The Law of the (Colorado) River

October 21, 2021


EPODa.LakeMeadeMay2019 (004)

Photographer: Thomas McGuire 
Summary Author: Thomas McGuire 

In 1922 seven states met to establish the Colorado River Compact. Since then, there have been hundreds of changes, bitterly fought court cases, and even a military confrontation. This has resulted in gigantic mass of convoluted regulations collectively called “The Law of the River.“ With changing needs, drought and a warming climate, it still grows. 

As the 20-year mega-drought in the southwestern U.S. continues, Lake Mead (shown above), the nation’s largest reservoir, has dropped below the critical level of 1,075 ( m) feet above sea level. As of September 15, 2021, it’s at 1,068 ft (326 m) and still declining. Lake Meade’s storage is only about 35% of capacity. This shortage is unwelcome, but long anticipated. Uses of river water have been prioritized. The first major reductions will occur in agricultural irrigation; by far, the greatest water use. Municipal water has a much higher priority, as do the rights of certain Native American tribes.

The goal is a sustainable balance between supplies and needs as our population grows and climate changes. Most experts think it can probably be done, but major innovations and perhaps even new water sources will be required. Photo taken in late summer 2019.


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