PAPER WATER

Over 40 million people rely on the Colorado River as an economic, physical, and spiritual source of life. At least 25 federally recognized American Indian nations, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, 11 national parks, seven U.S. states and two Mexican states have legal claim to the Colorado River’s water. But not all of these stakeholders ever see the water they legally have a right to. The science behind the division of the Colorado River’s water outlined in the 1922 Colorado River Compact overestimated the amount of water available in the Colorado River and gave more legal claims to the water than there is water available. This is referred to as “paper water” which is the term for legal claims to water that doesn’t exist. Rising temperatures has caused the river’s water to decline and policymakers have been forced to decide who will sacrifice their fundamental human right to water in order to conserve the Colorado River. 

**These images are part of an ongoing effort to document this story**

©2021 by Molly Gibbs

 

Shortly after Glen Canyon Dam’s completion, the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocked rainbow trout in Lees Ferry to attract fisherman. However, under the stable flows of water from the dam, huge populations of trout developed and caused individual fish populations to decline. Non-native warm water fish continue to travel downstream from Lees Ferry and to other parts of the mainstream Colorado River.