Western Water History

Water west of the Mississippi has long been a valuable resource. The early explorers that mapped our
country recognized that water was not as plentiful to the west as it was back to the east. Towns, cattle drives
and even railroads were dependent on easily accessible sources of water. Water Rights in the western U.S.,
for the most part, are based on the Doctrine of Prior Appropriations. This doctrine has its roots back to the
California gold rush days when miners would divert water to help in the mining operations. Many times a
diversion of water upstream would be a detriment to an operation downstream, so on and so forth. These
were the first water wars fought in the west. Because of the value of the gold, the labor to extract it became
so great that water became the most efficient way to remove it from the ground. The Doctrine of Prior
Appropriations basically states that the earliest ‘claim’ or ‘right’ to water has a stronger standing than later
claims or rights. Every State west of the Mississippi has variations of the rule, but basically the concept is the same.  In time, water may become more valuable than oil.  You can’t drink oil!

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