Colorado River: Complexity, Legislation and Natural Law

Wed. 6/1 at 830am: What would have happened if the American West were defined by its watersheds rather than the abstract geopolitical boundaries we know today? In this episode of Watersheds As Commons, we hear from Stewart Udall, Floyd Dominy, Norris Hundley, David Brower, Lilian Hill, Charles Wilkinson, Sarah Natani, Edward Abbey and William deBuys.

Today on "Watersheds As Commons," we'll visit the watershed of the Colorado River, a 244,000 square mile expanse of landscape that encompasses much of the arid Southwestern United States.

The Colorado River system is comprised of several rivers including the Green River with headwaters in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, the San Juan River whose headwaters spring forth in the San Juan Mountains east of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and the Colorado River itself with headwaters on the western aspect of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. Other rivers including the Escalante, Paria, Virgin, Little Colorado, Bill Williams and Gila Rivers contribute to the flow of the main stem of the Colorado River. Areas of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona lie within the greater Colorado River watershed.

If John Wesley Powell, who mapped the watersheds of the American West had had his way in the latter decades of the 19th century, each of the many watersheds of the American West would be governed largely from within as individual commonwealths. Instead, the West was divided into states separated by ephemeral geopolitical boundaries as we know them today. If Powell's vision had been realized, water in the West would be viewed in an entirely different light.

Slideshow photo: Colorado River running through Grand Junction, Colorado