The Colorado River

This blog serves in part as a sketchbook for my research for on the Colorado River. Over the years I’ve written many a post that I end up Googling later as reference material. This page is my attempt to gather those key posts into a single spot – so they’re easier for me to find, and with the hope that having the basic background material in one place might be of use to others as well.

  • Simon Rifkind’s great mistake: The faulty math embedded in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in the case of Arizona v. California, which lies at the heart of today’s Colorado River over-allocation problem.
  • Why is Lake Mead dropping? From 2010, an early explanation of what has come to be publicly described as the “Lower Basin structural deficit”. Because of Rifkind’s mistake (see above), if the Upper Basin makes its legally required delivery of 8.23 million acre feet per year at Lee Ferry, the combination of Lower Basin water use, evaporation and deliveries to Mexico mean Lake Mead just keeps dropping.
  • Colorado River System Conservation Program: Launched in 2014, the System Conservation Program is a modest effort to engage in water conservation around the basin to prop up the rapidly declining levels of Lake Powell and Lake mead.
  • We’ve already given enough: Each Colorado River Basin state has a reasonable argument for why it’s already sacrificed enough. Taken together, though, if each state digs in its heels, there’s not enough water to go around.
  • Minute 319: Background on the spring 2014 environmental pulse flow in the Colorado River Delta, and the “institutional plumbing” that made it possible.
  • 1,075 – what “shortage” means on the Lower Colorado River
  • DCP – Who takes how much shortages, and when? A table summarizing the 2007 shortage sharing guidelines and the Drought Contingency Plan

Science Be Dammed Working Paper Series

As part of the work surrounding our book Science Be Dammed: How Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River, Eric Kuhn and I (in sometimes collaborations with others) are writing a series of working papers exploring the policy implications of the book’s findings:


  1. Hi John,

    I recently started following your blog after searching for information on the Minute 319 pulse flow. Your posts are excellent. Thank you for keeping tabs on the event so others can be updated too.

    I am a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying environmental studies and studio arts. I’ll be graduating this May. Currently I am working on completing a thesis about the Colorado River Delta, and what perfect timing with this pulse flow event.
    I am excited about these events and felt is was necessary to send a shout out from Boulder to a fellow Colorado River advocate.

    Here’s to our rivers in the West!

  2. One of the best quotesI’ve heard about water and how precious it is comes from Cynthia Valle at about 7:15 into this video about water springs in the Grand Canyon:

    Understanding water availably, and water quality is essential in understanding our most precious resource: water.

    When I see this fresh, pure water coming out of the rock, whether it be a little dripped spring or a gushing water fall, it reminds me that I too have water running through my veins, and that’s what makes me alive. From the beginning of history, we always travelled or migrated to water, and I think the moment we learned how to bring water to us, is when we forgot, in a big way, how special, and essential, and precious water is.

    —Cynthia Valle

  3. Hi, John:
    I’m only sorry I didn’t find your blog years ago.
    That omission was rectified thanks to Hannah Holm at The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
    I’ve covered the West for 30-plus years as a reporter for The Durango Herald and the (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel and would like to occasionally link some of my writings and articles to your blog, from which I have at times unintentionally and otherwise “referenced.”
    Thanks for your work.

  4. Pingback: Is there a “Grand Bargain” to be had in the Colorado River Basin? – jfleck at inkstain

  5. Recently, I am finding many YouTube Videos on the Colorado River. Last night I saw an excellent one that provided a lot of information for me. One of the people in that video is R. Davis of the Bureau of Reclamation at Hoover Dam. I spoke with her earlier today and she recommended I try to locate J. Fleck. It is amazing how the Colorado has done an amazing job keeping everyone in these Western States hydrated and keeping Ag hydrated and still having water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. But, we did not have a good Winter this last year and I am concerned for many reasons. Is there a good time to speak with you? Phone would be best if that is okay.

  6. Arrived here via . I am a Water Person, it is my blood. For years I have followed the Water Woe’s of the World. The Western US is our National example, but water, both H2O and Potable Water, subsistance water, World Wide, is becoming such a contentious natural resource.
    Found Mr. Flecks name in the article above, note that (unless I just didn’t search enough) most of his commentaries are a few years old. It’s 2022 and things have gotten progressively worse. If one doesn’t seek current articles things change almost monthly, and we are in the onset of another scorching summer.
    Fortunately for us Middle Tennesseans we have ample water via numerous rivers flowing into the Mississippi. Yet even we should not take this blessing for granted, back only a few years ago who would ever have drempt that the Colorado would be where it is today.
    I’m well read and versed on the Colorado, by my count there are 153 Dams or other diversions of the Rivers Waters, 153!! What were we thinking.
    I’ll quit now, but for a fascinating read/research look into Ethiopia’s Great Rennaisance Dam which is going to reduce flow of the White Nile. Egypt and the Nile are one. Eqypt claims 95 percent of the Niles flow and with Sudan and Ethiopia now restricting much of that flow, bad things are likely to happen.
    The bully China is restricting flow of major rivers which supply both india and Bangaladesh. South America, Brazil, is in a critical water situation. The country of South Africa is all but out of Water. On and on and on.
    Water will become more valuable than Gold. Nothing, humans or animals or plants can live without it.
    Water Wars, Water will become more valuable than Gold.

  7. ‘Water is more valuable than oil’: the corporation cashing in on America’s drought (Guardian UK April 16, 2024)

    Flashback: “Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations.” Shawn Tully, Fortune magazine. May 15, 2000

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