Colorado River Origin and Evolution
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Recent Awards. Presidential and Honorary Awards. About Awards. How to Manage Your Award. Grant Policy Manual. Grant General Conditions. Cooperative Agreement Conditions. Special Conditions. Federal Demonstration Partnership. Policy Office Website. Rebecca Dorsey rdorsey uoregon. Program Reference Code s :. Showing: 1 - 10 of 12 Showing: 1 - 12 of Since , the stretch of the Colorado between here and the Gulf of California has been dry or a trickle formed by irrigation return flows. Occasionally the International Boundary and Water Commission allows a springtime pulse flow to recharge the delta.
The Colorado is joined by over 25 significant tributaries, of which the Green River is the largest by both length and discharge. In its natural state, the Colorado River poured about The areas drained within Baja California and Sonora are very small and do not contribute measurable runoff. Most of the basin is arid, defined by the Sonoran and Mojave deserts and the expanse of the Colorado Plateau, although significant expanses of forest are found in the Rocky Mountains; the Kaibab, Aquarius , and Markagunt plateaus in southern Utah and northern Arizona; the Mogollon Rim through central Arizona; and other smaller mountain ranges and sky islands.
Climate varies widely across the watershed. Mean monthly high temperatures are Annual precipitation averages 6. As of , approximately Other significant population centers in the basin include Tucson, Arizona ; St. George, Utah ; and Grand Junction, Colorado. Colorado River basin states are among the fastest-growing in the U. The Colorado River basin shares drainage boundaries with many other major watersheds of North America.
The Continental Divide of the Americas forms a large portion of the eastern boundary of the watershed, separating it from the basins of the Yellowstone River and the Platte River —both tributaries of the Missouri River —on the northeast, and from the headwaters of the Arkansas River on the east. Both the Missouri and Arkansas rivers are part of the Mississippi River system. Further south, the Colorado River basin borders on the Rio Grande drainage, which along with the Mississippi flows to the Gulf of Mexico , as well as a series of endorheic closed drainage basins in southwestern New Mexico and extreme southeastern Arizona.
For a short stretch, the Colorado watershed meets the drainage basin of the Snake River , a tributary of the Columbia River , in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming.
Southwest of there, the northern divide of the Colorado watershed skirts the edge of the Great Basin , bordering on the closed drainage basins of the Great Salt Lake and the Sevier River in central Utah, and other closed basins in southern Utah and Nevada. The time scale and sequence over which the river's present course and the Grand Canyon were formed is uncertain. Crustal extension in the Basin and Range Province began about 20 million years ago and the modern Sierra Nevada began forming about 10 million years ago, eventually diverting the Colorado southwards towards the Gulf.
Antecedence played a major part in shaping other peculiar geographic features in the watershed, including the Dolores River's bisection of Paradox Valley in Colorado and the Green River's cut through the Uinta Mountains in Utah. The lake took about 50 years to evaporate after the Colorado resumed flowing to the Gulf. The present-day Salton Sea can be considered the most recent incarnation of Lake Cahuilla, though on a much smaller scale. Between 1. Failure of the lava dams caused by erosion, leaks and cavitation caused catastrophic floods, which may have been some of the largest ever to occur in North America, rivaling the late- Pleistocene Missoula Floods of the northwestern United States.
The first humans of the Colorado River basin were likely Paleo-Indians of the Clovis and Folsom cultures, who first arrived on the Colorado Plateau about 12, years ago. Very little human activity occurred in the watershed until the rise of the Desert Archaic Culture , which from 8, to 2, years ago constituted most of the region's human population. These prehistoric inhabitants led a generally nomadic lifestyle, gathering plants and hunting small animals though some of the earliest peoples hunted larger mammals that became extinct in North America after the end of the Pleistocene epoch.
The Fremont were likely the first peoples of the Colorado River basin to domesticate crops and construct masonry dwellings; they also left behind a large amount of rock art and petroglyphs , many of which have survived to the present day. Beginning in the early centuries A. Between and A. Both civilizations supported large populations at their height; the Chaco Canyon Puebloans numbered between 6, and 15,  and estimates for the Hohokam range between 30, and , These sedentary peoples heavily exploited their surroundings, practicing logging and harvesting of other resources on a large scale.
The construction of irrigation canals may have led to a significant change in the morphology of many waterways in the Colorado River basin. Prior to human contact, rivers such as the Gila, Salt and Chaco were shallow perennial streams with low, vegetated banks and large floodplains. In time, flash floods caused significant downcutting on irrigation canals, which in turn led to the entrenchment of the original streams into arroyos , making agriculture difficult.
