SESYNC has selected this case study as an exemplary S-E synthesis case study.
The Colorado River is the hardest working river in the West. It flows through seven states, two countries, provides water to approximately 40 million people, and irrigates nearly 4.5 million acres of farmland. Ten hydroelectric dams have the capacity to produce more than 4,200 megawatts of electricity: enough to power between three and four million average U.S. homes. But this progress was not achieved without altering the habitat and threatening the existence of four native fish species. Compounded with prolonged drought and increased seasonal water variability, four fish native to the Colorado River: the Colorado pikeminnow, the humpback chub, the bonytail chub, and the razorback sucker are now considered endangered by the federal government. The building of dams and reservoirs, alteration of water flow patterns, introduction of non-native species, diversion of water for irrigation and urban purposes, and destruction of plant life along river banks has affected the habitat and reproductive success of the rare fish. In this case, we focus more narrowly on the Colorado pikeminnow in the river’s Colorado subbasin. The listings of these fish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) spurred years of failed litigation cases. Water users in Western Colorado sued the federal government for obstructing development on the Colorado subbasin. After years of failed litigation and under the auspices of stopping all diversions on the Colorado River, many saw the need for a new approach to management. If water users wanted to continue diverting water for agricultural production and municipal use, they would need to come up with a plan to address the needs of the endangered fish.