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Agents of Change

Forest Management
Power Generation
Population Growth
Reintroduction of Fire
Reintroduction of Native Species
Uranium Mining
Water Development

Special Topics

Arroyo Cutting
Native Use of Fire

biotaWater Development, Extraction, and Diversion (page 1 of 6)


"[California] thrives, even survives, by moving water from where it is and presumably isn't needed, to where it isn't and presumably is needed." - Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert.

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Central Utah's Soldier Creek Dam, completed by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1974, diverts water from the Colorado River Basin to irrigation projects on the Wasatch Front. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

California supports a population of twenty-seven million people, more than the entire population of Canada. The state grows one-third of the table food grown in the United States, and has an economy richer than all but six nations in the world. Without massive amounts of imported water for irrigation, California would not exist. Much of that water comes from the Colorado River, which originates in the Rocky Mountains and drains a large part of the southern Colorado Plateau.

The Colorado Plateau itself receives on average less than 10 inches of rain per year and cannot sustain most crops without irrigation. The exploitation of its water resources for local agriculture has been limited, due primarily to short growing seasons and limited suitability of soils. The extraction, development and diversion of Colorado River water for fertile lowland valleys and urban centers for the larger Southwest, especially California, but also for major cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, is another story. The extent of this development is staggering—to "make the desert bloom," thousands of dams have been erected in the Colorado River watershed during the last half-century.

Follow these links to:
Page 2 - Presettlement Water Use Continued: Ancient Irrigation and Other Water Uses
Page 3 - Mormon Settlement and the Dawn of Large-Scale Irrigation on the Colorado Plateau
Page 4 - The Thirst of the Growing West
Page 5 - The Bureau of Reclamation Transforms the West
Page 6 - The Tide Turns