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

 

The dam is the world’s deepest dam at 320 feet high, 235 of which is below the riverbed. Parker Dam supplies water to two cross country canals, the Central Arizona Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct. The Central Arizona Project sends water from the Colorado River 336 miles to Phoenix, Tucson and the areas around them. The Colorado River Aqueduct carries the Colorado River’s water from Lake Havasu to Southern California.