A long history of conflict surrounds the Colorado River. Throughout the first part of this century, disputes generally arose over securing rights to use the river’s water. Later, disputes centered on finding ways of developing and delivering water to support economic growth. The conflict- ridden process of “dividing” and then “developing” the waters of the Colorado preoccupied water planners throughout most of the 20th century.
As the end of this century approaches, the Colorado River basin is at a critical juncture. In 1990, for the first time, the lower U.S. portion of the basin (Arizona, California, and Nevada) used its full 7.5 million acre-foot (maf) legal entitlement,1 spurring a time of unusual turmoil and transformation. Reaching this threshold has caused water officials to begin rethinking management strategies for the river. They are beginning to examine conservation, improved management, and voluntary transfers of water as strategies to promote more efficient use of water and to redistribute it toward higher-valued activities.