The Colorado, Then and Now

I’m reading Frank Waters’ The Colorado, which offers an odd vantage point on the history of the river basin. It was written in 1946 when, as Waters points out in an introduction written when it was republished in the mid-1980s, Phoenix was the only city in the basin of any heft whatsoever. It is clear from the introduction that Waters couldn’t grasp the significance of the changes that had occurred in the intervening four decades. Or perhaps he was just in a hurry. Whatever, he clearly thought the changes bad.

Colorado River at its confluence with the Little Colorado

Colorado River at its confluence with the Little Colorado

When the Colorado River Compact was being negotiated in 1922, the remarkable Delph Carpenter, Colorado’s representative on the seven-state negotiating body, knew that the upper basin states were going to grow much more slowly than the lower basin states, but that they would eventually need the water. But I’m not sure what Carpenter thought that meant. The development of the Colorado’s water at the time was primarily for agriculture. That is what “reclamation” meant, right – making the desert bloom? Who, if anyone, saw the rise of Phoenix or Las Vegas, and when?

(Image courtesy Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program)

One Comment

  1. John,

    Delph Carpenter did make it happen. Before the Colorado River Compact he had some legal experiences between Colorado and Nebraska on water issues. I think this experience helped to forge his skills at Bishop’s Lodge where they were needed.

    Your title: “The Colorado, Then and Now”, pretty much explains that no one really predicted the future we see today. The Californians to the compact were the first ones to understand the growth problem we all face in the SouthWest.

    Ironic that the Compact was conceived in the Bridal Suite at Bishop’s Lodge.

    Suggested reading on Delph Carpenter:

    A Legal perspective on the Compact:

    Is your next post: “The Colorado, Now and Tomorrow” should be interesting.


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