AGCI Insight

Staying current in times of rapid change: Introducing the Colorado River Science Wiki

May 19, 2023
The Colorado River as seen from the Parker Dam, on the Arizona-California border.

The Colorado River is at the forefront of today’s water availability discussions. On its 1,450-mile course through the southwestern United States, the Colorado River’s water supports an estimated 400 species of birds, 30 native fish species, and 40 million people. But since the turn of the millennium, the Colorado River basin has been in a severe arid period, which desiccated the southwestern United States, drying reservoirs, diminishing streamflow, and threatening major water supplies. 

Today, climate and population change adds pressure to the already water-stressed basin. The legal framework distributing the Colorado River’s water between states, tribes, stakeholders, and water users was established in the early- to mid-20th century. Even in high water years, the Colorado River Compact allocates more water rights on paper than there is water in the river. The volume of water flowing through the Colorado River each year between 2000 and 2021 dropped to 70% (12 million acre-feet) of the 16.5 million acre feet of water previously allocated to its users. Concomitant with these physical changes is a steadily growing population of water users. In short, the basin is changing dramatically and changing fast.

The scientific community has responded to these basin-wide changes with energy and curiosity. Within the Colorado River basin, science and engineering research teams are rising to the occasion with prolific publications, model updates, new data, and improved water management recommendations. Annual research publications with Colorado River as a tagged keyword grew by 600 percent from 2000 to 2021. The steady stream of high quality, cutting edge, and relevant science publications focused on Colorado River issues is so abundant that it can be tricky to keep up with. 

The Colorado River Science Wiki was born from this avalanche of data, interpretations, models, and policy recommendations. Designed to serve as a central hub for the Colorado River science community, it hosts a repository of new research and science information pertinent to the River, an overview of relevant legal and political frameworks, and a page highlighting upcoming events, conferences, and meetings focused on Colorado River research. 

Launched in November 2022, the wiki relies on its community of users and contributors to maintain the platform and help it grow. Hundreds of scientists have contributed by authoring the 700+ papers held in the Colorado River Wiki Zotero database. And scientists, students, the law community, journalists, and water managers are using the wiki. The geographic diversity of the user base will continue to grow as the wiki expands. Whether you are new to the Basin or a Colorado River old-timer, the Colorado River Science wiki has something for you. Check it out and share your comments on the feedback page. Welcome to the Colorado River Science wiki community!