The Colorado River – The Story of a Quest of Certainty on a Diminishing River

by Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District General Manager

“This paper,was written to educate and encourage a transparent discussion of the Colorado River water issues facing the State of Colorado. I encourage all to consider the issues I’ve raised, and recognize that there are different views on the subject matter. The study of the Colorado River yield is important for the entire state. To share questions or thoughts I can be reached at or 970.945.8522.”  – Eric Kuhn

Managing the Uncertainties on the Colorado River System

by Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District General Manager

Ever since pioneers first diverted water in 1854 from the Blacks Fork of the Green River for irrigation purposes, Colorado River waters were considered available for appropriation and development for beneficial use. Until very recently, the basic assumption has been that if we needed additional water supplies, the water was there. To use it, all we needed to do was to build another dam, diversion structure, pumping plant and canal, or pipeline system. New water rights were perfected through beneficial use.

Today, the focus of our basic approach to the Colorado River has changed from one of development to one of reallocation and risk management. Although a number of projects are still under consideration or being actively permitted in the Upper Colorado River Basin, there is a growing consensus that within the Colorado River system as a whole the existing demand for water now exceeds the available supply.

Future Scenarios for the Colorado River

by Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District General Manager

This article outlines important facets of the political and physical history of the Colorado River and the rules that govern its use. In this fascinating background, the author portrays some fictional scenarios to illustrate how history could be written today in the American West. We are at a critical juncture in the development of the water of the Colorado River and the seven states of the arid west that rely upon it. What happens if we are not properly educated? What if we don’t learn from the valuable lessons of the past? Disaster or success? The issues are laid out for your consideration. The answers however, are not so obvious.

Risk Management Strategies for the Upper Colorado River Basin

by Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District General Manager

The four basic approaches that I have listed are by no means the only risk management strategies available to the Upper Basin. I expect that new approaches and ideas will surface. I also expect that the States of the Upper Division will explore or pursue all identified approaches in parallel. We’ve reached a time where the current demands for Colorado River water exceed the available supply. This gap will continue to grow. Climate change adds uncertainty and new challenges. At the local, water provider level, conservation will be a priority, not an afterthought, but even extraordinary conservation will leave shortages. Application of the Law of the River will have consequences, some will be painful.

At the same time, engrained expectations, like the idea that Colorado has a million acre feet of Colorado River water left to develop will confuse, complicate, and delay strategies to reduce risk.
Thirty years from now, I expect that the Colorado River Basin will look about the same as it does today but with more people and a bit less water. Within the Lower Basin, shortages will be common. Within the Upper Basin, risk management of water supplies will be a top priority. Those entities that take this issue seriously today will be the most successful in the future.  (45 pages)