CU-Boulder Law School Studies Possible Reforms to Colorado River Management

Demands on the Colorado River by the seven states in its basin are not sustainable. A complex web of treaties, compacts, laws, and court decisions govern who can use the river's water and when. But over the last several decades, those rules have not kept the yearly demand for water from exceeding the average flow. "People have known since the 1940s, if not earlier, that this river was over-allocated and that, at some point, it's going to be a major problem," said Douglas Kenney, senior research associate at the University of Colorado's Natural Resources Law Center. "The demand on the river has grown slowly and steadily," he said. "That, combined with recent understanding of what climate change is going to do to this region, all of a sudden has opened people's eyes. Improvements need to be made to how we manage this river." Kenney and two of his colleagues have now begun an ambitious, year-long project called the Colorado River Governance Initiative to evaluate options for reforming the laws of the river. "The initiative is designed to develop a blueprint for future management that will allow for managing the river basin's resources more holistically and in a manner that preserves wildlife resources and habitats while ensuring the availability of water supplies for humans," said Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center.