Geography Colorado River Geographers Can Tell You That The One Thing That Most Rivers And Their Adjacent Flood Plains In The
.. e Powell. The Federal Governments outlook is, “why give the tribes more water?” They gave away their rights, and the Federal government does not have the money for water irrigation projects that would benefit so few people. There is another side to the Indian issue, “first in time, first in right”. this means that the Indians were there first, before the laws, so therefore the Indians have first right to the water.
This would put a totally different slant on distribution of Colorado River water, but most people feel that this issue would be tied up in litigation for years, and because of the benefits of so few, the Indians would likely lose. Citizens groups have become more vocal in the management of the lower Colorado River Basin. The river water has historically been given to agricultural uses. In recent times, urban sprawl has infringed on the agriculture, 80% of the Colorado river water is still used for crops, but scarcity and expensive water is limiting the agriculture. The Imperial Valley Irrigation district wastes about 15% of its water.
Conservation has led to the lining of canals with cement. This had brought about charges that it prevents seepage from filling ground water aquifers. Water experts fear that depleting local water supplies will empty underground reservoirs, so they want more water from the Colorado. Maintaining stream flow of tributaries is necessary for preserving habitat and underground aquifers. Infrared satellite photos which pick up plant growth as red, show the area of the Colorado Delta in Mexico, the Mexicali, and San Louis Valley as desolate, with few pale red patches, but the area of the canals in the Imperial Valley show vibrant red. The growing population explosion in the southwest have given the municipalities a loud voice in the fight for more water, but most of the laws still favor agriculture.
Agriculture produces economic advantages, government subsidies and facilities. The Clean Water Act sets effluent standards for water coming from ‘point sources’ (pipes and ditches), but agricultural return flow is exempt. In 1980, the State of Arizona passed the most stringent water management program. This law discourages farmers from using Central Arizona Project (CAP) water to increase production of heavy water user crops such as cotton, rice and citrus, by having growers cut back on ground water use equal to their use of CAP water. The farmers can also sell their water rights to developers and local water systems.
The City of Tucson is perhaps the most water conscience city in America. They have mandatory conservation, all golf courses and city parks use reclaimed water, or water that has been recycled. They ban outdoor fountains and utilize low flow toilets and showers. The city has cut their water consumption 25% since 1974. Sadly, most of the west has not practiced water conservation.
The recent six year drought in Southern California, when many of the cities were required to conserve water, and some even had water patrols to cite people for wasting water, forced people to conserve water or face stiff penalties. For years California had ‘borrowed’ water from the upper basin and used Arizona and New Mexico’s unused portion of lower basin water. The water supply of the lower Colorado Rive Basin had, for the first time, used up its entire share of river water. This meant severe conservation of water. By 1990, after heavy rains in Arizona, California was again using other states water. People went back to their old habits of wasting precious water. Many people felt that because conservationists are always crying about water shortages, they have cried wolf too often, they don ‘t believe there is a water shortage, that it is only an excuse for raising water rates.
On April 1, 1994, California State water officials said that California is again in a drought. Many people will ignore this in view of recent heavy rains. People have to understand that the water is only transported to Southern California. If there is no rain or snow in Colorado (or the Sierra’s in California’s case) it can result in water shortages. A threat of water allocation is a threat to a person or a communities way of life. New growth actually encourages more water consumption.
New houses mean more dish washers, washing machines and backyard pools. This is not the way to manage water. A conscientious effort must be made by government, and residents to share the water equally and conserve water equally. In 1980 legislature authorized the transfer of water rights, or water marketing. Some people believed this would lead to an open market, the price of the water would reflect the cost of developing and distributing the water.
The highest bidder would receive the water. In theory, the more the water costs, the more people would conserve. But agriculture is heavily subsidized and therefore prices can fluctuate. Commercial and residential users would be subject to high water rates, with the wealthy being able to afford most of the water. This is an unfair and unjust system.
