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Who's the Boss?

Colorado River Leaves No Doubt as It Asserts Itself in the West

Water: Development and a powerful pact transformed once-mighty flow into a plumbing system. But the era of limits has arrived, bringing restoration, reallocation and rivalry.


In an effort to conserve, cities including Las Vegas fine residents who water their lawns in the summer during certain hours. Authorities have banned new housing developments featuring lakes, encouraged desert landscaping and limited the size of grass lawns with new homes. People in Los Angeles are required to have low-flow toilets and faucets and forbidden from letting hoses run without reason.

There is no question that the Colorado is reasserting itself in the West.

No city code, state court action or federal law can put water back into the river or wash away the well-entrenched water needs of millions of Westerners. It will take more than conservation and recycling, more than desalting undrinkable water and more sacrifice than any lawsuit or legislator can mandate. But there is no choice: The Colorado has spoken.

"I try to go where I can't smell any stinking reservoirs, but it's getting harder," says Katie Lee, a grizzled folk singer and river runner who was among the first white women to raft the Colorado through Glen Canyon in the 1950s. Calling Glen "her lover," Lee actually named dozens of its side canyons and penned an album of songs about the river.

Now 77, Lee hasn't been back on the Colorado since 1956, when Glen Canyon Dam was built. She has searched the Earth for a river that runs free.

"I had to go to the Noatak River--do you know where that is? It's north of the Arctic Circle," she said, her voice cracking. "Poor Colorado."

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