The Law of the Colorado River: Can It Cope With Severe Sustained Drought?

by Lawrence J. MacDonnell, Univ of Colorado Sch of Law, Boulder, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Water Policy and Management: Solving the Problems


This paper analyzes the Law of the River from the perspective of its effect on allocation decisions in the event of a long term, severe drought. The analysis is organized in a manner familiar to those who know the prior appropriation doctrine: according to legal priority. While the Law of the River is not technically a priority system, it does in fact create either express or implied priorities among those with legally recognized allocations of water. In a period of severe sustained drought in the Colorado River Basin water use decisions presumably would be made on the basis of the priorities set out here. This paper seeks to make these priorities more explicit, to identify areas of uncertainty, and to investigate the flexibility of the existing allocation system in meeting Colorado River demands in times of prolonged drought.

Subject Headings: High-rise buildings | Rivers and streams | Basins | Laws | Water use | Uncertainty principles | Legislation | Project management | Colorado River

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