Water and Environment in the Arid Southwest

Completed in 1911, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed as a result of the 1902 National Reclamation Act.

Courtesy of Library of Congress.

 

Completed in 1993, the Central Arizona Project provides Colorado River Water to Arizona
 
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Completed in 1993, the Central Arizona Project provides Colorado River Water to Arizona.

Courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Problem
The Roots
The Solutions

The Colorado River Watershed provides drinking water to 40 million people, irrigates 6 million acres, and supports countless ecosystems across the West. Climate change has reduced water supply; demand grows inexorably. There is no easy solution in sight.

Nineteenth-century Anglo migrants reengineered the Hohokam (300 to 1500 CE) canal system to settle central Arizona. Beginning in 1902, federal policies spurred the construction of a region-wide water infrastructure of dams and canals that encouraged further industrial and urban growth. By the last decades of the 20th century, the Central Arizona Project transported water from the Colorado River more than 336 miles from Lake Mead through Phoenix to Tucson, opening the way for new development that has stretched the region’s water supply beyond its capacity.

By creating dialogues that raise awareness of Arizona and the Colorado River Basin’s precarious water situation, we seek to encourage community resilience and help citizens to make informed and just choices about the allocation of water.

The “bathtub ring” around Lake Mead illustrates the overuse of the Colorado River.
The Central Arizona Project: CAP fueled suburban development of Arizona, with housing supplanting farmland
Flood irrigation in Yuma: Flooding fields has long been a common method of watering crops in the American west
Canals encouraged Anglo settlement of Arizona in the early 20th Century
19th century Anglo settlers excavated canals that the Hokoham Civilization had developed over 1,000 years before its collapse in the 15th century
States, lawmakers, and the courts debated the allocation of the Colorado River for much of the 20th century
The “bathtub ring” around Lake Mead illustrates the overuse of the Colorado River.
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The “bathtub ring” around Lake Mead illustrates the overuse of the Colorado River.

Courtesy of Adam Kliczek, Wikimedia Commons, 2012.

The Central Arizona Project: CAP fueled suburban development of Arizona, with housing supplanting farmland
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The Central Arizona Project: CAP fueled suburban development of Arizona, with housing supplanting farmland.

Courtesy of Colorado State University.

Flood irrigation in Yuma: Flooding fields has long been a common method of watering crops in the American west
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 Flood irrigation in Yuma: Flooding fields has long been a common method of watering crops in the American west.

Courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Canals encouraged Anglo settlement of Arizona in the early 20th Century
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Canals encouraged Anglo settlement of Arizona in the early 20th century.

Courtesy of Historic American Engineering Record.

19th century Anglo settlers excavated canals that the Hokoham Civilization had developed over 1,000 years before its collapse in the 15th century
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19th-century Anglo settlers excavated canals that the Hokoham Civilization had developed over 1,000 years earlier, before its collapse in the 15th century.

Courtesy of Historic American Engineering Record.

States, lawmakers, and the courts debated the allocation of the Colorado River for much of the 20th century
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States, lawmakers, and the courts debated the allocation of the Colorado River for much of the 20th century.

Courtesy of Arizona State University.

Our Point of View

University Partners
Community Partners

ASU students largely were aware that global warming has been transforming the world, but we were unaware of the interconnected feedbacks of climate change—especially its impacts on deserts in the southwest of the United States. As an online community of students drawn from more than a dozen states, we encountered water and climate change from vastly different perspectives. Through the lens of Arizona, and the Colorado River, we gained a new appreciation of how access to water has emerged as a central challenge for communities across the nation.

—Arizona State University

The Arizona Historical Society seeks to be the driving force strengthening Arizona’s communities by promoting history through its exhibits, programs, publications, and outreach, creating invaluable spaces for promoting public understanding of contemporary issues. Guiding the historical discovery of ASU students about the water issues the U.S. Southwest is facing underscores the importance of creating public dialogues around the historic and present issues associated with water.

—Arizona Historical Society

Contributors

University Partners

Arizona State University

Faculty Project Directors Paul Martin Rae Ostman Mark Tebeau
Students Devan Adams Michael Alvarez Weston Baker Andrew Biddinger Edwin Bucz Stacy Call Sarah Gokey Grant Haas Lauryl Jensen Olivia Leiby Darren McClelland-Urbanski Rachel Myers Susanna Ng Kelle Roberts Amber Shek Chris Twing

Community Partners

Arizona Historical Society

James Burns