An abandoned boat on the dried shore of Lake Mead
Long-term drought, vast population growth, and wasteful agricultural practices rooted in a century-old legal compact have triggered a crisis along the Colorado River. In a two-part series, Bill Keene, a lecturer in history, urban studies, and architecture, reviews the backstories and contemporary repercussions of major water shortages in the American West and explores possible methods of providing water for some 44 million people—in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and portions of Northern Mexico—who depend on the Colorado River.
June 22 A Flawed Compact
The seven-state river basin has been plagued by drought for much of this century and what water remains is apportioned under the flawed terms of the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Keene examines how and why the interstate compact came about during a population boom in Southern California. He covers how an agreement designed to ensure equitable division of water, eliminate future disputes, augment agriculture and industry, prevent flooding, and develop electric power instead resulted in overuse of an already-limited resource and ongoing controversary.
June 29 A Looming Crisis
Keene investigates how the Colorado River Compact’s inherent flaws led to the state of the river today. He looks at the problem of equitable water distribution past and present, the effects of long-term droughts, and the prospect of water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell dropping too low to produce electric power or reaching “dead pool,” when no water at all can be supplied. He considers the potential for these scenarios, as well as suggestions to mitigate and avoid drought-based disaster.