ARTICLE: THE RIO GRANDE COMPACT OF 1938 Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2001 University of Denver (Colorado Seminary) College of Law 
University of Denver Water Law Review


Fall, 2001

5 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 1




Rising in Colorado's San Juan Mountains and flowing south, the Rio Grande travels 1,800 miles before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. 1 Over its course, the River traverses 150 miles through Colorado, 400 miles across New Mexico, and forms the 1,250 mile border between Texas and the Republic of Mexico. 2 Water usage divides the Rio Grande into two sections, the Upper Rio Grande Basin ("Upper Basin"), and the Lower Rio Grande Basin ("Lower Basin"). The Upper Basin extends 650 miles from its headwaters in Colorado to Fort Quitman, Texas. Nearly all of the available flows in the Upper Basin are consumed by irrigation. 3 The Lower Basin, supplied with flows primarily from Mexico, extends from Fort Quitman to the Gulf of Mexico. 4

The Upper Basin consists of three distinct sections: (1) the San Luis Valley in Colorado; (2) the section above San Marcial in New Mexico ("Middle Rio Grande"); and (3) the Elephant Butte-Fort Quitman section in southern New Mexico, western Texas, and northeastern Mexico. 5 The Rio Grande Compact of 1938 ("Compact") apportions the flows of the Upper Basin between these three sections, a drainage area of 31,100 square miles, excluding the Closed Basin in the San Luis Valley.

Water allocation controversies in the Upper Basin began with shortages in El Paso and Juarez in the late 1880s and early 1890s. 6 In an effort to address these shortages, in 1895 the United States imposed an ...
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