The #ColoradoRiver Compact turns 100 years old. Is it still working? — KUNC #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Lee’s Ferry. Photo by John Fleck

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Luke Runyon). Here’s an excerpt:

On a chilly fall day, Eric Kuhn walked along a gravel path above the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The former head of the Colorado River District, a water agency based on the state’s Western Slope, paused where one of its tributaries, the Roaring Fork, spilled into the river, creating a two-tone stream at the confluence, of beige and dark brown.

“About a third of the water that originates in the Colorado River can be accounted for right at this spot,” Kuhn said. The river is fed by melting snow which gathers each winter on the high mountain peaks of the southern Rocky Mountains. “When I think of rivers, I think of, where’s the water coming from and where’s it going?” Kuhn said. “And what’s happened to this river over the last 100 years?”

In 2021 Kuhn co-authored “Science Be Dammed” with his colleague John Fleck, a water policy professor at the University of New Mexico. The book is a detailed examination of how the river’s foundational agreement — the Colorado River Compact — came together a century ago.

The legal document turns 100 years old this November. The agreement among seven western states to manage the river’s waters was groundbreaking for its time. But the anniversary of its signing, on Nov. 24 1922, comes as the river is facing arguably its most-pressing crisis. Water supplies are shrinking due to climate change-induced warming. Demands for water have yet to shrink to match the drier conditions. The river’s largest reservoirs are declining to record lows, and forecast to drop further. And that fact is prompting those grappling with the shrinking river to ask: What benefit is the Colorado River Compact still giving the region’s water users?


The river’s gap between supply and demand was baked in from the start, said Kathy Jacobs, a water policy professor at the University of Arizona. Since the Colorado River Compact was signed, a complex legal scaffolding of agreements, court decrees and laws has been built on top of it. But it remains the foundation of the river’s management…Heather Tanana, a University of Utah law professor and citizen of the Navajo Nation, said the compact also represents how Indigenous people and their interests have been excluded from river management over time.

Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

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