by Robert W Adler
University of Utah Press, 2023
eISBN: 978-1-64769-151-6 | Paper: 978-1-64769-148-6
Library of Congress Classification KF5590.C6A83 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 346.730469100979


Law and the Living Colorado River asserts that the so-called Law of the River—the vast assemblage of interstate compacts, international treaties, federal and state statutes, regulations, contracts, and other legal documents governing use and management of the Colorado River—ignores the needs of the river as a nested system of aquatic and aquatic-dependent ecosystems. Although society now recognizes and appreciates the natural values of the Colorado River, the Law of the River remains fixed in service of human economies like irrigation and hydropower. Robert W. Adler contends that the law must respond to changing values that prioritize natural systems alongside human ones. He proposes acknowledging the legal rights of the river itself, following the recent movement to recognize rights of nature in other ecosystems around the world. Recognizing that U.S. law has significant barriers to that proposal, however, Adler borrows from aspects of international water law to propose as a shorter-term strategy amendments to the Colorado River Compact that would enhance protection of the river’s environmental needs and values.

Adler delivered this lecture on March 17, 2022, at the 27th annual symposium of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, jointly sponsored by the Wallace Stegner Center and the Water & Tribes Initiative | Colorado River Basin.