- Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 11th Jun 2001
Wordcount: 599 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Longstanding dispute between states over water rights from Arkansas River; Kansas accuses Colorado of depleting flow.


The case is a continuation of a longstanding dispute between Kansas and Colorado regarding the appropriate division of water rights from the Arkansas River. The disagreement began in the late nineteenth century with both states laying claim to the use of the river's water. The disagreement was facilitated in part by the geographical location of the river, which is sourced from Colorado and runs through Kansas.

Kansas argued that Colorado's increased usage of the river water through the increased construction of wells led to the depletion of the river's flow when it reached Kansas. This action, Kansas claimed, violated the Arkansas River Compact agreed upon in 1949 by both states to equitably divide the river's benefits.


The primary issue was whether Colorado violated the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas by depleting the flow of the water into Kansas through its construction of numerous wells. The issue of violation was weighed against Colorado's argument that the compact did not specifically prohibit the state from developing wells along the river.

Secondarily, the issue of what would constitute an appropriate remedy if a violation was found was also at place. This is important as it would determine the fairness of water distribution between both states.



The Kansas v. Colorado case is significant within the context of interstate disputes as it underlines the importance of upholding contractual obligations between states, and the Supreme Court's roles as a mediator in such disputes. The decision significantly impacts how states manage shared natural resources.

Furthermore, the case is notable for the extensive, detailed investigation into the facts, including complex data about water management, illustrating the lengths the court system will go to in understanding the specifics of such disputes.


The Supreme Court sided with Kansas in a 7-2 decision, finding that Colorado had indeed violated the terms of the Arkansas River Compact. Colorado's actions depleted the river's flow and consequently reduced the amount of water available to Kansas. As for the remedy, the Supreme Court appointed a Special Master to quantify the damages owed to Kansas. The decision led to an order for Colorado to pay Kansas $34.6 million in damages and $2 million in prejudgment interests.


  • Kansas v. Colorado, 533 U.S. 1 (2001)
  • Arkansas River Compact, 1949

Journalist Brief

In the legal case Kansas v. Colorado (2001), Kansas accused Colorado of depleting the water flow from the Arkansas River, which both states share. This was due to Colorado's increased construction of wells. Kansas held that this violated their agreement - the Arkansas River Compact of 1949 - which was drawn to share the water benefits equitably. The Supreme Court agreed with Kansas, ruling that Colorado had to pay damages.


What was the dispute about in Kansas v. Colorado?

Answer: The dispute was about the division of water rights from the Arkansas River. Kansas accused Colorado of depleting the river's flow through increased well construction, in violation of the Arkansas River Compact.

What was the decision of the Supreme Court?

Answer: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kansas, finding that Colorado had violated the Arkansas River Compact.

What was the significance of this case?

Answer: This case reaffirmed the importance of upholding interstate contracts and illustrated how the court interprets and enforces shared natural resource agreements.

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