What’s in a River’s Name?: How the Grand River became the #ColoradoRiver — Audubon #COriver

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Abby Burk):

This article was originally written in 2018 and updated in June 2023.

Is the name of a river really that important? If it’s the “Colorado River,” absolutely. The Colorado River is a lifeline in the West for people, birds, and nature. On July 25th, Colorado River Day, we pause to celebrate and reflect on the awe-inspiring 1,450 miles of the Colorado River.

But the “Colorado River” has not always traveled this distance. The Colorado River flowed from the subalpine headwater meadows of present-day Rocky Mountain National Park to the Gulf of California for millions and millions of years. The River got so developed in just the last 100 years that it has rarely flowed to the sea for decades. And, the Colorado River never did before 1921, but not because of hydrology.

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Indigenous peoples named the rivers of the Colorado Basin. Then, Western Europeans began applying their names, starting with Spanish exploration in the 16th century. Until 1921, the Spanish name “Colorado”—meaning “red”— flowed exclusively below the confluence of the Grand and Green Rivers deep inside modern-day Canyonlands National Park in Utah. As Europeans settled into the West, they named the stretch of river between the Green and the Gunnison Rivers the Grand River. Late in the 1800s, the name “Grand River” replaced many other river names and was applied to the growing river flowing from the western slopes of La Poudre Pass on the Continental Divide in northern Colorado to the confluence with the Green River in Utah (about 350 river miles).

Grand River Ditch

Today, the legacy of the name “Grand River” persists in place names. The Grand River lent its name to: the Grand Ditch, which pulls water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to the eastern slope; the town of Grand Lake, the City of Grand Junction, in the Grand Valley, from its location at the junction of the Gunnison and Colorado (formerly the Grand) Rivers. Both Utah and Colorado have a Grand County named after the river. However, the Grand Canyon was named by John Wesley Powell purely for the grandeur of the Canyon rather than for the river’s upper reaches.

Early in 1921, the Colorado River was at the center of a brawl over names and ownership brewing in the State of Colorado and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Honorable Colorado Congressman Edward Taylor, a Glenwood Springs resident, advocate for West Slope water, and known for being a fount of knowledge and love for Colorado, presented a determined case to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the United States House of Representatives. To Taylor names mattered, and he had one goal: to convince the Committee to pass a resolution to Congress that would officially change the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River. Although the states of Utah and Wyoming opposed it, Taylor had fuel for his case from supportive Coloradans and state legislators for the name change of the river, Colorado’s namesake river.

Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

There was disagreement. At that time, the Colorado River began in Utah below the confluence of the Grand and Green Rivers. Politicians from Utah and Wyoming opposed the name change because the Green River, which runs through Utah and Wyoming, is the longer tributary with a larger drainage area. Congressman Taylor rebutted their arguments with two justifications. First, the Grand River contributes a significantly larger volume of water than the Green River. And second, the Grand River originates in the State of Colorado and should be known as the Colorado River.

Congressman Taylor’s efforts triumphed. On July 25th, 1921, Congress passed House Joint Resolution 460, which officially changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River. But “Colorado” was just the last name in this amazing river’s long line of labels. A little over a year later, the  Colorado River Compact of 1922  was finalized, guiding the River’s apportionment.

Due to the historic name change, July 25th is now known as Colorado River Day. This day honors the River’s history and its critical importance to people and the environment. Riparian habitats like the forests and wetlands that line the Colorado River support some of the arid West’s most abundant and diverse bird communities, serving as home to some 400 species. The Colorado River also provides drinking water for more than 40 million people, 90% of the nation’s winter vegetable production, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farms and ranches, and supports 16 million jobs throughout seven states, with a combined annual economic impact of $1.4 trillion.

Congressman Taylor’s love for the Colorado River and his state serve as examples to us now when there is so much talk about water scarcity, conflict, a rethinking of river relationships, and needed rebalancing of how the West lives with the realities of the River’s water availability. The value of the Colorado River is essential to all of us and the ecosystems we depend upon, and it’s up to us to ensure its future.