The Navajo were an Athabaskan people who migrated from the north into the Colorado River basin around A. The Mohave have lived along the rich bottomlands of the lower Colorado below Black Canyon since A. They were fishermen—navigating the river on rafts made of reeds to catch Gila trout and Colorado pikeminnow — and farmers, relying on the annual floods of the river rather than irrigation to water their crops. Missionaries sought to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity — an effort sometimes successful, such as in Father Eusebio Francisco Kino 's encounter with the "docile Pimas of the Gila Valley [who] readily accepted Kino and his Christian teachings".
The Spanish introduced sheep and goats to the Navajo, who came to rely heavily on them for meat, milk and wool. The use of horses spread through the basin via trade between the various tribes and greatly facilitated hunting, communications and travel for indigenous peoples. More warlike groups such as the Utes and Navajos often used horses to their advantage in raids against tribes that were slower to adopt them, such as the Goshutes and Southern Paiutes.
The gradual influx of European and American explorers, fortune seekers and settlers into the region eventually led to conflicts that forced many Native Americans off their traditional lands. In what is now known as the Long Walk of the Navajo, the captives were marched from Arizona to Fort Sumner in New Mexico, and many died along the route.
Four years later, the Navajo signed a treaty that moved them onto a reservation in the Four Corners region that is now known as the Navajo Nation. The Mohave were expelled from their territory after a series of minor skirmishes and raids on wagon trains passing through the area in the late s, culminating in an battle with American forces that concluded the Mohave War. The construction of dams has often had negative impacts on tribal peoples, such as the Chemehuevi when their riverside lands were flooded after the completion of Parker Dam in Ten Native American tribes in the basin now hold or continue to claim water rights to the Colorado River.
The first federally funded irrigation project in the U. An early motive was the search for the Seven Cities of Gold , or "Cibola", rumored to have been built by Native Americans somewhere in the desert Southwest. According to a United States Geological Survey publication, it is likely that Francisco de Ulloa was the first European to see the Colorado River when in he sailed to the head of the Gulf of California.
After failing at an attempt to descend to the river, they left the area, defeated by the difficult terrain and torrid weather. The name Rio Colorado "Red River" was first applied to the Colorado by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in his maps and written reports resulting from his explorations to the Colorado River Delta and his discovery that California was not an island but a peninsula — Kino's map, "Paso por Tierra a la California," is the first known map to label the river as the Colorado.
Smith called the Colorado the "Seedskeedee", as the Green River in Wyoming was known to fur trappers, correctly believing it to be a continuation of the Green and not a separate river as others believed under the Buenaventura myth. Between and the U. Army explored the lower reach of the Colorado River from the Gulf of California, looking for the river to provide a less expensive route to supply the remote post of Fort Yuma.
Wilcox and then by its longboat commanded by Lieutenant George Derby. Later Lieutenant Derby, in his expedition report, recommended that a shallow draft sternwheel steamboat would be the way to send supplies up river to the fort. Hartshorne , brought two barges and tons of supplies arriving at the river's mouth in February , on the United States transport schooner Sierra Nevada under Captain Wilcox.
Poling the barges up the Colorado, the first barge sank with its cargo a total loss. The second was finally, after a long struggle poled up to Fort Yuma, but what little it carried was soon consumed by the garrison. Subsequently, wagons again were sent from the fort to haul the balance of the supplies overland from the estuary through the marshes and woodlands of the Delta. At last Derby's recommendation was heeded and in November , the Uncle Sam , a foot long side-wheel paddle steamer , built by Domingo Marcucci , became the first steamboat on the Colorado River.
It was assembled and launched in the estuary, 30 miles above the mouth of the Colorado River. Equipped with only a horsepower engine, the Uncle Sam could only carry 35 tons of supplies, taking 15 days to make the first mile trip. It made many trips up and down the river, taking four months to finish carrying the supplies for the fort, improving its time up river to 12 days.
Negligence caused it to sink at its dock below Fort Yuma, and was then washed away before it could be raised, in the spring flood of Turnbull in financial difficulty, disappeared. Nevertheless, he had shown the worth of steamboats to solve Fort Yuma's supply problem. Johnson and his partners, all having learned lessons from their failed attempts ascending the Colorado and with the example of the Uncle Sam , brought the parts of a more powerful side-wheel steamboat, the General Jesup , with them to the mouth of the Colorado from San Francisco.
