Kansas v. Colorado

LOCATION: Meramec River

DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 543 US 105 (2004)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 2004
DECIDED: Dec 07, 2004

Facts of the case

Kansas and Colorado disputed ownership of the Arkansas River. In 1949 Congress approved the Arkansas River Compact, which set out to resolve the states' dispute. In 1986 Kansas alleged Colorado violated the Compact. The U.S. Supreme Court appointed a Special Master to investigate the dispute and in 1994 the Special Master said Colorado violated the Compact. The Court agreed with the Special Master. Kansas later took issue with the Special Master's fourth set of recommendations. Kansas said it was entitled to interest from 1985 onward - before the Court's ruling against Colorado - for damages from Colorado's violations of the Compact from 1950 to 1985. Kansas also requested a "river master" to resolve a dispute over computer modeling of the river.


1.) Should the U.S. Supreme Court appoint a "river master" to resolve disputes over computer modeling of the Arkansas River? 2.) Is Kansas entitled to interest, from 1985 forward, for damages resulting from Compact violations from 1950 to 1985?

Media for Kansas v. Colorado

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 04, 2004 in Kansas v. Colorado

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 07, 2004 in Kansas v. Colorado

John Paul Stevens:

Justice Breyer has an opinion of the Court to announce.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The case is Kansas versus Colorado, maybe I should say the most recent chapter in that long, ongoing saga, is an original action between Kansas and Colorado about the division of the waters of the Arkansas River.

The river begins in the Rockies; it goes across farmland in eastern Colorado in Kansas and it end up in the Mississippi.

In the 19th century, there were journalists who called it the Nile of America.

I guess they thought it was fertile and in the 20th century it has been a fertile source of litigation.

In 1985, Kansas said Colorado had violated an interstate compact by taking too much water for irrigation.

We appointed a Special Master.

The Special Master agreed with Kansas and we did too.

And it went back to the master who calculated damages and he came up with various conclusion and we agreed with him again except for one matter having to do with how you calculate pre-judgment interest.

He wanted to set that running as of 1969.

We said it should run beginning in 1985.

Now, we sent it back again and there is more issues that he determined and Kansas has made six objections to those issues and we overrule all of those objections today except the Special Master’s recommendations.

First, Kansas asked us to appoint, I will summarize them very briefly, asked us to appoint a river master to decide various further technical disputes.

We looked at the nature of the disputes and thought in light of their policy as well as technological mix, we would deny the request for a Special Master.

Then Kansas wanted us to calculate the post 1985, remember pre-judgment interest started in 1985, but Kansas says yes it does start then but it should be calculated on the amounts that were pre-85 as well as post-85.

We looked at our last decision, we looked at the Special Master’s analysis of how we got there and we concluded that the amounts that are pre-85 should also be exempt from pre-judgment interest and so the whole begins on ’85 and after ’85 amounts.

Then Kansas pointed out that the damages rest on the use of a very, very complicated hydrological institutional model.

It is called the HI model.

I will spare you the details but it tries to measure every drop of water that comes into Kansas and that goes out that is relevant.

Rain, everything.

Then they worked with the model and they tried to figure out how much of it is really attributable to the Colorado digging too much which they were not supposed to dig too many wells.

Kansas says in the future, look at the results year by year.

But the Special Master said if we do that, it is going to be too erroneous because the model is only accurate if you look at 10-years batches.

But we said All right; that is what we think is true, that is what they should do, 10 years.

Now, Kansas raises three more matters.

They are still more technical.

I won't go into them but for reasons that we set forth in the opinion, we agree in each instance with the Special Master.

Finally, we note that the Special Master recommended the use of consultation, mediations and arbitration in respect to future disputes which in the master’s view are likely to be very technical in nature.

Noting our argument today, we would drink to that.

Kansas' exceptions are overruled.