Ralph Hunsaker was an Arizona water lawyer who worked for the Interstate Stream Commission, now known as the Arizona Department of Water Resources, working toward federal legislation to authorize construction of Central Arizona Project.

Ralph Hunsaker: The legal side of water

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

Ralph Hunsaker started his legal career practicing general law. But it wasn’t long before he found himself knee-deep in water issues through his work with the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission. The Commission, which later became the Arizona Department of Water Resources, was primarily charged with dealing with the Colorado River issues, so his involvement started before the Central Arizona Project was authorized.

“When I first became involved, we were going back to Washington repeatedly and I assisted in whatever I could in helping to put together legal aspects of or any aspects actually of helping out the Congressional people and doing whatever I could back there,” Hunsaker said.

The hard work paid off. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Colorado River Basin Project Act, authorizing construction of the project.

“Everybody was ecstatic to say the least. It was a great day for Arizona,” said Hunsaker. “There was a long, long effort of work--blood, sweat, and tears, so to speak--compromise, political maneuvering if you want to call it that, and everybody was very, very happy and pleased.”

His water work didn’t end there. He continued to work for the Commission, his role expanding to include Arizona-wide water jurisdiction, such as dam safety, wells and groundwater. He would research new law, how it is applied, how the court is likely to interpret this aspect, what wells are exempt, etc.

Eventually, the agency took its legal work in-house. But Hunsaker had made his mark.

“The passage of CAP is something that I think all people who worked on it were proud of, and I think rightly so. I probably was one of the minor players in it, but I still felt pride in the fact that it did pass and that it gave this state a much brighter, in my opinion, future then otherwise it would’ve had,” Hunsaker said.

Read Ralph Hunsaker's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Ralph Hunsaker's Interview