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The Colorado River

Life Blood of the American Southwest

Life Blood of the American Southwest

The Colorado River starts in Rocky Mountain National Park along the jagged edge of the Continental Divide at over 12,000 feet of elevation. The river cascades, flows, tumbles, and rumbles through 1,450 miles of mountains, canyons, high plains, and low deserts on its journey to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. The entire Southwest United States completely depends on the Colorado River and its tributaries – the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, and California use the river’s water for farming, drinking, growing lawns, and generating hydroelectric power.

Thirty million people in the Southwest use the Colorado River’s water for their material sustenance; millions more use the river itself for recreation and spiritual enjoyment. The river quenches our thirst, feeds our souls, enlivens our senses. And we are not the only inhabitants using this river – its waters, canyons, and habitats provide a vibrant but deeply threatened ecosystem for untold numbers of plant and animal species. All of these competing demands make the Colorado River one of the most contested and controlled rivers on Earth. Over the last decade, humans have drained all of the river’s water – all 5 trillion gallons – before it reaches the Sea of Cortez. The Colorado River is in very bad shape and deeply threatened.

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