First Peoples 4: Getting Civilized – DIY

George2023, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

Lorelei Cloud, Vice-chair of the Southern Ute Tribal Council

To summarize the last three posts on this site – we have been looking at the generally ambiguous relationships between the United States federal government, the seven not-very-united states in the Colorado River region, and 30 recognized First People nations who inhabit the Colorado River Basin. The 30 nations, still primarily using Stone Age technology, were overrun, conquered and thoroughly dominated by the global Holocene expansion of European peoples with much superior technology and firepower – plus some nasty diseases that moved out ahead of the invaders, eliminating maybe as much as two-thirds or three-fourths of the First People populations. The overrunning of the First Peoples was not done through any long-standing animus, as against ancient enemies; the hundreds of First People nations were just in the way. The Euro-Americans came in waves of ‘settlers’ who wanted to settle in and farm the land, and ‘unsettlers’ who wanted to rip into the land for the minerals, trees, grasses and waters … Read More

First Peoples 3: States, Feds and the First People Go Fishing

George2023, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

I hope you’ll excuse my irreverence in showing the image above. If you haven’t noticed, ‘what’s real’ versus what we wish were real is what a lot of our discourse is about these days, and not just along the Colorado River. Denial is more than just a river in Egypt. But moving on – I concluded the last post with a discussion of the first real break the First Peoples of the arid lands got after being forced onto reservations that were far too small for their timeless lives as hunter-foragers (requiring as much as a square mile or two per person in the arid lands). The U.S. Supreme Court decreed in 1908, in Winters v. The United States, that when the federal government reserved western land for any purpose (removed it from private-sector development), it also implicitly reserved enough water to carry out the purpose of the reservation. For the First Peoples put on dryland reservations, the ‘Winters doctrine’ … Read More

The First People, Part 2: The Reservations

George2023, Sibley's Rivers4 Comments

Native reservations map

The last post here began an exploration of tribal issues in the Colorado River region, where 30 ‘First People’ nations have been put on reservations throughout the region. We looked at some of the precolumbian history in the Southwest, to emphasize the human diversity that existed in the region when European peoples invaded the continent beginning 500 years ago. ‘The Second People,’ I guess we could call the invaders – a single people instead of many like the more than 700 distinctive First Peoples; most of our ancestors seemed willing to let go of their Old World identities and assimilate to a common ‘American dream’ in the New World, e pluribus unum. This does not mean, I hasten to add, that we consistently act as ‘one people.’ But our differences today are ‘New World conflicts,’ not those stemming from ‘Old World’ distinctions between English, French, Italian, Spanish, Slavic, and the other hereditary European national stocks. From the beginning till now, … Read More

Romancing the River: The First Peoples, Part 1

George2023, Sibley's Rivers8 Comments

Native reservations map

We’re seeing not just being at the table, but actually having an influence on the agenda. We’re looking at the next step – because you can have a seat at the table, but not be taken seriously. And tribes, especially now in regards to water, we have to be taken seriously. – Stephen Roe Lewis, Governor Gila Indian River Community If you are following the ever-unfolding sagas of the Colorado River in the 21st century, the Early Anthropocene, you are probably aware that there are water-related issues with the 30 remaining First Peoples living within the Colorado River Basin. I’ll say, to start, that I don’t like to call the 574 recognized First Peoples in the United States and Alaska ‘Indians’ (colonizing and homogenizing term, inaccurate too), ‘American Indians’ (two Eurocentric colonizing words), or ‘Native Americans’ (anyone born here is a ‘native’). I prefer to think of them as ‘First People’ for a couple reasons. First, because many of the … Read More

Beyond 2026: Governance for the Colorado River in the Anthropocene

George2023, Sibley's Rivers8 Comments

The graph above is from a study released a couple weeks ago, mid-June, on ‘The Colorado River Water Crisis: Its Origin and the Future,’ authored by two elders of Colorado River affairs: Dr. John Schmidt, river scientist at Utah State University, and Eric Kuhn, longtime manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, now retired; both are deeply immersed in the river’s issues, and committed to working through the current crisis to a more reality-based future for the river and those who use its waters. A third author is Charles Yackulic, a noted scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, but not so well known in Colorado River matters. When Jack Schmidt and Eric Kuhn speak about the river, everyone listens – especially when they speak together. This graph alone explains a lot of the pain and anxiety we’ve been experiencing, and anticipating experiencing, in the Colorado River region – the natural basin plus technological out-of-basin extensions. (Sometimes the anticipation of … Read More