A marketing system that is fair and responsible, one that mandates conservation, should be enacted. Water needs to be dispersed equally. The 1922 compact, while good in its time, is antiquated by today’s standards and usage. “The politics of the Colorado River Basin is nothing more than a fabric of promise, incurred at different times, under different conditions and often for different purposes’. (3) The Colorado River could in the future be augmented by other water. Some have suggested connecting the Columbia River to the Colorado by way of pumps, siphons and canals. These plans are very costly and unless water becomes scarce, this is not a reality.
Some California coastal cities have made plans for alternate water in times of shortage. Ocean water desalination plants are in the planning stages or under construction. This method of water augmentation is also very costly. Water is a social good, a public trust, should communities be able to decide independently about water use? The seven states of the Colorado River Basin should follow the advice of Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and form a commission, along with representatives of the Federal Government with input from the Colorado River Indian Tribes, to regulate, manage, control, enforce and educate the public and private sectors regarding the Colorado River Water. Too many agencies, too many private water companies all add to the confusion of the water rights of the Colorado River.
Water banks need to be set up. Lake Mead is designated as a water bank for storage if all parties agree to this, but with the history of regulations regarding Colorado River water, there will most likely be a long and drawn out battle over this idea. Only the fear of no water or a severe drought seems to move passage on laws regarding the water. People come to the Colorado River to play and enjoy the water. “Six national parks and recreation areas along the Colorado’s shores support a multi-million dollar recreation industry of boating, hiking, fishing and white water rafting”.
(4). Recreation has become a huge part of the Colorado River System. This has brought loud cries from the conservationists. In 1991 the Arizona stretch of the Colorado River was named the most endangered river of 1991 by American Rivers, a conservation group. Many of the fish and wildlife have disappeared.
Special areas have been designated as wildlife protection areas. The Endangered Species Act protects the river and can be enacted independently of the Clean Water Act. Federal Fish and Game, state resources and conservation groups have all worked to make the public aware of this problem. The United States Fish and Wildlife designated the Colorado River north of Parker Dam to Needles as a critical habitat. This was done to protect the squawfish, the razorback sucker, the humpback, and bonytail chubs. Sportsmen fear this could severely handicap recreation on Lake Havasu by limiting boating. There are other areas that have suffered from altering the Colorado River.
When the Alamo River Project was implemented, the natural river bed was raised to a higher level than the surrounding land. In 1900, George Chaffey decided to run a canal through Mexico using the Colorados old channel to the sink in California. The canal turned north into the United States east of Mexicali. From there the channel, now known as the Alamo River, led almost straight north. Chaffey called the southern half the Imperial Valley.
In may of 1901, Colorado River water began to run into this channel. In a few years the valley had 700 miles of irrigation ditches. Settlers piled in, homesteading federal land or buying it outright from the railroad. To get irrigation water they had to buy stock in water companies controlled by the Imperial Land Company, a front for Chaffey and Rockwoods California Developing Company. By 1904 there were 100,000 acres under irrigation.
Then silt blocked up the head of the canal. Water delivery to farmers was all but cut off. In the fall of 1904, The California Development Company made a cut in the river to bypass the blockage. During the spring floods of 1905, the Colorado, completely out of control, rushed through the cut and surged on to the Alamo River, its old overflow channel, then plunged on into the New River. Digging into the soft soil, it created a 28 foot high waterfall, scouring out the rivers channel to the width of a quarter mile.
It emptied into what is today known as the Salton Sea. The Salton is a bizarre looking sea which was 45 miles long, 17 miles wide and about 80 feet deep. After engineers got the Colorado under control it should have dried up through evaporation. The sea has no outlets and only gets about 2.3 inches of rain per year. The sea has been sustained by drainwater from the 500,000 acres of heavily watered and fertilized growing fields of the Imperial Valley, one of the most fruitful desert irrigation projects in history. Agricultural waste water carries various nutrients, including nitrates, as well as pesticides, potentially toxic levels of the element selenium, and four million tons of salt leached from the soil every year.
