In September 2017 a first of it's kind lawsuit seeking personhood rights for the Colorado River was brought against the state of Colorado and it's governor. The Colorado is one of the most heavily exploited rivers in the US serving the needs of 40 million people, no longer reaching the sea. Threats to the survival of the river include a changing climate, pollution and overuse from agriculture, mining, energy, invasive species and a growing population. Alongside writer and lawyer Will Falk, a 'plaintiff' in the 2017 suit seeking Rights of Nature for the river we are on journey to tell a comprehensive story of what it is to be the Colorado river in modern America.
Castle Valley and the Colorado River, Utah. Almost 1500 miles long it is the United States’s most heavily exploited river serving 30 million people in 7 states and Mexico. From it’s headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park it no longer reaches the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.
Will Falk, writer and a 'next friend' of the Colorado river in the lawsuit against the state of Colorado seeking Rights of Nature for the river on the banks of the river in Moab, Utah. October 2017.
The Colorado river makes it’s way through the Canyonlands of Utah. Almost 1500 miles long it is the country’s most heavily exploited river serving 30 million people in 7 US states and Mexico. From it’s headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park it no longer reaches the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Grand Ditch a water diversion project collects water from the Colorado headwaters on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and pumps it under the Rocky mountains via the 13 mile long Alba V Adams Tunnel to farmers and cities on the east side of the mountains known as the ‘front range’. A decreasing snowpack in the northern rockies due to a warming climate coupled with overuse is contributing to decreasing water volumes in the river.
Rick Jurgen a volunteer on the Fish Recovery Project in the Grand Canyon, checking for invasive species on Bright Angel Creek before it enters the Colorao River. 4 of the 14 endemic fish species of the river are listed as endangered primarily from threats posed by invasive fish.
Razorback sucker one of the endangered endemic fish species of the Colorado being farm raised at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery in Colorado. Predation and competition by non native species is considered the primary threat to recovery and is the most challenging to manage.
2 year old Razorback Sucker at the Ouray Fish Hatchery. The species found nowhere else in the world evolved over 3 million years ago. Dams, removal of water for human use and invasive species are the reasons for decline in razorback numbers and the fish’s endangered listing.
A fish ladder on the Palisades dam of the Colorado. Dams block already endangered fish from their historical habitats upstream. Selective fish ladders like this one, trap fish that are then hand sorted removing invasive species and allowing native species to continue upstream.
The Glen Canyon Dam opened in 1966 is a key component in the Colorado River Storage Project, regulating water distribution between the 7 US states and Mexico that claim rights to the river’s water. The dam flooded Glen Canyon creating the reservoir known as ‘Lake Powell’ behind it. The 1922 Colorado River Storage Project from which Glen Canyon Dam was born overestimated river flow, underestimated human use and couldn’t foresee the impacts of climate change. There are 15 dams on the main stem of the river and hundreds on it’s tributaries.
The Blue Mesa Dam one of 3 major dams on the 136 mile stretch of the Gunnison river, the largest tributary of the Colorado River in Colorado. The Blue Mesa reservoir is behind the dam is drying up.
Nov 2017, Denver, Colorado. Jason Flores Williams, attorney who represented activists from the group Deep Green Resistance in their case against the state of Colorado. By December 2017 the Attorney General threatened Williams with sanctions, penalties and the threat of disbarment if he did not withdraw his case. He consequently withdrew the lawsuit citing concerns for his livelihood. The movement for Rights of Nature in the US continues to be spearheaded by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and small community based groups like Boulder Rights of Nature in Colorado.
Roosevelt, Utah. Thousands of oil and gas wells cover the Uinta basin in eastern Utah with potential hazards for groundwater contamination and runoff into the nearby Green river a major tributary of the Colorado. Air pollution from fossil fuel extraction is a major problem in Utah and VOC contaminants pollute both the water and air.
The Colorado provides water for peach orchards and vineyards in the desert surrounding the town of Palisade, Colorado. Agriculture uses almost 80% of the river’s water.
Blanding, Utah, 11/17. In 2017 the Trump administration removed protections from thousands of acres of public lands many of which are sacred lands to native Americans such as those at Bears Ears National Monument. The move opens the lands to mining and drilling within the Colorado River’s drainage basin.
The Navajo coal fired electricity plant on the ‘Lake’ Powell reservoir of the Colorado. The plant also pumps Colorado river water to desert cities in Arizona fueling an ultimately unsustainable population boom. The plant is scheduled to close in 2019 because of competition from a fracking boom.
Monument Valley, the sacred heart of the Navajo nation lies in the lower Colorado basin. Both the Navajo and Hopi tribes of the area are locked in one of the longest running cases in Arizona history to determine who has rights to the water of the little Colorado river.
Stephen Wilmeth from Riggins, Idaho prepares for a 22 day run down the Colorado at the historic put in point at Lees Ferry in Arizona. Recreation on the river and it’s tributaries generates approximately $28 billion annually.
A commercial rafting trip on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. River runners have long advocated to save the Colorado and remove it’s dams particularly Glen Canyon Dam the construction of which angered environmentalists. There are no dams in the Grand Canyon but the threat of new dams in the basin and industrial development is omnipresent.