of Morton W. Bittinger
As a civil engineering professor at CSU from 1957 to 1967, Morton W. Bittinger (1927-2001) was in charge of groundwater research. The collection features articles concerning developments in groundwater analysis, management, and technology.
Papers of Ronald K. Blatchley
Ronald K. Blatchley (b. 1929) was a water consultant in Colorado from the early 1960s into the 2000s. Consisting mainly of reports from his consulting firms, the collection includes augmentation plans, water rights evaluations, and groundwater studies. Blatchley's clients were mostly located in the Denver metropolitan area and the counties of Park, Teller, Douglas, Jefferson, and Clear Creek.
Records of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District
The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District (CCWCD), established in 1965, aids in the development, management, and protection of water resources within the South Platte Basin of Northeastern Colorado. This collection consists primarily of bound copies of meeting minutes from 1965-1974. Subject areas covered include surface and groundwater quality research, groundwater storage projects, irrigation well development, water rights issues, and water education efforts.
Records of the Colorado Water Resources Research Institute
The Colorado Water Resources Research Institute (now the Colorado Water Institute) was created in 1965 on the CSU campus to oversee water research in the state and disseminate information to citizens. The collection includes numerous project files and reports covering groundwater research efforts conducted by the Institute and related entities.
Federal Land Bank of Wichita Collection
The Federal Land Bank of Wichita was created, along with twelve other banks, by the United States government to provide long-term credit to farmers by the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 in response to the unique credit needs of farmers. The collection contains reports and maps on groundwater used to supply irrigated agriculture.
Records of GASP
The Groundwater Appropriators of the South Platte River Basin, Inc. (GASP) was a non-profit well-augmentation company, the first organization of its kind in Colorado. Founded in 1972, its purpose was to offset depletions to the South Platte River caused by pumping of the South Platte valley-fill aquifer. The collection features records of the organization's operations and membership as well as reports, maps, and graphs regarding groundwater use in the South Platte Valley.
Papers of Robert E. Glover
A civil engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and CSU, Robert Glover (1896-1984) conducted significant research on concrete cooling, dam construction, groundwater flow, and more. He developed many mathematical equations applicable to groundwater flow analysis, including the formula bearing his name. His collection includes his studies and analysis of groundwater hydraulics and his work on groundwater problems in Colorado.
Groundwater Data Collection
CSU's strength in groundwater research evolved naturally from the state's early residents needing information on irrigated agriculture. The collection is comprised of data, maps, charts, drafts, correspondence, photographs, reports, and reference materials that were produced by or collected for these groundwater studies over the years.
Irrigation Research Papers
In 1911, the Irrigation Investigations Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was established in Fort Collins in conjunction with Colorado Agricultural College (now CSU). Scientists within the unit, including Ralph Parshall, Carl Rohwer, Victor M. Cone, and William E. Code, conducted irrigation-related research. Documents in the collection include groundwater research and reports.
Papers of Roy C. and Ardyce L. Johnson
Roy and Ardyce Johnson owned and operated a family farm near Wiggins, Colorado, between 1960 and 1986. The collection documents the struggles to keep the irrigated farm afloat, including financing with the Federal Land Bank and legal issues related to the use of groundwater. Materials include financial reports, legal documents, letters, maps, and clippings.
Papers of Arthur L. Littleworth
California lawyer Arthur L. Littleworth (b. 1923) served as Special Master on the Kansas v. Colorado case from 1987 until its conclusion in 2009. Littleworth wrote five reports during the course of the case, and this collection documents the case in its entirety, through trial transcripts, exhibits, pleadings, and more. Due to the nature of the case, most aspects of the Arkansas River and some of its reservoirs and tributaries are covered, including streamflow, groundwater wells, and the Arkansas River Compact.
Papers of Robert A. Longenbaugh
Robert A. Longenbaugh (1935-2020) made numerous contributions to groundwater research, education, and legislation. The collection documents Longenbaugh's career working on Colorado groundwater issues as a Colorado State University engineering professor, assistant state engineer, and consultant, as well as his continued activities during retirement. Main subjects documented include groundwater resources, modeling, recharge, law, education, wells, and irrigation pump efficiency, as well as energy. Predominant material types include correspondence, data, reports, presentations, publications, grey literature, maps, slides, and photographs.
Papers of Frank Milenski
Frank Milenski (1913-1998) was a farmer and irrigator in Colorado's Arkansas River Valley. He served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (1959-1966) and was on the board of directors of both the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Catlin Canal Company for several decades. Documents in the collection related to groundwater include legislation, articles, and studies, with a focus on the Arkansas River Valley.
Water Oral Histories Collection
This collection contains a variety of oral histories, but see especially Series 3: Groundwater Oral History Project, which features Robert Longenbaugh. Other series include Colorado groundwater experts such as David Robbins and Mike Shimmin.
Papers of Michael Wireman
Michael Wireman, a retired hydrogeologist, focused on groundwater science, development, and management. He worked at Leonard Rice Consulting Water Engineers from 1981 to 1986 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region VIII, from 1987 to 2014. The collection consists of reports and memoranda from when Wireman worked at Leonard Rice Consulting Water Engineers. Most reports are about groundwater in Colorado and others cover locations in Arizona, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Records of Wright Water Engineers, Inc.
A Colorado-based water resources consulting firm, Wright Water Engineers has undertaken projects concerning agricultural and irrigation engineering, water rights, and more. Their groundwater work can be found in several of the projects in the collection, primarily focused in the South Platte and Arkansas basins. Materials include data and studies.