Note from an Easterner: The Colorado River is not the Congo

Even though I live on the East Coast, I’ve become very interested in the shocking aridification of the West.

It may be wise to remind people that the Colorado River isn’t the Nile or the Congo. Far from it.

What strikes me after reading books about the West’s water crisis is how little people in the Southwest know, or care to know, about the Colorado River. If you were to randomly ask 50 people in the Colorado River Basin: “Which river carries more water: the Connecticut River or the Colorado?” I’m pretty confident that you’d get 49 wrong answers. Maybe 50.

At 10,200 cubic feet per second, which was the flow rate reported this week at Lees Ferry, Ariz., the Colorado is not a very big river. In fact, at that flow, it doesn’t even make the “Top 50” list of rivers in the United States.

As of this week, the Connecticut River flow was measured at about 33,000 cubic feet per second at a point just north of Hartford — about three times the flow of the Colorado.

People in the Southwest might be shocked to find out that the Colorado River’s streamflow is less than that of the Connecticut River, which almost no one depends on as a water source. Yet when one looks at the number of million-gallon-per-day golf resorts that the Colorado feeds, it’s certainly treated like another Nile.

The entire Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people, from Denver to Los Angeles. Growth is adding to that number every week — even the City of Flagstaff, Ariz., is eying Colorado River water as its current supplies wither, according to its water department website. Another diversion pipeline is being advocated for Washington, Utah.

Now, if you were to propose supplying 40 million people with water from just the Connecticut River, you’d be dismissed as a crackpot.

Long story short, those living in the Southwest have to begin thinking of the Colorado as a dwindling, unremarkable river that many millions have to share.

John Burgeson, Stratford, Connecticut


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