Should we replace the Colorado’s “Law of the River”? Thoughts from Kathy Jacobs….

Had occasion to revisit this written several years ago by the University of Arizona’s Kathy Jacobs, it seems very much on point as we pursue the next set of Colorado River negotiations:

There has been an unending chorus of people who are convinced that the “Law of the River”—the numerous contracts, laws, court decisions, and regulations that apportion the water and govern the use of the Colorado among the seven basin states and Mexico—is broken. They argue that this governance structure will never survive the realities of drought, climate change, over-allocation, tribal water needs, and the demands of the federal Endangered Species Act, and that it is imperative that a new management regime be developed.

The reality of what has evolved over the past 20 years between the basin states and the federal government is a mutual understanding that negotiated side agreements can relieve some of the pressures on the unwieldy system. Most major players agree that taking apart the existing foundation of the interstate water management system would lead to chaos, which is why so much effort has been put into protecting the existing system, despite its obvious flaws. The desire to manage within and around the existing system has actually led to the most innovative solutions, whether it is shortage sharing to protect Las Vegas and the lowest priority users, or interstate water banking, or agreements with Mexico to store some of its water in US reservoirs. Whether the system survives another 20 years is another question, but it might be a good bet.


  1. It seems to me that, slowly and painfully, a common understanding of the chaotic legal/normative system is emerging. Am I delusional?

  2. Laws and regulations made are laws and regulations that can be disassembled. This management scheme was flawed from the start (SEE: Kuhn & Fleck’s SCIENCE BE DAMMED,2019), so if scientific operation is most desirable why do consumers allow obviously inadequate water professionals to adhere to this rickety plan? The answer: careerists all, such professionals are generally unimaginative. They cannot ever solve major water supply problems because they are self-constrained by formal academic training and the corporate milieu of conformism. Readers disgusted with my view might be bold enough to GOTO Brazil’s premier online science journal: CALIBRE (December 2018).

  3. Has Mexico REALLY agreed to have the US “store” water for them. From things I have read, we tend more often to suck the river dry, providing them a salt-laden trickle. Asking for a friend…

  4. I agreed with everything that Ms Jacobs said. The vision on how the river was to be utilized one hundred years ago does not fit the present paradigm.

    Deep down inside I always thought that the management of the rivers would eventually fall under some ‘National Water Security Act’ as defined by new laws. The key word being Security.

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