An Analysis of the Dire Situation at the Colorado River and its Effects


Sanaya Gupta

The Colorado River provides water to over 40 million people, including 22 indigenous tribes, and around 5.5 million acres of land are irrigated by its water. The river runs through seven states along the West Coast: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. It also goes through part of Mexico. Tucson, Ariz. gets 82 percent of their water from the Colorado River. For Las Vegas, Nev., it’s 90 percent. Furthermore, it supplies water for 11 National Parks. With all this in mind, let’s analyze what is currently happening to the Colorado River. 

On Aug. 16, 2021 it was declared by the U.S. government that there is a water shortage in the Colorado River.

Scientists state that this is due to droughts and warming temperatures caused by climate change over a period of a few decades. In fact, it is predicted that the river will lose 20 percent of its flow for every degree Celcius the temperature goes up. In other words, likely 5-20 percent of the river’s flow will be gone in 40 years according to Brad Udall from the University of Colorado.

The sad reality of the situation can be seen if we read conservationist Aldo Leopold’s writings in, “A Sand County Almanac,” from 1922 about the delta at the mouth of the river. He described the river as having an “emerald hue”. Unfortunately, this “emerald hue” no longer exists. As a matter of fact, there is rarely water in the delta, except when it rains or there is runoff from farms and fields, and even then it is simply a murky brown color. In 1922, the delta was 3,000 square miles, but it now has decreased to 250 square miles. 

He also writes, “A verdant wall of mesquite and willow separated the channel from the thorny desert beyond.” Leopold would be disappointed to know that salt cedars have replaced the beautiful nature he saw.

Mark Amaro who wrote “What a Drying Colorado Will Mean for Indigenous People Who Depend on It” explains, “in addition to unrecognized water rights, deteriorating infrastructure, and water insecurity issues, some tribes could face cutbacks to their water supply as early as 2023.” The indeginous tribes who live around the Colorado River will likely be one of the first to get their water supply cut back.

Preston J. Arrow-weed, an 81-year-old singer, actor, and playwright, lived along the Colorado River for 8 decades. He is a part of the Quechan Indian Tribe. He remembers the river as wild and swift, but now says, “It’s about 20 feet wide at the most…you can walk across it.”