United States. Congress. Renaming of the Grand River, Colorado. Hearing before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives on H. J. Res. 460. 66th Cong., 3rd sess. Washington: https://legisource.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Hearing-Report-Transcript-RenameGrandRiverColorado1921.pdf 

USBR Colorado River Compact: https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/pao/pdfiles/crcompct.pdf

Great Blue Heron. Photo: Tim Kuhn/Audubon Photography Awards

Freeing up #ColoradoRiver water from #California farms will take more than just money, just ask the farmers — KUNC #COriver #aridification

The Salton Sea (pictured above ) straddles the Imperial and Coachella valleys and has long been a sticking point in Colorado River deals. But the federal government recently committed up to $250 million for restoration efforts at the sea. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

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

The Imperial Valley produces $2.9 billion in crops and livestock each year. That’s because the valley’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID) holds the largest single allocation of Colorado River water – bigger than any other farming district or city between Wyoming and Mexico. But now, that water allocation is under increasing scrutiny from water managers looking to cut back on water use and correct a perilous gap between supply and demand on the Colorado River. The valley’s farmers are bound together by IID. The body represents growers in negotiations about water rights and wields a tremendous amount of clout. California’s share of Colorado River water is larger than any other state, and about 70% of it is earmarked for IID…

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/02/09/drying-out-of-the-american-southwest/#sthash.7xXVYcLv.dpuf

Imperial Valley growers often court criticism for the amount of water they use, but are quick to assert just what they do with it – grow a sizable portion of America’s vegetables. Estimates vary because Imperial’s greens are packaged and counted alongside veggies from other nearby regions, but around 90% of the nation’s leafy greens sold in the winter are grown with Colorado River water between a few valleys in California, Arizona and Mexico. Imperial contributes a large portion of that…

[Jack] Vessey and his peers are also churning out fields of alfalfa hay, a particularly thirsty crop fed to cattle. Vessey said alfalfa is an important piece of his growing portfolio, and can be planted when fields need a break between seasons of leafy greens better suited for human consumption. Alfalfa growth in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere across the river basin has drawn widespread criticism. Cities under pressure to use Colorado River water more judiciously are quick to point out that about 80% of the river’s water is used for agriculture, and some critics point to alfalfa as a glaringly inefficient use within that sector. The Colorado River basin as a whole ships an estimated $880 million of hay overseas each year, with most going to China, Japan and Saudi Arabia…

[John] Hawk’s sentiment is a common one around these parts. Conservation takes a backseat to the bottom line. New technologies and methods exist that could help farmers like Hawk cut back on water use, but there’s little incentive to install them without money on the table…Hawk argued that even compensated cuts would be painful – threatening local jobs and risking an increase to the cost of vegetables and the cost of beef and dairy produced with the help of Imperial hay…[Michael] Cohen is skeptical that drip irrigation could serve as a silver bullet for agencies looking to squeeze some extra water out of the Imperial Valley, and expects farmers would bristle at programs that incentivize them to fallow their fields – pausing or permanently stopping growth in some areas. The next frontier, he said, is shifting to different types of crops, exploring alternatives to alfalfa and other similar water-intensive grasses. That’s a process that could see some of the Colorado River’s biggest tensions play out in the grocery aisle.

Map credit: AGU

Webinar: #Geothermal Drilling and Grouting Fundamentals (short course) August 29, 2023 — NGWA #ActOnClimate

Geothermal exchange via Top Alternative Energy Sources

Click the link to register for the webinar on the NGWA website:


In this one-day short course, you will learn about the equipment and tools used to drill and install vertical ground loops. You will also learn the proper procedures for grouting geothermal boreholes.

The ground source heat pump industry has increased in activity with the extension of both the residential and commercial geothermal tax credits that were signed into law in 2022. As geothermal involves more work than an average water well, proper education is key for groundwater professionals to understand what is required.

Additionally, ISCO Industries will guide you through the proper methods of thermally fusing HDPE pipe. The demonstration, followed by hands-on participation, will focus on the two most common methods of thermal fusion applicable to the geothermal industry: manual butt fusion and socket fusion. All equipment and materials will be provided for your use. Upon completion, you will leave with an understanding of why HDPE is the absolute best material for geothermal installations.

Who should attend?

  • Drilling contractors
  • Sanitarians/health department personnel
  • Ground heat exchanger installers
  • HVAC contractors.