History of the Colorado River

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According to tree ring scientists from the University of Arizona in Tuscon, the Colorado River went through a six decade long drought during the mid-1100s. This drought was longer than any other drought know to the region. The Colorado River is essential to the American Southwest, draining into about 242,000 square miles of land to include seven U.S. states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in a recent report that the Southwestern U.S. Will become hotter and drier as the climate warms.” With human caused climate change and run off reduction, it has been predicted that the Colorado River could become dry by 2012. Discussions in this paper will include a general history and how the American Southwest relies on the Colorado River for survival, how climate change is effecting it, and management efforts to curtail conflicts between vying interests over a shared water source.

Figure 1. Map of the Colorado River


The Colorado River is located in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It is 1,450 miles long with its headwaters in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado. Geologically, the Colorado River begins near Moab, Utah, at the junction of the Green River,which is the primary tributary for the Colorado. (Until 1921, the Colorado River did not “technically” begin until the Grand and Green Rivers joined together in Utah. In that year the Grand River was renamed as the Colorado River, at the request of the State of Colorado.) It then flows south out of Wyoming, and the Grand River, and southwest out of Colorado. Below this point, the river takes on a redd...

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Barnett, T., & Pierce, D. (2009). Sustainable water deliveries from the Colorado River in a changing climate. PNAS, 106(18). Retrieved June 23, 2010, from

Clow, D. (2009). American Geophysical Union journal, Water Resources Research. Journal of Climate, 23. Retrieved June 24, 2010, from

University of Arizona (2008, August 23). Drier, Warmer Springs In US Southwest Stem From Human-caused Changes In Winds.