Kansas v. Colorado Case Set Precedent For Water Litigation in US

Nov 12, 2017

A rare sight: water in the Arkansas River south of Garden City, Kansas in August.
Credit Angie Haflich / High Plains Public Radio

Kansas v. Colorado was the first interstate water lawsuit case to come before the U.S. Supreme Court, setting a precedent for all other interstate water suits in the U.S.

As The High Plains Journal reports, the case began in 1902. The issue? Whether Colorado was taking too much Arkansas River water from Kansas. The issue was revisited again in 1907,  1943, 1985, 2001 and 2009.

James Sherow, Kansas and environmental history professor at Kansas State, said last month at the 3i Show in Dodge City that at the time of the litigation, Colorado and Kansas had different ways of thinking about water. Colorado had prior appropriation built into their state constitution, a system Sherow said stressed that the first person to use the water established the right to it and has that right in perpetuity.

The suit was settled in May 1907 and Sherow said created interstate water compacts, which helped other states avoid litigation like Kansas v. Colorado.

“So western Kansas and eastern Colorado have created the modern litigating system that we have today and it came out of this suit,” he said.