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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: February 2019

Chapter Eight - Reflections on the Colorado River

from Part II - River Basins around the World: Case Studies



The history of the management of Colorado River involves a complex evolution of agreements and rivalries, both on a federal level among the seven Basin States of the United States and within an international context between the United States and Mexico (Figure 8.1). Commonly referred to as the Law of the River, the regulatory framework that determines how water is managed is actually a compilation of compacts, treaties, amendments, federal laws, court decisions and decrees, contracts and operational guidelines that have been developed over the course of approximately 100 years. The conditions during which the various intranational and international arrangements were developed varied significantly over time, as did the rationale and urgency to reach agreements between parties (Fleck 2016). The three enabling conditions as described in this book – a recognized interdependence between parties, a willingness to explore conflicting values and creative solutions and the willingness to create mechanisms for monitoring and adaptation – have been present to varying degrees at different stages throughout the basin. Agreements have historically emerged in the absence of all three elements simultaneously existing, but some modern agreements have been predicated on these elements. The objective of this chapter is to describe the contexts of the major agreements on the Colorado River, compare them with the enabling conditions of this book and consider any adaptations to this thesis.

Prior to any analysis, it is important to acknowledge that the drivers for intranational and international agreements are distinctly different for Colorado River. Early in the history of water development of rivers in the western United States, Congress authorized the Basin States to enter into compacts that would devolve much of the decision- making authority to state- level governance. The relationships among the Basin States over the river have largely been motivated by a desire to retain a high degree of regional autonomy and thus avoid involvement or interference from the bureaucracy and political ebbs and flows in Washington DC. As long as the rules of sharing and allocation are clear, mutually agreed upon by the parties and follow all federal laws, the US Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) under the Department of the Interior would administer the river according to the intranational agreements reached among the Basin States.