Water Ways

  • 16 Sep - 22 Sep, 2017
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Panorama

Colorado River

Major river of North America, Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, U.S., and flows generally west and south for 1,450 miles into the Gulf of California in north-western Mexico. Its drainage basin covers 246,000 square miles and includes parts of seven states – Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. For 17 miles the river forms the international boundary between the U.S. state of Arizona and Mexico. The river drains a vast arid and semi-arid sector of the North American continent, and because of its intensive development it is often referred to as the “Lifeline of the Southwest.”

From its genesis on the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, the river originally known as the Grand grows from a cold mountain trout stream into a classic Western waterway sluicing through jagged gorges between sweeping, pastoral ranch lands on the upper leg of a 1,450-mile journey.

The river passes through no less than 11 different national parks and monuments as it tumbles through the varied landscapes of seven states and two countries, it’s a critical water supply for agriculture, industry, and municipalities, from Denver to Tijuana, which fuels a $1.4 trillion annual economy. Fishing, white water paddling, boating, backpacking, wildlife viewing, hiking, and myriad other recreational opportunities contribute some $26 billion alone.

As famous as the Colorado may be, it’s equally infamous for the stresses placed upon it due to over-allocation, overuse, and more than a century of manipulation. Following decades of wasteful water management policies and practices, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, and storage levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead are critically low. The Lower Colorado River, which provides water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson, already faces a one million acre-foot deficit and is in danger of running dry far before the Pacific. More dams and diversions are planned, particularly in the upper basin in Colorado, where 50 per cent of the headwater flows are already diverted east of the Continental Divide.