The once mighty and untamed Colorado River is the principal river of the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico. It was considered the American Nile since it resembled the Nile river in Egypt. Both Rivers provided substantial amount of water to desert landscapes.
The Colorado River drains and expansive 1,450-miles (2,330 km) and encompasses throughout seven U.S. states and two Mexican states. From the Rocky Mountains, the river flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada line, where it turns south towards the international border. After entering Mexico, the Colorado river once formed a large delta, then emptied into the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora.The Colorado is a vital source of water for agricultural and urban areas in the southwestern desert lands of North America which has immensely depleted the endangered river. Currently the water of the mighty river does not reach the Gulf of Mexico.
The Colorado River is famously known for its dramatic canyons and whitewater rapids. The river and its tributaries are now controlled by a structured system of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts, that provides irrigation and municipal water supply for close to 50 million people. The Colorado’s large flow are used for generating hydroelectric power, and its major dams regulate peaking power. Since the mid-20th century, intensive water consumption has dried the lower 100 miles (160 km) of the river such that it no longer reaches the sea except in years of heavy runoff.
Native Americans have inhabited the Colorado River basin for at least 8,000 years. Between 2,000 and 1,000 years ago, the river and its tributaries fostered large, sedentary agricultural civilizations, which may have been some of the most sophisticated indigenous cultures in North America. These societies are believed to have collapsed due to a combination of severe drought and poor land use practices. Most native peoples that inhabit the river basin today are descended from other groups that settled in the region beginning about 1,000 years ago.
Europeans first entered the Colorado River watershed in the 15th century, before the Columbus landed in the American continent. In 1540 explorers, Hernando De Alarcon and Melachor Diaz from Spain began mapping and claiming the area. They sailed up the Gulf of Mexico and travel up the Colorado River to what is now Yuma, Arizona. The area they had explored later became part of Mexico upon its independence from Spain in 1821.
After the Colorado River basin became part of the U.S. in 1846, the river’s course was still largely unknown, and the whereabouts of its headwaters and mouth were still the subject of myths and speculation. Several expeditions charted the Colorado in the mid-19th century, of which one was the first to run the rapids of the Grand Canyon, led by John Wesley Powell in 1869. American explorers collected valuable information that would later be used to investigate the feasibility of developing the river for navigation and water supply.
Large-scale settlements of the lower basin began in the mid-to-late 19th century, with steamboats providing transportation and trade along the Colorado and Gila rivers. Lesser numbers settled in the upper basin, which was also the setting of major gold strikes in the 1860s and 1870s. They generally settled near Yuma, Arizona since it was the lowest point of the mighty river. Establishing the Yuma Crossing and Fort Yuma.
Major engineering of the river basin began around the start of the 20th century, with many guidelines for development established in a series of domestic and international treaties known as the “Law of the River”. The U.S. federal government was the main driving force behind the construction of hydraulic engineering projects in the river system, although many state and local water agencies were also involved. Most of the major dams in the river basin were built between 1910 and 1970, with the system keystone, Hoover Dam, completed in 1935. Because of these developments, the Colorado River is now considered among the most controlled and litigated in the world, with every drop of its water fully allocated. High rates of water removal for irrigation and industry combined with declines in natural runoff due to climate change could lead to severe shortages by the mid-21st century, endangering power generation and water supply.
Currently the Colorado River is one of the most endangered rivers in the United States. For more information on the Endangered Colorado River check out http://changethecourse.us/