Game theory on the Colorado River: The prisoner’s dilemma

All of the controversy relative to the utilization of the Colorado is hampering the fullest development of the stream. As Governor Pittman said, it is impossible to plan ahead with any assurance when there is such conflict. Solution of all these differences is admittedly not easy. The economic and social future of the various Colorado river states will be influenced to a very great extent by the decisions. Naturally, each state seeks the most advantageous settlement for itself. The danger is that too much emphasis on the selfish advantage of each state will do each more harm … than each could possibly benefit through pressing its selfish viewpoint to the end.

Some time these conflicts will have to be settled—and the settlement, if it is to be effective and enduring, will have to be on a reasonably fair basis to all. Continuing delay in reaching settlement is more harmful than compromise.

Salt Lake Telegram, Feb. 2, 1948


  1. Here is a game theory suggestion that you may present. Each entity submits how much they agree to cut usage:
    (5%,10%,15%,20%) The average of submissions is then calculated. The difference between an entity’s submission and the average is calculated. If an entity submits 5%, and the average of submissions is 9%, then the lowballing entity must agree to 13% (their lowball difference added to the mean average). Conversely, an entity with a 15% submission only has to cut back 3% (15-9=6; 9-6=3)

  2. Interestingly, according to the article, Pittman was advocating for a trial before SCOTUS in order to expedite the “solution”.

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