The Salton Sea is now a lost city. In the late 1950s, it was supposed to become the Golden States great new playland, an alluring combination of the desert and sea. M. Penn Phillips and other developers of Salton City bought 19,600 acres that they subdivided on paper for house lots, shops, schools, parks and churches. They spent $1 million on a fresh water distribution system with 260 miles of water lines.
They put in power lines and 250 miles of elegantly paved streets. They built a yacht club and a $350,000 18-hole golf course. A big time gambler Ray Ryan with reputed mob connections bought land on the other side of the sea and sank more than $2 million into a resort he called the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. Unexpected rains kept raising the level of the sea and flooding shoreline homes and buildings. A steadily growing concern set in about the waters brownish tinge and about pollution levels and increasing salt content. North Shore Beach and Yacht Club is deserted today, its breakwater crumbling to the ground, its pool full of stank rotten water.
Across the water visitors northbound on Route 86 to Salton City find not sailboats and bikini-clad blondes on water skis, or docks full of pleasure boats, but instead a scattering of houses, RV parks, run down motels and empty lots along grassy overgrown streets. The Alamo River and the New River both feed into the Salton Sea. Both flow north from Mexico receiving drainwater along the way. The New River is considered the most polluted river in the United States. It passes through Mexicali, Mexico, a city of more than 750,000 people that dumps in raw sewage, inadequately treated sewage, leachate from landfills, and industrial and slaughter house wastes, as well as trash, toilet paper, dead dogs and phosphate detergents. The sea was for years one of the greatest fishing spots in California, and has long been one of Americas great birding spots.
Birders flock to its shores, listing their sightings on clipboards maintained at ornithological sites. At least 380 species have been reported, a number exceeded in North America only by the Texas coast in spring. Recently there have been increasing signs of trouble. Early in 1992, biologist Bill Radke of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service saw a number of eared grebes stagger up on shore and die.
Many were so disoriented that they stood still while gulls tore into their flesh and began eating them on the spot. This continued and the final death toll rose, by conservative estimates, to 150,000 grebes. Radke helped collect 40,000 carcasses. Necropsies ruled out infectious disease as the cause of death, but the tissues of some of the dead birds contained three times more selenium than that of grebes tested at the Salton Sea three years earlier. It is obvious that the Alamo River Project has had quite a disastrous effect on the California sink. We must also view the good that it has done, no matter how polluted the Salton Sea is today.
In the early 1900s, this project was responsible for irrigating over 100,000 acres, today that number is over 500,000 acres of land. It is also a large bird sanctuary where over 380 species have been documented. To answer the question, “Did the Colorado River help or hinder settlement in the Western United States?” It is obvious that much of the Western U.S. is very dependent upon fresh water from this great river. The majority of the water that is supplied to the Los Angeles Basin area is tapped out of the Colorado River. Major towns and cities in Arizona such as Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, and Tucson are largely dependent upon the Colorado for water. The entire Southwest, in general, relies on the Colorado River for its major source of water. Without the Colorado, it would not be possible to have so many settlements in this beautiful and unique part of the world.
WORKS CITED (1) Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert, The American West and its Disappearing Water, Viking Penguin, In., New York, 1986. p. 319 (2) Gary D. Weatherford., & F. Lee Brown, New Courses for the Colorado River, University of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe., 1986. p. 18 (3) New Courses for the Colorado River.
p. 188 (4) Paul Gray, “Glen Canyon Dam”, Time, July 22, 1991., p. 22 BIBLIOGRAPHY Carrier, Jim, “The Colorado, A River Drained Dry”, National Geographic, June 1991., p. 4. Doerner,William R., “Big Splash in the Arid West”, Time, November 23, 1985, p. 43.
Fradkin, Philip L., A River No More, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1984. Gray, Paul, “Glen Canyon Dam”, Time, July 22, 1991., p. 22. Hundley, N.