Lake Mead

As those living throughout the interior American West can tell you, the ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin is a very big deal for the 40 million people, seven U.S. states, more than 20 U.S. tribes, and two Mexican states that use the river’s water. For a good introduction to the subject, see Jan Ellen Spiegel’s piece here on Yale Climate Connections.

Here are three excellent stories that illuminate the lived experience of this climate-change-linked drought for individual people and families. “Climate Change Is Hitting the Colorado River ‘Incredibly Fast and Incredibly Hard’” (Ian James, Arizona Republic, 1/21) and “The Rancher Trying to Solve the West’s Water Crisis” (Annie Snider, Politico, 12/20) both highlight efforts to cope and adapt. “This Giant Climate Hot Spot Is Robbing the West of its Water” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, 8/20) focuses on some of the human costs to ranchers.

Lest we forget that access to water is also a justice issue, see “We’re Keeping the Clean Water Flowing during the Coronavirus Pandemic” (Navajo Water Project), and this summary of tribal rights to Colorado River water.

To survey the problem and possible solutions, see Yale Environment 360’s series, “Crisis on the Colorado.” (Jim Robbins, 1/19 and 2/19; photos by Ted Wood). Part 2 is good on the drought; 4 spotlights Arizona, especially Phoenix; 3 and 5 are about adaptation and restoration. This series predates the drought contingency plan, so you might want to read this explainer.

A looming new problem for those depending on this water is a shift to valuing it for the money it can bring rather than the lives it can sustain: “Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water” (Ben Ryder Howe, New York Times, 1/21).

For an eye-opening pair of maps, compare this one of the basin itself (including diversions outside that geography) with this one of the current drought.

For more on the underlying climate science, see here (Inside Climate News) and here (Scientific American). For more on the science, policy, and law, see here (Colorado River Research Group).

Finally, for very recent water-availability information (1/21), see here and here.


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

Topics: Policy & Politics, Weather Extremes