Water Wars

Water Wars, Then and Now


In 1882, two groups of farmers each claimed rights to the water in the St. Vrain River.

Reuben Coffin (shown, top) and his neighbors lived on the St. Vrain near Longmont. (Photo courtesy of Longmont Museum.)

Samuel Arbuthnot (shown, middle) and his neighbors lived on Left Hand Creek near Haystack Mountain. (Photo courtesy of Donlyn Arbuthnot.)

Their dispute over water was immortalized in the Coffin V. Left Hand case, which set water law across most of the western United States.

"Houses have been built..., the soil has been cultivated, and thousands of acres have been rendered immensely valuable, with the understanding that appropriations of water would be protected." Colorado Chief Justice Samuel Elbert (shown, bottom,) 1882 (Photo from Hall's History of Colorado Volume I)

Today, water wars continue in the South Platte River Basin.