The Colorado River Revisited
95 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2016 Last revised: 5 May 2017
Date Written: April 10, 2017
Fifty years ago, former Stanford Law School Dean Charles Meyers published The Colorado River, 19 STAN. L. REV. 1 (1966), arguably the most famous piece of legal scholarship ever written on this vital water source and the complex body of laws governing its flows — colloquially, the “Law of the River.” This piece and a companion, The Colorado River: The Treaty with Mexico, 19 STAN. L. REV. 367 (1967), offered seminal accounts of the legal histories, doctrinal features, and unresolved perplexities of the Law of the River’s international and interstate allocation framework. Five decades later, between thirty-five and forty million U.S. residents rely on flows controlled by this framework, and an historic drought and unprecedented water supply and demand imbalance face the Colorado River Basin. It is a transformative time for the Law of the River, and this Article revisits Meyers’s scholarship from this vantage point. It begins by considering climate change and related dynamic changes in and around the basin over the past fifty years. It then considers the evolution of the Law of the River’s allocation framework across this period — particularly, since the historic drought’s onset in 2000. Finally, focusing on the concept of “adaptive framing,” the Article synthesizes common patterns in the allocation framework’s evolution, and offers prescriptions and prognoses regarding the continuation of these patterns in the future.
Keywords: Water law, climate change, interstate water compacts, equitable apportionment, international water treaties, Colorado River Basin, drought adaptation, water banking
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