Thoughts on the Lower Colorado River Basin Water Deal

George2023, Sibley's Rivers6 Comments

A short post, to catch up on Colorado River current events. As you probably know, if you haven’t been living in a media-free cave, the three Colorado River states below the canyon region have proposed another alternative plan for saving the River’s reservoir system. Their proposal, for answering the Interior Department’s call for cuts of at least two million acre-feet (maf) of water annually, is to cut three maf total over the next three years – and they want 1.2 billion dollars from the federal government to execute their plan. Their plan is basically to pay farmers to voluntarily fallow some of their land. They say they will do half of the cuts – 1.5 maf – in 2024, the remainder over the following two years. Beyond that, there are no firm details at this writing as to how much of the cuts will come from each state, how much they will be paying farmers, et cetera. Basically, what it … Read More

Romancing the River: Glen Canyon Dam and Another America

George2023, Sibley's Rivers7 Comments

We’re in a bit of a holding pattern along the Colorado River today, at least in the Upper Basin: on the one hand, waiting for the Bureau of Reclamation to weigh the options for big cuts in Lower Basin use; and on the other hand, seeing the Lower Basin states trying to come up with a less painful set of big cuts to impose on themselves over three years, taking advantage of the big snow year that relieves a little (but just a little!) of the immediate pressure. At any rate, it’s an opportunity for me to step back a step and try to restore something of the perspective with which I started these posts – ‘learning to live in the Anthropocene.’ I’ve been calling the posts ‘Romancing the River,’ wanting to work in the spirit of Frederick Dellenbaugh in his book The Romance of the Colorado River: making the story of the First River of the Anthropocene something to … Read More


Romancing the River: Is Glen Canyon Dam an ‘Antique’?

George2023, Sibley's Rivers9 Comments


Romancing the River: Is Glen Canyon Dam an ‘Antique’?

Yes, that diagram again. I was chastised by readers last week for using it – partly for the ‘Antique’ in the diagram’s title, but also for not adequately explaining what the diagram shows. I apologize for the latter. These posts tend to run long and demand a lot more of readers than the 15-second attention span for which Americans are derided. But just to keep them down to a couple thousand words or so, I find myself having to go through some things too quickly in order to get to whatever point I was aiming for. Brevity unfortunately is not the soul of my wit. But having a sense of the structure and infrastructure of our big dams is critical to understanding what is going on along the Colorado River these days, where it is easy to confuse the river itself (which is experiencing chronic low flows but is not ‘drying up’) with the ‘river management system’ (which really could … Read More

Romancing the River: Beginning to Face Reality

George2023, Sibley's Rivers10 Comments

​As you no doubt already know, if you follow Colorado River news, the Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior have issued a ‘Near-term Colorado River Operations: Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’ (SEIS) analyzing two alternatives for making massive cuts in the consumptive use of the Colorado River’s waters, beginning in 2024. The SEIS analyzes strategies for cutting use by two million-acre feet (maf) next year, with cuts up to four maf in following years if the water supply in storage continues to decline – roughly a third of the total volume of the river as it has run since the turn of the century. ​The alternatives discussed in the SEIS will look familiar to those who have followed the river news for the past couple months; they are similar to the plans for large reductions created by the seven River Basin states: one plan by six of the states, the other by the seventh, California. One of the Bureau’s ‘action … Read More



Romancing the River: Tragicomedies of the Commons

George2023, Sibley's Rivers12 Comments

In my last post, I was questioning the process of allowing the privatization of the commons through individual appropriations – in our specific instance here, privatization of the ‘water commons,’ but also of the land, and all of its living systems and the raw resources that must feed, water, shelter not just us but all life on the planet. Every living thing that requires food, water, air or virtually anything at all ‘appropriates it from the commons,’ and probably in the strictest sense we all ‘create a property’ in the apples we pick to eat, the water we dip out of the stream to drink, the oxygen in the air we suck into our lungs. But we have not always gone on to claim personal ownership of the tree that produced the apple, or the land the tree grows on, the stream that waters the tree. That is a relatively recent invention of modern cultures – the agricultural and the … Read More