Colorado River

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

The shadows of cottonwood trees grow long as the sun sets over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Wyoming. A perfect time to spot wildlife on the Green River. Among the reeds, I see a white patch with a long neck. A trumpeter swan. Refuge project leader Tom Koerner passes me a pair of binoculars.

“That's probably a single bird and right in this wetland unit we just drove by there's three different pairs that nest in here,” Koerner says. 

Green River Recreation Department

It’s been a decade and a half of drought for Western states, many of which depend on the Colorado River for water. That includes Wyoming where the main branch of the Colorado—the Green River—originates in the Wind River Range.

The Upper Colorado River Basin states have decided to try a water conservation program long used in the Lower Basin states that pays water users to let their excess water flow back into the river.

PRA / Creative Commons

Twenty-thirteen marks the 14th year of the worst drought in the past century, so Colorado River Basin states are following 2007 agreement guidelines, and releasing less water from a major reservoir, Lake Powell.


Only 7.48 million acre feet will be released from Lake Powell next water year, down about 9% from normal levels. It’s the lowest release since the 1960s.