What’s Going on Here? 

Seven American states face a showdown over water rights relating to the Colorado River. The river is one of the main sources providing water to the Southwest United States. The river is a vital source of water for seven states, supporting over 40 million people.  However, a twenty-year drought, shrinking water supply, combined with rising demand as populations grow, means the States must now negotiate water allotments. 

Map of the Colorado River Basin (cr. Department of the Interior).
Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin (map from Department of the Interior)

What Does this Mean?

In January, a NY Times article called the problem, “a slow-motion disaster” – not just due to the long-term causes and impacts from the crisis, but also the legal tape surrounding the issue. Water allotment for the Colorado River dates back 100 years to an agreement between states (re. The Colorado River Compact, 1922). Unfortunately, the allotments in the agreement are made from inaccurate estimations of river flow rates. The result today is chronic over usage of a scarce resource. 

Why Should We Care? 

The U.S. Federal Government has asked the seven states reliant upon the Colorado River to work together and voluntarily agree upon cuts in their respective water usage. The January 31st 2023 deadline has come and gone, with much finger-pointing and very little teamwork. If the affected states can’t agree, federal agencies will have to step in and impose water cuts by the end of 2023. The outcome of the negotiation (or dispute depending on who you ask) will shape the potential future of water laws across the United States – an area of increasing importance as climate change causes more upheaval of natural resources. 

Be Curious! 

While the outcome of this story is ongoing – here are several things you can do now!

  • Want to learn more? Listen to this episode of The Daily covering the Colorado River crisis. 
  • Support the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to protect the Colorado River Basin
  • Read up! Water rights are not the same around the world and it is important to know the risks and status of water basins in your community. 
  • From a different angle: read about how the water crisis has inherently affected Indigenous Tribes in the area and the exceptions afforded them by Congress to maintain traditional water rights. 
Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment