No Water for the New West: A Critique of the Colorado River's Two Basin Approach




Pham, Emma

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The Colorado River, spanning 1,450 miles and supplying water to seven western states and Mexico, is facing a dire situation due to climate change and increased demand for water. The river serves almost 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres of agricultural land annually. The two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are currently at the lowest levels ever recorded. The federal government has mandated the seven basin states to cut back on their water usage by up to 4 million acre-feet to mitigate the effects of drought and allocate the water supply in a sustainable manner. However, tensions have arisen between the Upper and Lower Basin states regarding water conservation strategies, revealing the need for collaboration and compromise. The megadrought is not just a scientifically based problem, but now a social, political, and economic one, and requires progressive technological and conservation-based solutions as well as significant investment in infrastructure. This thesis aims to investigate the root of these problems, assess what is currently being done to address the megadrought, and propose potential solutions. My research centers on questions regarding the past and present operation of the Colorado River Basin system, the changing dynamics of Upper Basin versus Lower Basin water management, and how the Colorado River Basin now responds to the challenges of managing water resources amidst the drought, its many stakeholders, and slow-moving institutions. My proposed solutions include water banks, nature-based solutions, improving agriculture and infrastructure, municipal conservation, and the federal government’s involvement.


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