Development of the Colorado River Essay

Development of the Colorado River Essay

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Prior to settlement of the western United States, the Colorado River roamed free. Starting from cool mountain streams, the river eventually became a thunderous, silty force of nature as it entered the canyons along its path. The river nourished wetlands and other riparian habitats from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the delta at the Sea of Cortez in Northwest Mexico. Settlers along the river harnessed these waters mainly for agriculture via irrigation canals, but flooding from spring runoff wreaked havoc on agricultural land, prevented development in the floodplain and full utilization of the water, a waste in the eyes of western farmers. In order to meet current and future water demands in the west, the Federal Government funded and built dams, inundating canyons and other swaths of land along the Colorado River. Decades of political wrangling and compromise, two interstate compacts, numerous legislative acts and a judicial decree created these massive concrete structures. These documents, known collectively as the Law of the River, allocated the Colorado River among the states, Native American tribes and nation that rely on the river and commission the construction and operation of dams and other major projects along the River.
The dams provide flood and drought protection, hydroelectric power, water storage and timed water releases to meet peak summer demand, but this bounty to development came with environmental costs. The seasonal flood, though destructive, nourished riparian areas along the banks of the river with silt and allowed the native fish to flourish in the warm, turbid water. Now, the dams block much of the silt, destroying riparian habitat and decreasing the dams’ capacity. The clean, cool, a...

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...ining is generally defined as the extraction of groundwater beyond a rate replenishment that will restore the aquifer to a level at which it is economically feasible to extract water.” A. Dan Tarlock, L. of Water Rights and Resources § 6:13.
Conjunctive Management in Utah, supra note 17 at 18-19.
Id. at 21-22.
Id. at 50.
Id. at 49.
Id. at 50.
David Sunding, The Price of Water: Market-Based Strategies are Needed to Cope with Scarcity, 54 California Agriculture 2, 56 (March-April 2000)
Property and Evironmental Research Ceter, Colorado River Water Bank: Making Water Conservation Profitable, (last visited Nov. 15, 2011).
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Quality of Water Colorado River Basin: Progress Report No. 22, 19 (2005) [hereinafter Report 22].

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