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


Imperial Dam is located 18 miles north of Yuma, Arizona. The dam provides water flow into the All-American and Gila Gravity Main Canals, which delivers water to southeastern California, Arizona, and Mexico. Water is also diverted and desilted for use in the Imperial Valley, which is delivered through the All-American Canal. Imperial Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in California and a major source of winter produce, cotton, and grain for U.S. and international markets.