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Center for Colorado River Studies

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Management decisions about the Colorado River and its water supply must be based on sound climate, watershed, and river science. Policy decisions about the river’s future have traditionally been debated among lawyers and engineers who primarily focus on water as a commodity that is to be divided based on considerations such as historical use, legal right, political influence, economic power, and social justice. However, the water of the Colorado River is also the foundation of riverine ecosystems that are the central focus of the great national parks of the watershed and also provide critical habitat for endangered species. In the face of climate change and decreasing watershed runoff, the water supply agreements of the Colorado River are being reconsidered in overt and behind-the-scenes negotiations. The best available river science is needed now to inform these negotiations and to empower stakeholders to identify and address the key issues regarding the future of this enormously valuable and challenged resource.

The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University is a nexus for innovative research, teaching, and outreach that informs management of the Colorado River and other major rivers of the American Southwest. We undertake critical studies that inform how different parts of the Colorado River and its tributaries can be effectively managed. We train future researchers and managers who will be responsible for tomorrow's Colorado River. We provide education and training to stakeholders to support informed and focused decision making. Because the water available to restore the Colorado River ecosystem is increasingly limited, we are especially interested in research and outreach that helps inform the very difficult decisions about priority locations and actions that provide the best opportunity for significant restoration success.

In Utah, the Colorado River and its tributaries are a major focus of river management concern, because:

  • Approximately half of the state of Utah is within the Colorado River’s watershed;
  • The state of Utah is signatory to the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and the Upper Colorado River Compact of 1948;
  • The corridors of the Colorado River and its tributaries are a centerpiece of nationally significant river resources in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park;
  • Parts of Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge reservoirs are located in Utah; and,
  • The state of Utah faces difficult choices in the future regarding the balance between the amount of of the Colorado River system to be used consumptively in relation to the amount needed to maintain nationally recognized, and ecologically significant, river and reservoir resources.