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Roger Weller, geology instructor
The Colorado River
A Long History
The Colorado River has been cutting its way through America into Mexico for nearly twelve million years. One of the river’s original names was the Grand River until 1921 when the state of Colorado requested it be changed to The Colorado River. The great river alternates between rapid sections and very calm sections and makes for an exciting adventure throughout the American southwest. The river passes through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. This once wild waterway ranges in depths of 6 feet to as deep as 90 feet in some parts, with an average of about 20 feet.
1. The river is supplied by ice that is formed in winter high atop the Colorado Rockies in Rocky Mountain National Park.
2. It moves through Kewuneeche Valley
3. Into the Shadow Mountain Resevoir
4. Into Lake Granby
5. From there, it enters Gore Canyon
6. Then flows through Glenwood Canyon
7. Through Grand Valley into Grand Junction
8. Through Aches National Park
9. Through Horse Point State Park
10. Into Canyonland National Park where it meets Green River
11. Then flows into Lake Powell
12. Turns at Horse Shoe Bend
13. Into Lees Ferry
14. Through Marble Canyon
15. Into the Grand Canyon
16. Where it flows into Lake Mead
17. Then forms a portion of the boundary between Arizona, and Nevada as well as the boundary between Arizona and California
18. At last, the lower course of the river (which no longer reaches the sea due to damming and irrigation canals) ends in Mexico near Sonora
Throughout the history of the Southwest, the Colorado River has
decided the fate of the people in those regions by affecting the ecological
systems on its banks and in it’s flood plains. The need to tame this powerful
river reached a heightened urgency after the flood of California’s Imperial
Valley in the early 1900s. Allocation of the river’s water is governed by the
Colorado River Compact, which supplies water for agricultural and municipal
purposes. In fact, about ninety-percent of the river’s water is diverted for
irrigation purposes in major cities such as; Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix,
Tucson, Corpus Christi, and Las Vegas etc. Amazingly, over 100% of the water in
the Colorado has been allocated to several communities. This water is supplied
by a series of canals and 29 dams.
The most famous dam on the Colorado River is the Hoover Dam ambitiously constructed in 1936. At times, Lake Mead (located behind the Hoover Dam) holds enough water to supply the surrounding area for two years. Afterward, the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed to prevent silt and sediments from building up behind the Hoover Dam. Before the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, the river moved around 500,000 tons of silt and sediment a day. That sediment is now trapped in Lake Powell, and the once “red river” presently flows a bluish-green color.
There are less publicized dams along the Colorado River, such as the Parker Dam, Davis Dam, Palo Verde Diversion Dam and Imperial Dam in Southern, California.
Unfortunately, the many diversions on the river have had some negative effects. For example, the river can no longer “clean” its shores and beaches in some regions to deposit fresh sand in the inner canyons. The water, which passes through three major deserts, has cooled from an average temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This decrease in temperature has caused the extinction of several species of native fish. Also, the Colorado River Delta in Mexico is deprived of silt and vital nutrients, which has changed a once lush environment to infertile land.
The Future of The Colorado
As the population in the southwest continues to grow, the future of the Colorado becomes less certain. With a reduction in the quality of the water tapped from the Colorado the cities in this arid region must consider the effects on crop production and the vitality of their communities. Will there be enough water to sustain all the cities, which rely on the river? Only time will tell. For now, these communities must consider alternative water supplies and devise a plan for a more reliable water source in the future.
All photos courtesy of Wikipedia.com
The Grand Canyon Explorer
The Colorado River
Desert USA: The Ultimate Desert Resource
Photo of Colorado from Space
Wikipedia: The free Encyclopedia
Sharing Colorado River Water: History, Public Policy
and the Colorado River Compact by Joe Gelt
Copyright (c) 2006 Samantha Mickens.
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