Canadian River Compact

By: Hudson Davis

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1994

Shortly after 1900 interest began to develop in the Panhandle in large-scale irrigation projects, which require conservation storage of water. In 1918 Eagle Nest Reservoir was constructed on Cimarron Creek, a Canadian River tributary in New Mexico, to impound water for downstream irrigation. In 1925 an organization known as the Canadian River Development Association was formed to foster interstate flood-control and irrigation projects, and to promote such projects a compact apportioning the river's flow among the three riparian states was negotiated in 1926. The Oklahoma legislature ratified the agreement, as did the New Mexico legislature, with modification. The Texas legislature took no action, and the compact did not become effective.

Interest in development of the Canadian continued, however, and in 1938 the United States Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to construct the Conchas Reservoir on the river's main stream in New Mexico, to provide flood protection for all three states and to supply water for a 34,000-acre irrigation project in the headwater state, New Mexico. During the late 1940s, faced with the problems of declining water levels and rising water requirements, a number of pump-dependent Panhandle communities pooled efforts to promote construction of a surface-water reservoir on the river's main stream near Sanford. This was to provide additional flood protection and store water for municipal, industrial, and recreational uses. To expedite the plan, the communities urged negotiation of a second compact to define the rights of each state to use of Canadian River water. On December 6, 1950, a second compact was signed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The legislatures of the three states ratified the agreement in 1951. Acceptance by Congress followed, and the instrument was signed into law by the president on May 19, 1952. With their equities in the river defined, New Mexico and Texas were able to proceed with development projects-New Mexico at the Clayton and Ute sites and Texas at the Sanford site. Projects in Oklahoma were planned.

The reservoir behind Sanford Dam, completed in 1965 by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, yields about 103,000 acre-feet of water annually for use in eleven Texas communities: Amarillo, Borger, Pampa, Plainview, Lubbock, Slaton, O'Donnell, Tahoka, Levelland, Lamesa, and Brownfield. The aqueduct system includes more than 300 miles of pipeline, pumping stations, and regulating reservoirs, as well as chlorinating facilities. Construction costs were about $103,230,000.

Canadian River Project Reference File, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Hudson Davis, “Canadian River Compact,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994