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Saving the Mighty Colorado

Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River

Saving the Mighty Colorado River

Take a sip of water. Feel that cool, refreshing fluid flow through your body, bringing life to your veins and energy to your limbs.

What would you do if that clean water was suddenly gone? For those living in the western half of the United States, this concept is not as archaic as once thought.

In a country where water is used for everything from pre-heating coffee mugs to greening up our lawns, rivers are often taken for granted. Yet, research shows that many western rivers, including the mighty Colorado, are becoming endangered due to drought and overuse.

The Colorado River is the primary water source for the Colorado River Basin states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, and the nation of Mexico. According to the United States Geological Survey, the Colorado River alone sustains life for over 30 million people.

In an attempt to provide for sustained water use, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drafted the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922. This compact allotted 15 million acre-feet of water to the Colorado River Basin states and Mexico. The allotment gave each state a “fair share” and ensured that, even as dams were built along the river, water would continue to be released from the dams at a steady rate to meet the needs of users downstream.

However, the original compact did not take dry spells into consideration, and cycles of drought have depleted the water that the river is able to produce. In 2014, the running average of the Colorado River had dropped to only 13.68 million acre-feet, not nearly enough to meet the demands of the 15 million acre-feet allotted in the original compact. In addition, significant growth among the Basin States has put an increasing strain on the river’s resources.

What happens when a river is overused? It dries up. The Colorado River no longer reaches its delta in Mexico. It dries up long before reaching the Sea of Cortez, leaving the nation of Mexico without the ability to retrieve its allotment. If this cycle of overuse continues, the river will continue to dry up, moving northward and leaving the Basin States without a water source.

You have the power to reverse this trend. Through careful conservation, education, and support, you can make a difference. American Rivers is one organization that works to protect America’s endangered waterways. To find out how you can support their work on the Colorado River, visit American Rivers.

For additional reading about the Colorado River, please visit:

The Colorado River Runs Dry, Smithsonian

Drought in the Colorado River Basin

Years of Abuse and Overuse Make the Colorado River the Most Endangered River of 2013

Sharing Colorado River Water: History, Public Policy and the Colorado River Compact

Reclamation: Managing Water in the West. Colorado River Accounting Use Report