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Copyright (c) 2002 Ecology Law Quarterly
Ecology Law Quarterly

ARTICLE: The Last Green Lagoon: How and Why the Bush Administration Should Save the Colorado River Delta


28 Ecology L.Q. 903


Robert Jerome Glennon* and Peter W. Culp**


The late Marc Reisner once wrote: "In the East, to "waste' water is to consume it needlessly or excessively. In the West, to waste water is not to consume it - to let it flow unimpeded and undiverted down rivers." 1 By Reisner's western standards, the modern Colorado River represents the ultimate achievement in hydrological engineering - a river that in most years no longer reaches the sea. With the river now supporting more than 30 million people and 3.7 million acres of irrigated farmland, every drop of the Colorado is carefully planned and controlled, delivered with mathematical precision through a nearly incomprehensible plumbing system of dams, headgates, and canals. 2

Even more amazing - or terrifying - is the speed with which this feat of engineering was accomplished. Less than a century ago, the Colorado was a muddy, free flowing river. Diversions of water from the river did not even begin until the early years of the twentieth century, when settlers in California's Imperial Valley began to draw water from the river. 3 As late as 1916, steamboats journeyed regularly from the Gulf of California through the Colorado River Delta, navigating well past the town of Yuma, Arizona to provide materials and supplies for early miners. 4 Today, a canoe would barely float on much of the river's length below the last diversion at Morelos Dam.

While the transformation of the Colorado from river to rivulet has had tremendous environmental consequences throughout ...
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