An Ecosystem Perspective on Collaboration for the Colorado River

15 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2008

See all articles by Robert W. Adler

Robert W. Adler

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: August 20, 2008


This article (based in part on ROBERT W. ADLER, RESTORING COLORADO RIVER ECOSYSTEMS: A TROUBLED SENSE OF IMMENSITY (ISLAND PRESS 2007)) argues that collaborative approaches to Colorado River restoration are desirable, but that we cannot pursue collaboration as a goal unto itself, that is, the end goal of collaboration cannot merely be to get along. Rather, the end goal must be an acceptable future for the Colorado River that addresses the real needs of multiple interest groups, including, at a minimum, the long-term health of Colorado River ecosystems in the United States and Mexico. The article critiques the three major collaborative processes along the main stem of the Colorado River to see how well they stand up to those principles. Although all of those programs are well-intentioned and do some good, I suggest that each of those efforts is driven primarily by a goal of protecting ongoing water development in the face of environmental compliance challenges under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other laws and regulations, and not by a more fundamental goal of ecosystem restoration. As such, to date those programs have avoided rather than confronted and resolved core value disputes between ecosystem-based and economic goals. The article then discusses a third alternative approach involving much broader strategies to ecosystem restoration while promoting the legitimate needs and interests of all of the major parties involved in Colorado River disputes. That approach would seek to identify and find alternative ways to provide key resources currently drawn from the Colorado River (water, power, recreation) in more sustainable ways.

Keywords: Adaptive Management, Colorado River, Collaboration, Ecosystems, Endangered species, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, Prior appropriation

Suggested Citation

Adler, Robert W., An Ecosystem Perspective on Collaboration for the Colorado River (August 20, 2008). Nevada Law Review, September 2008, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-13, Available at SSRN:

Robert W. Adler (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

332 S. 1400 East Room 101
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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