Chapter 11 - Colorado River Basin

Date: 2023/05/08

Author(s): Metcalfe A.N., Muehlbauer J.D., Ford M.A., Kennedy T.A.

Publication: in Delong M.D., Jardine T.D., Benke A.C., Cushing C.E., eds. Rivers of North America: Academic Press, San Diego, California


DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-818847-7.00001-X


The Colorado River is often referred to as “the lifeblood of the west.” The basin supplies municipal water to nearly 40 million people and irrigates approximately 22,000 km2 of agricultural lands. Twenty-two major rivers converge with the Colorado after it begins its descent from the Rocky Mountains and winds through the plateaus of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, onto the deserts of southwestern Arizona, and finally into the Gulf of California, where inflows from the Río Hardy and Río Sonoyta in Mexico complete the drainage. The mainstem Colorado, Green, Yampa, Little Colorado, and Yampa Rivers are described in further detail in the 2005 edition (Blinn and Poff, 2005) of this book. In this edition, we discuss seven other major tributaries in the Colorado River basin: the Gunnison, San Juan, Virgin, Bill Williams, Verde, Black, and Salt Rivers. The water quality and quantity, flora and fauna, and sediment and organic loads of each of these tributaries uniquely alter the mainstem Colorado River and the habitat it provides. Thus, understanding the hydrology, ecology, and human use of these tributaries is critical toward understanding both the complex history and present-day management of the Colorado River Basin as a whole.