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Contested Waters

An Environmental History of the Colorado River

By April Summit

Publication Year: 2013

The Colorado River is a vital resource to urban and agricultural communities across the Southwest, providing water to 30 million people. Contested Waters tells the river’s story— a story of conquest, control, division, and depletion.

Beginning in prehistory and continuing into the present day, Contested Waters focuses on three important and often overlooked aspects of the river’s use: the role of western water law in its over-allocation, the complexity of power relationships surrounding the river, and the concept of sustainable use and how it has been either ignored or applied in recent times. It is organized in two parts, the first addresses the chronological history of the river and long-term issues, while the second examines in more detail four specific topics: metropolitan perceptions, American Indian water rights, US-Mexico relations over the river, and water marketing issues. Creating a complete picture of the evolution of this crucial yet over-utilized resource, this comprehensive summary will fascinate anyone interested in the Colorado River or the environmental history of the Southwest.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xiv

Standing astride the Colorado River is a mass of concrete stretching 660 feet across the deep, sandstone canyon and reaching up its steep walls to a height of more than 726 feet. When it ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many people supported me in the process of writing this book. First, I would like to thank the staff at the University Press of Colorado—Darrin Pratt, Jessica d’Arbonne, Laura Furney, Beth Svinarich, ...

Part 1: A River through Time

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1: Conquering the Wild Colorado A River in Control

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pp. 3-30

Of the images that come to mind when one thinks of the arid American West, one of the most prominent is the Hoover Dam. Constructed from 1931 to 1936 during the most painful years ...

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2: Farming the Desert Agricultural Water Demands

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pp. 31-59

The primary use of the Colorado River is and has always been for agriculture. In recent times, metropolitan applications of its water have made users forget where most of the water is actually ...

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3: Saving the River The Environmental Movement

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pp. 61-85

In 1963, the eleven-year Supreme Court case Arizona v. California finally ended, seemingly resolving the last major conflict in a forty-year struggle over sharing the Colorado River. Yet before Arizona could finally tap ...

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4: Sharing the Shortage A River in Control

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pp. 87-110

By the mid-1970s, the young environmental movement had significantly impacted American society and begun to shape federal policies. Yet western state governments and representatives to Congress still reflected a widespread ...

Part 2: Currents of Today

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5: The Metropolis and the Desert Growing Cities in the West

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pp. 113-147

None of the earliest settlers in the American Southwest would have dreamed of the twentieth-century metropolitan growth the region experienced. Some of its major cities grew out of Spanish missions ...

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6: Owning the River Indian Water Rights and Settlements

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pp. 149-176

Indigenous people around the world have always struggled to preserve their language, their culture, even their very existence. They must also battle for access to natural resources, such as water. While told ...

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7: Crossing the Border US-Mexico Relations and the River

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pp. 177-206

“What about the human beings?” Cucapá chief Don Madaleno asked government officials and members of the environmental nonprofits who had gathered in his small shantytown of El Mayor, Mexico. “We are ...

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8: The Water Market Banking and Selling the Colorado River

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pp. 207-232

Throughout the history of the Colorado River, the humans who depend on it have often competed with each other over how to divide these contested waters. Metropolitan areas have grown beyond what the river can ...

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pp. 233-245

The story of the Colorado River is as convoluted as it is long, and defining its many rivulets is a complicated process. To fully understand this river and its past, one must examine many separate pieces of history scattered ...


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pp. 247-273


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pp. 275-286

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322115
E-ISBN-10: 1607322110
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322016
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322013

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 10 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 834144283
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Contested Waters

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Subject Headings

  • Colorado River (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
  • Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
  • Colorado River (Colo.-Mexico) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Water supply -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
  • Water rights -- Colorado River Valley (Colo.-Mexico) -- History.
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