The Commission was first established in 1923 and renewed in later years to address disputes related to state boundaries created by the Colorado River. See A.R.S. §§ 41-521 through 41-523. Laws 1991, Chapter 8, Section 10 terminated the Commission effective July 1, 1992 and repealed the statutory provisions effective January 1, 1993.
Note: Various commissions have been established from time to time to address issues relating to the Colorado River. The names of the entities are very similar (i.e. the Colorado River Commission, the Colorado River Boundary Commission and the Colorado River Boundary Markers Division within the Arizona State Land Department). This history of the Colorado River Boundary Commission outlines efforts to resolve disputes related to boundaries. A history of the Colorado River Commission, which addresses the history of water rights, flood control and the Colorado River Compact, is found elsewhere in this document. Likewise, a history of the Colorado River Boundary Markers Division, which addresses placement of permanent markers for the established boundaries, is found elsewhere in this document.
The Commission was created to resolve disputes regarding the common boundary line among the states of Arizona, California and Nevada that resulted from changes in the flow of the Colorado River. Originally established in 1923 and subsequently renewed in 1943 and 1953, the Commission completed its duties in 1967 and was repealed by Laws 1991, Chapter 8.
The Colorado River serves as the common boundary for Arizona and California and a portion of the boundary for Arizona and Nevada. The dividing line has generally been the center of the river, however when the river meanders (changes course periodically), the mainstream shifts, creating uncertainty as to where the true boundary line is located.
As a result of the river’s meanderings, by the early 1920’s significant friction developed between California and Arizona regarding jurisdiction, including title to property, property taxes, hunting and fishing regulations, farming allotments and farm loans. (See “Our Boundaries,” by Robert C. Morrow). A Bureau of Reclamation report identified “problems of ownership of the land along the river caused by meanders of the river” and the “controversy between Arizona and California as to the location of each state’s boundary.” The Bureau established a special office, the Lower Colorado Land Use Office in Yuma, to work with federal, state and private landowners to address various concerns.
A number of legislative enactments addressed interstate boundary and related governmental administration issues. The Legislature enacted measures in 1923, 1943, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1960, 1963, 1971 and 1984 in order to resolve those issues.
In addition to boundary issues, the broader issue of water rights and development of the Colorado River was also a state concern in the early 1920’s, as described in detail by Governor Hunt in his state of the state address to the Legislature in 1923 and again in 1925. At the time, Arizona was considering whether to enter into a compact with six other states and Mexico, regarding flood control measures and apportionment of the water in the Colorado River. See Journals of the Sixth State Legislature of Arizona, 1923; and Journals of the Seventh State Legislature of Arizona, 1925. The Colorado River Compact is addressed in the history of the Colorado River Commission, found elsewhere in this document.
Laws 1923, Chapter 18 created a commission consisting of the Governor, Attorney General and state engineer to review the common boundary of Arizona and California, and to consider measures to straighten, control and improve the Colorado River channel. The measure required the Governor of Arizona to request the Governor of California to appoint a like committee in order for the two states to hold hearings and conferences as needed to investigate: 1) the location and common boundary of the two states regarding the channel of the Colorado River from the Arizona-Nevada border to Mexico; 2) the need to define or relocate the boundary; and 3) the advisability of straightening, controlling and improving the channel. The measure required the Commission to submit its findings and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature prior to the 1925 Legislative session.
Laws 1943, Chapter 7 authorized the Governor to appoint a five-member committee to investigate conditions along the Colorado River that forms the boundary between Arizona and California, from above Parker Dam, extending to the vicinity of Needles, California. The measure required the committee to conduct a joint meeting with the California legislature, consider all matters deemed pertinent and to report its findings to the Governor. The committee met with a similar committee of California legislators in Needles, California to review several issues, including encroachment of the river, health conditions, damage to property, law enforcement and jurisdiction for purpose of taxation. The joint committee met February 18, 1943 and March 10, 1943.
Laws 1953, Chapter 9 created a Colorado River Boundary Commission, consisting of the Attorney General, State Land Commissioner and chairman of the Interstate Stream Commission. The measure outlined the Commission’s powers and duties, transferred funds from the State Land Department (which had been appropriated by Laws 1952, Chapter 149, subdivision 74 for aerial surveys of land adjacent to the Colorado River) to the Colorado Boundary Commission, and appropriated $25,000 for the expenses of the joint investigation. The appropriation remained available for expenditure until June 30, 1955. A report of findings and recommendations was required to be submitted to the Governor and Legislature prior to the beginning of the 1955 legislative session.
In 1953, California created a corresponding Colorado River Boundary Commission to document historic meanderings of the river since 1850 and the related effects on the common boundaries. After consideration of several plans, the states agreed to establish the boundary by using a series of fixed points so the boundary would not be changed by future meanderings of the river. Approval of the United States Congress was required in order to finalize recommended boundary changes.
