Upper Colorado River Institute

Colorado, utah & New mexico
July 22-29, 2017


Photo by Christian Mehlführer, Wikimedia User Chmeh

Photo by Christian Mehlführer, Wikimedia User Chmeh



There's an adage in the American West that "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over," and perhaps nowhere do those words appear to ring truer than in the Colorado River Basin. The poster child of an over-allocated and embattled resource, the Colorado passes through seven states and offers sustenance on many fronts: It provides water for more than 30 million people and a significant portion of our nation's food supply. It's home to a handful of endangered fish and wildlife species, and supports a $26 billion recreational economy across the Southwest. And yet, demand for water so outstrips supply that this mighty river runs dry more than 100 miles before it reaches the coast at the Sea of Cortez. 

One of the most heavily managed rivers in the world, the Colorado bears little resemblance to its original state: More than 100 dams have been built by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the purposes of hydroelectric energy, flood control, and storage. Aqueducts, pipelines, tunnels and canals shunt water away from the river; Agriculture consumes nearly 80 percent of the Colorado's water, while municipal needs claim the remaining 20 percent. 

Lake Powell. Photo courtesy NASA

Lake Powell. Photo courtesy NASA

Predictions suggest that the future will see more of the same. Populations and water demand are expected to increase, and some scientific models suggest that climate change will lead to shorter winters, earlier spring runoff, and increased evaporation. Drought will exacerbate an already stressed resource.  Throughout the Southwest, ecosystems and economies alike hang in the balance. 

Because the Colorado stretches across such an extensive swath of the American Southwest, it would be impossible to cover the whole river over the span of one Institute. So, we decided to do two. In late July 2017, we conducted an Institute that explored the Upper Colorado River, from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to the northernmost reaches of Lake Powell.  In early 2018 we'll return to the region, and continue the journey downstream on a second Institute.


Where We Went & What We Did

About IJNR

The mission of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources (IJNR) is to advance public understanding and civic engagement about environment, natural resource, public health and development issues through better journalism. IJNR conducts expenses-paid, expedition-style training and professional development programs for journalists at all career stages and from all sorts and sizes of news outlets, ranging from newspapers and magazines to radio, television and online operations. 

Supporters of this program include the Walton Family Foundation as well as other foundations and individual donors. 

IJNR maintains editorial independence and control in all of its programming and decision-making.