New Voices Seeking Input, More Transparency in Management of the Colorado River

On October 20th, 2011 Nuestro Rio partner Escuela Tlateloco took 40 high school kids out on the Colorado River at Little Gore Canyon.


New voices are emerging in the Colorado River basin, asking for a say and more transparency in how the Colorado and its tributaries are managed. These stakeholders are asserting their interests as uncertainty grows around new water development, water supply reliability, and the health of the rivers throughout the basin.

Up until now, closed-door negotiations between the federal Bureau of Reclamation, state agencies and major water users have decided new projects and policies in the basin. In large part this governance style is due to the incredibly complex legal and institutional framework, known as the Law of the River, in which these decisions must be made. Neither the federal government, nor the states, nor the major water users can manage the river alone, but in their need to negotiate with each other, they have often excluded others from the room.

There are several shelves full of Colorado River histories, and authors include Reisner, Fradkin, Hundley, and Hiltzik, to name a few. These books recount how the region’s power brokers of water – affectionately known as the water buffalos – divided the water and built the dams. But the Colorado River books don’t yet tell the stories of the communities and interests that are speaking up of late. Here are a few:

A group representing Latinos in seven states, Nuestro Rio, has asked the federal government to think about their culture’s historic connections to the river in long-term planning for the basin.  In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, the group’s director in Nevada, Andrew Ramirez, said “It’s not just ‘a’ river; it’s ‘our’ river. It has a historical and cultural importance to many groups of people.”

The Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes, recently passed a resolution noting their dissatisfaction at being left out of a major Colorado River planning study, and asked for more meaningful participation. A number of tribes with legal claims to the Colorado’s water have not yet settled their rights, and both the future of their reservations and the future of the river hang in the balance.

And a group representing more than 350 businesses such as rafting outfitters, bed and breakfasts, and fishing guides, Protect the Flows, is making the case that a healthy Colorado River is integral to their bottom lines.  The owner of Blue River Anglers in Colorado, Zeke Hersh, told the Summit Daily: “Jobs are very important right now. We do not want to lose one job… as we decide how to manage the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries.”

The voices will continue to mount as the challenges in managing the Colorado begin to have more widespread effects. Finding lasting solutions will require that all stakeholders have meaningful avenues for involvement.

Jennifer Pitt is the Colorado River Project Director for Environmental Defense Fund.



Meet the Author
Jennifer Pitt is the Colorado River Project Director for Environmental Defense Fund. She works with Colorado River water users throughout the Colorado River basin—including seven states in the United States and two in Mexico—to develop practical programs to restore river habitats and to dedicate water to environmental resources. She has worked as a park ranger and a Congressional aide, and has a Masters degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University.