The first meeting was held September 10, 1953. The commission reviewed the treaties, constitutional provisions and statutes related to the common boundary between the two states. Engineers for each state conducted a methodical review of historic data and surveys, and conducted additional aerial surveys. The commission found that certain sections of the river meander, especially in Mohave Valley (near Needles), Parker Valley, Palo Verde Valley, Cibola Valley and Yuma Valley. The committee found retracement to be unfeasible, and recommended fixing the boundary of the river to the “face of the earth by having its turning points described in such a manner so their geodetic location could be determined and fixed.” Between 1953 and 1961, the commission held nine joint sessions and conducted public hearings in Yuma, Blythe and Needles. Numerous meetings were held by each commission separately. The final joint meeting of the Commission was held on February 27, 1961. (See “Joint Summary Report on Arizona-California Boundary,” December 27, 1954.)
Laws 1955, Chapter 83 modified the powers and duties of the Commission by adding responsibilities relating to mapping, providing information to the member of Congress, administrative agreements and procedural rules. The measure also required the Commission to submit reports to the Governor and Legislature before each regular session.
In 1956, Arizona’s constitution was amended to authorize the legislature to modify the state boundaries. Approval of the U.S. Congress is required in order to finalize a boundary modification. See Arizona Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.
Laws 1959, Chapter 36 expanded the responsibilities of the Colorado River Boundary Commission to include authority to negotiate a compact with the state of Nevada in order to define the common boundary between Davis Dam on the Colorado River and a point where the Nevada-Colorado state line intersects the thirty-fifth degree of latitude, north. The measure specified the compact would not become effective until approved by the legislature and by the Congress of the United States. The measure also modified Commission responsibilities with regard to negotiating a compact with California regarding common boundaries.
Laws 1960, Chapter 69 ratified the compact executed on February 6, 1960 between Arizona and Nevada relating to the common boundary formed by the Colorado River.
Laws 1963, Chapter 77 ratified an interstate compact between Arizona and California fixing the location of the boundary line between Arizona and California on the Colorado River. In order to become effective, the compact had to be ratified and approved by the California legislature as well as the U.S. Congress.
Laws 1971, Chapter 49 established the Arizona Water Commission as a single state agency responsible for development, conservation and utilization of all waters within the jurisdiction of the state and for supervision of dams under state jurisdiction. The measure abolished the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission and transferred its personnel, equipment, records, property and funds to the Arizona Water Commission. As a conforming change, the membership of the Colorado River Boundary Commission was revised to include the Attorney General, the State Land Commissioner and the Chairman of the Arizona Water Commission (replacing the chairman of the Interstate Stream Commission).
Laws 1984, Chapter 186 allowed Arizona to enter compacts with California and Nevada to cooperate in the enforcement of criminal laws and boating safety regulations on the rivers and lakes forming the boundary between the states, and to provide concurrent jurisdiction for the courts of this state and each of the other states for criminal offenses committed on the waterway forming the boundary between the states.
- Arizona Constitution, Article 1, Section 2
- Arizona Revised Statutes
- Journals of the Sixth State Legislature of Arizona, 1923
- Journals of the Seventh State Legislature of Arizona, 1925
- Session Laws:
- Laws 1923, Chapter 18
- Laws 1943, Chapter 7
- Laws 1952, Chapter 149
- Laws 1953, Chapter 9
- Laws 1955, Chapter 83
- Laws 1959, Chapter 36
- Laws 1960, Chapter 69
- Laws 1963, Chapter 77
- Laws 1971, Chapter 49
- Laws 1984, Chapter 186
- Laws 1991, Chapter 8
- Final Report, Arizona Colorado River Boundary Commission. May 26, 1967.
- Joint Report of the Colorado River Boundary Commissions of the States of Arizona and Nevada to the Governors and Legislatures of the respective states. February 6, 1960
- Joint Summary Report on Arizona-California Boundary. December 27, 1954.
- Our Boundaries, (from information assembled by Arizona State Senator Robert E. Morrow, advisory member of the Colorado River Boundary Commission). 1959
- Reconnaissance Report: Arizona-Colorado River Diversion Projects. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Boulder City, Nevada. November 1963. Pages 40-41.
- Report of Colorado River Boundary Commission of Arizona. January 1961 and January 1962.
- Report on Arizona-California Boundary. State of Arizona, Colorado River Boundary Commission. March 1955.
- Report on Arizona-California Boundary. State of Arizona, Colorado River Boundary Commission. January 1960.
Related Collections at Arizona State Archives:
- Record Group 10 – Arizona California Boundary Commission. Minutes of the Arizona-California Boundary Commission, 1943.