Summary of "New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century"

Summary of

New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century

By Gary D. Weatherford & F Lee Brown

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century, Gary D. Weatherford & F Lee Brown, (eds). (New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1986), 244pp.

New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century is forwarded by Governor Bruce Babbitt of Arizona. This work is an examination of the history and persistent issues surrounding the Colorado River which have erupted periodically in litigation and worse. The authors offer an assessment of the issues which those managing the Colorado River will likely be presented with in the coming century.

New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century is required reading for ARSC 5020/7020 as taught by Professors Michael Glantz and Jim Wescoat. This work will be of interest to those who seek an understanding of the historical conflicts which have arisen over the use of the Colorado River and value well-formed opinions about the shape of such conflicts in the future. The work is based upon the proceedings of the Colorado River Working Symposium held at Bishop's Lodge, Sante Fe, New Mexico, May 23-26, 1983.

The editors begin with an introduction which offers a brief history of the Colorado River. They also address the problem that arises because "Colorado River management occurs within the context of national, regional, state, local and tribal water policies - all policies which are changing." This is followed by nine chapters, each by a different author, which examines some aspect of the management of the river. The first chapter after the introduction offers an institutional history of the river. The author follows the flow of the river through different management contexts and discusses the major projects undertaken and litigation pursued within each context.

David H. Getches and Charles J. Meyers co-author chapter three which examines the persistent legal issues surrounding the Colorado river. One of these issues is the political and economic competition among agricultural, municipal and industrial uses. The authors also address the assertion that the 1922 Colorado River Compact is inequitable to the less-developed upper Basin. Chapter four constructs, and responds to, four hypothetical shocks to allocation institutions in the Colorado Basin. Co-authors discuss the possible effects of: a) renewed disruption in international trade resulting in demands for new energy sources in the Western hemisphere, b) the quantification of Indian water claims (resultant from Winter's doctrine) and those claims are large, c) a large inter-state market in water rights develops, and d) a deep and sustained drought in the upper Colorado Basin.

Chapter five addresses the historical responses and proposes possible future institutional responses to prolonged drought. The author discusses in some depth the: Colorado Compact of 1922, the Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948, and the Mexican Treaty. He addresses the salinity problem, which is of particular concern for New Mexico. The author predicts that Congressional intervention will be necessary to establish a unified approach to water allocation and use demands. Paul L. Bloom discusses what has been referred to as the 'Law of the River'. He points out that there is no one law, but rather many laws, rulings, agreements and compacts which in each new case must be discovered and applied uniquely. Bloom states: "This is not surprising. Natural resource law in the West has been generally a uniquely empirical system, evolving out of a political-legal tradition of ad hoc problem resolution."

Chapter seven proposes that a market approach to water allocation, asserted by this author to be as yet untried, be instituted and given a trial. The next chapter contains suggestions for an alternative water policy for the Colorado River Basin which the authors assert will be more equitable. Roderick Nash offers his appraisal of wilderness values and the Colorado River. The final chapter proposes a new confluence in the life of the Colorado River. The editors offer an epilogue which addresses the problems associated with unusually high precipitation (a now rare occurrence) for the dams on the Colorado River and the likelihood of increases in these problems if our increasingly CO2 enriched planet experiences the hypothesized global warming. The text is appended with biographical sketches of the participants of the Colorado River Working Symposium.

New Courses for the Colorado River: Major Issues for the Next Century is a careful and extensive examination of the historical difficulties surrounding the allocation and use of the water in the Colorado River. It is also a thoughtful, if rather sobering, assessment of the probable issues which will arise in the near future for those who concern themselves with the Colorado River.