The only repository of its kind in the state, the Water Resources Archive at Colorado State University (CSU) focuses on preserving the documentation of Colorado’s water heritage. Issues and solutions surrounding water form a significant part of the semiarid state’s history. Colorado was the site of many important legal, scientific, and administrative advances related to water, and those innovations have spread across the American West and the world. Preserving the original documentation of the people and groups involved gives a glimpse into both the successes and failures of the past, which can assist in making water-related decisions for an increasingly complex future.
Part of the Archives & Special Collections Department at CSU Libraries, the Water Resources Archive began in 2001 at the college’s Morgan Library in partnership with the Colorado Water Institute. Knowing that the documentation of Colorado water history was at risk of disappearing, the institute’s director worked with the libraries and the History Department to create a repository to save those materials. The archive’s initial funding came from insurance money distributed to campus following the 1997 Spring Creek flood.
The Water Resources Archive’s mission is to preserve, make available, and promote historically important documentation of Colorado water resources involving individuals and organizations both in and outside the state. Because Colorado streams and aquifers cross state borders, western water issues tie states and their histories closely together. Additionally, many Colorado water experts travel widely to share their expertise, expanding the reach of Colorado’s water knowledge, which results in collections that extend across the United States and around the world.
The Water Resources Archive is one of only two archives in the nation focused specifically on collecting historical water documentation. It is also a founding contributor to the Western Waters Digital Library, which brings together water-related information from universities across the West.
By the end of 2015, the Water Resources Archive had received more than 100 collections. With a few exceptions, each collection documents specific people (such as water lawyers, utility managers, engineers, and economists) or organizations (including ditch companies, grassroots organizations, and government agencies).
The collections also document water sources and uses across the state. Sources include surface water, groundwater, and precipitation used for agricultural, municipal, recreational, and environmental needs.
Collections cover a variety of subject areas; strengths are in water management, engineering, and agriculture, but subjects such as law, science, the environment, and conservation are featured as well.
The Water Resources Archive frequently receives new collections, often from important water professionals or their heirs. Each collection undergoes any necessary preservation to remove mold, dust, or dirt, its contents are organized and described to make it accessible, and then a finding aid is added to the Water Resources Archive’s website. The finding aid includes a brief biography of a person or history of an organization as well as an inventory of the boxes in the collection.
Collections contain many one-of-a-kind materials, such as meeting minutes, correspondence, data, reports, diaries, photographs, maps, films, and audiotapes, making them attractive to researchers doing in-depth studies. Patrons with more straightforward needs can request reproductions. Most of the collections are paper-based, but the archive actively digitizes selections from its collections and posts them online. Archive staff is on hand at CSU’s Morgan Library to assist researchers.
Role in Community
Researchers use the Water Resources Archive for a variety of reasons: to write books or make documentaries, to gather research for lawsuits or family genealogies, and to find facts or images for presentations. Through such activities, knowledge of western water history informs important future decisions.
The archive holds two annual events: Water Tables in the winter and the Western Water Symposium & Barbecue in the summer. These not only raise funds but also teach attendees about water history. The Water Resources Archive conducts outreach across the state at a number of conferences and publishes an electronic newsletter. It also hosts classes and tours by request and welcomes all visitors.