The setting sun paints the sky over Tonle Sap Lake lavender when fisherwoman Mrs. Samnang (32) pulls her net into her small boat with the help of her two children. Metal spray cans of RAID insecticide that they use to keep the net affloat bang against the boat. The catch is poor. “Nowadays we only catch small fish. All the big fish are gone,” she comments with a sad smile on her face. When asked for the reason, she just stares and says: “They say the Chinese have built dams in the river.”
The Central Arizona Project (CAP) is a 336 mi (541 km) diversion canal in Arizona in the United States. The aqueduct diverts water from the Colorado River from Lake Havasu City near Parker into central and southern Arizona. The CAP is the largest and most expensive aqueduct system ever constructed in the United States. And it is the single biggest consumer of energy in the whole state. Without it Phoenix would not have been able to grow to its current size of 1,5 million residents.
The western part of the USA has 19th century water legislation, 20th century infrastructure and 21st century problems in terms of climate change, population growth and other environmental stresses. This is a saying you hear a lot when you talk to people about the Colorado River. Needless to say: something’s wrong here.
‘It’s not safe’, warned us Jennifer McCloskey, Area Manager at the Yuma Desalination Plant (YDP), located right at the border between the USA and Mexico. Although nobody is robbing us or shooting at us, we understand what she means after a few hundred metres along the US-Mexican border: the first border patrol car we see pulls us over.
The Huala-who? The Hualapai, meaning people of the tall pines, are native people of the Southwest of the USA. Once a proud people, nowadays there are only few of them left. Their ‘capital’ is in Peach Springs, a small settlement on the famous route 66. The Hualapai tribe only counts 2100 people nowadays. They live in a vast reservation of about one million acres, on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon that was created in 1883. After decades of economic and social hardship, the Hualapai decided to enter the tourist trade in 1988.
The Colorado river is fed by melting snow water from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. One of its many tributaries, the Gunnison river, has its source near Crested Butte, a pristine mountain resort high in the Rockies, close to the well-known ski resort Aspen.
The Colorado river is not only threatened by climate change and over-use of the river water. A major threat comes from an enormous radioactive mining-waste pit. This waste, or ‘tailings’ site is located on the bank of the Colorado River, in Moab, Utah, a small town that turned into the uranium capital of the world in the 1950`s.
`Welcome to the hottest city in the western hemisphere`, says Doyle Wilson, the water manager of Lake Havasu City, in the airconditioned city hall of his home town. It`s August, it`s 9 am, and it`s already soaring hot. `In 1994 we had a record temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes 53 degrees Celsius`, Wilson tells proudly, while we’re walking to his office. Record temperatures or not: people keep on coming to Lake Havasu, a pensioners water paradise in the US state of Arizona, about a three hours´ drive south of Las Vegas. `We get more and more snowbirds, that`s how we call the pensioners. Many of them fly in through Las Vegas from Canada`, says Wilson.
In the last 100 years a lot has changed around the Colorado River. In most years all the water that flows through its bed is used. Not a drop reaches the Sea of Cortez. The consumption of this water happens mostly after Lake Powell.