Published On: Mon, Aug 1st, 2016

Discovery’s ‘Killing the Colorado’ premieres on August 4

KILLING THE COLORADO explores three intersecting issues that together explain how the serious water crisis in the West came to be and what needs to change to prevent a future catastrophe:


  • Conflicts between agricultural and urban demand for water have escalated as the water supply has dried up. Farms in the Imperial Valley of California are working together with San Diego to solve this problem, but solutions that work for all are hard to come by.
  • Western infrastructure, like dams and canals, has made desert agriculture and urban oases like Las Vegas possible. But such projects are also hugely inefficient, losing millions of gallons of water to seepage and evaporation. Battles over new projects are simmering. Will we get it right?
  • Traders have bought and sold water rights for decades, with mixed results for the people who rely on that water. But now Wall Street is getting involved in the process with innovative methods and promising results, presenting a possible solution to localized water shortages and helping move water where it’s needed most. Can the profit motive benefit the common good?


FARMING THE DESERT – Directed by Barbara Kopple

Almost 80% of Colorado River water is used by agriculture to supply America with food, which means that even removing all the golf courses and lawns in Southern California would have only a small impact on regional water shortages. The situation in California’s Imperial Valley puts that fact into sharp resonance. The existence of this vast farming area, just outside of San Diego, is predicated on century-old canals that carry water there from the Colorado River—and the competing demands for the Colorado’s water have put a huge strain on the region.

Robert Glennon, a water expert at the University of Arizona, explains that “…the Imperial Valley has very old water rights, because they began diverting water from the Colorado River in the very early years of the 20th century.” However, Glennon goes on to say that “…water isn’t infinite. And the growth in California population-wise places a moral obligation on us to use water wisely on both sides.”

“[The Colorado River] supplies either some or all of [the] water for about one out of ten Americans.  And the fact that there’s not enough of it and there never will be enough of it creates divisive conflict,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper.

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