The Colorado River - water conflicts

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  • Created on: 11-01-13 07:45
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Colorado River Fact file:
Who are the players?
· Farmers ­ receive 80% of water allocation but most is wasted on flood
irrigation and inappropriate choices of crop
· City Dwellers ­ most areas are becoming increasingly more
urbanised and demand more water, Arizona now using its full share of
water for Phoenix and Tucson so fight for water is increasing
· Environmentalist and recreationalists ­ more people using the
lakes from recreational purposes which is threatening lakeshore areas
· Indigenous groups ­ native Americans along the river have water
rights through treaties and agreements from the 1880's which are now
being questioned leading to legal battles
· Mexican people ­ 90% of water used before the river reaches
Mexico, wetlands that were located on the delta is now a large mudflat so
the delta has been reduced in size causing local fisherman to move
elsewhere as there is little fish stock left.
· US federal government ­ under pressure from politicians not to
change water allocations, plans to line the canal with concrete to improve
water conservation however groundwater wouldn't be able to get through
limiting supplies to Mexico but Mexico are using more than their allocation.
This can cause conflict between US and Mexico making other issues more
strict e.g. illegal immigration and drug smuggling
What are the controversial issues?
Measures have been taken to prevent floods, generate electricity and provide water for homes and agriculture
however there is now a view, which suggests that these measures have been costly, inefficient, divisive and
environmentally damaging. Another major issue is the river runs through 7 states and parts of Mexico so there
are conflicts surrounding territorial sovereignty and integrity (how much each area uses and what they do along
the river e.g. dams).
What are the benefits and to whom?
· Flood control ­ Farmers and Mexican people (most groups as less water wasted)
· Power to pump the water ­ all groups other than environmentalists as they have access to more water and
environmentalists would want less water as it would attract more tourism
· Domestic water supply ­ mainly US federal government as they don't have to rely on other places to get
water supplies
· Irrigation for agriculture ­ Farmers, improves crop yield
· Industrial development ­ US federal government increased development and improves economy
· Sediment control ­ Environmentalists, flow and species are not affected as much
· Recreation opportunities ­ Recreationalists, more interest so developing industry
· Wildlife protection ­ Environmentalists, one less issue to deal with
What are the problems and to whom?
· Water loss through evaporation and seepage ­ all groups as less water to go round so possible shortages
· Salinisation ­ farmers mainly as crops could fail but also other groups as water may need to be treated to
reduce salination to make water safe to drink
· Groundwater overdraft ­ US federal government and environmentalist costly process economically and
· Waste water ­ all groups, can lead to water shortages
· Environmental damage ­ environmentalists, major conflicts with many people involved in the process of
damaging the environment
How has the issue changed over time?
· 50 years ago free flowing river now has 4 major dams and reservoirs, hundreds of smaller dams, a network
of aqueducts and canals that supply water to farmers, ranchers and cities
· Legal pacts in 1922 and 1944 allocate more water to the states in the river's upper basin (Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado and New Mexico) and lower basin (Arizona, Nevada and California) and to Mexico, than now flows
through the river, even in years without a drought

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The Colorado River basin now includes some of the driest lands in the US
· So many withdrawals means the river rarely makes it to the Gulf of California
· Due to increased population now demand for water is still increasing so available supplies are decreasing
rapidly…read more


Mr A Gibson

This is a ready made case study that you could use to prepare entirely from for a longer answer question - there is enough detail for the higher level marks here.


a good resource, some of the "costs" section doesn't make much sense, but a lot of relevant information here.

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