There it was reassembled at a landing in the upper tidewater of the river and reached Fort Yuma, January 18, This new boat, capable of carrying 50 tons of cargo, was very successful making round trips from the estuary to the fort in only four or five days. The second Corps of Topographical Engineers expedition passed along and crossed the Colorado was the — Pacific Railroad Survey expedition along the 35th parallel north from Oklahoma to Los Angeles , led by Lt.
Amiel Weeks Whipple. George A. Johnson was instrumental in getting the support for Congressional funding a military expedition up the river. With those funds Johnson expected to provide the transportation for the expedition but was angry and disappointed when the commander of the expedition Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives rejected his offer of one of his steamboats. Before Ives could finish reassembling his steamer in the delta, George A. Johnson set off from Fort Yuma on December 31, , conducting his own exploration of the river above the fort in his steamboat General Jesup.
Running low on food he turned back. Ives and his men used a specially built steamboat, the shallow-draft U. Explorer , and traveled up the river as far as Black Canyon. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed. In that year Captain Robert T. Rogers , commanding the steamer Esmeralda with a barge and ninety tons of freight, reached Callville, Nevada , on October 8, Mellon in the Gila left El Dorado Canyon landing, steamed up through the rapids in Black Canyon, making record time to Callville and tied up overnight.
Next morning he to steamed up through the rapids in Boulder Canyon to reach the mouth of the Virgin River at Rioville July 8, From to , Rioville, Nevada was the high water Head of Navigation for the steamboats and the mining company sloop Sou'Wester that carried the salt needed for the reduction of silver ore from there to the mills at El Dorado Canyon.
Because of the dramatic drop in elevation of the two rivers, there were rumors of huge waterfalls and violent rapids, and Native American tales strengthened their credibility. Thomas, Nevada , near present-day Hoover Dam. After braving the rapids of the Gates of Lodore , Cataract Canyon and other gorges along the Colorado, the party arrived at the mouth of the Little Colorado River, where Powell noted down arguably the most famous words ever written about the Grand Canyon of the Colorado: .
We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, are chafing each other, as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month's rations remaining.
The flour has been re-sifted through the mosquito net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried, and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun, and re-shrunken to their normal bulk; the sugar has all melted, and gone on its way down the river; but we have a large sack of coffee. The lighting of the boats has this advantage: they will ride the waves better, and we shall have little to carry when we make a portage. We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders.
We have an unknown distance yet to run; an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not; Ah, well! The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly. On August 28, , three men deserted the expedition, convinced that they could not possibly survive the trip through the Grand Canyon. They were killed by Native Americans after making it to the rim of the canyon; two days later, the expedition ran the last of the Grand Canyon rapids and reached St.
In what is perhaps a twist of irony, modern-day Lake Powell, which floods Glen Canyon, is also named for their leader. In , the Uncle Sam was launched to provide supplies to the U. Army outpost at Fort Yuma. Although this vessel accidentally foundered and sank early in its career, commercial traffic quickly proliferated because river transport was much cheaper than hauling freight over land. Under Brigham Young 's grand vision for a "vast empire in the desert",  the State of Deseret Mormon settlers were among the first whites to establish a permanent presence in the watershed, Fort Clara or Fort Santa Clara , in the winter of — along the Santa Clara River , tributary of the Virgin River.
From to , Mormon colonists founded St.
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Stone's Ferry was established by these colonists on the Colorado at the mouth of the Virgin River to carry their produce on a wagon road to the mining districts of Mohave County, Arizona to the south. Also, in , a steamboat landing was established at Callville , intended as an outlet to the Pacific Ocean via the Colorado River, for Mormon settlements in the Great Basin. These settlements reached a peak population of about before being abandoned in , and for nearly a decade these valleys became a haven for outlaws and cattle rustlers.
From to , Colorado Steam Navigation Company steamboats carried the salt, operating up river in the high spring flood waters, through Boulder Canyon , to the landing at Rioville at the mouth of the Virgin River. From to the Southwestern Mining Company, largest in El Dorado Canyon, brought in a foot sloop the Sou'Wester that sailed up and down river carrying the salt in the low water time of year until it was wrecked in the Quick and Dirty Rapids of Black Canyon.
Mormons founded settlements along the Duchesne River Valley in the s, and populated the Little Colorado River valley later in the century, settling in towns such as St. Johns, Arizona. These early settlers were impressed by the extensive ruins of the Hohokam civilization that previously occupied the Gila River valley, and are said to have "envisioned their new agricultural civilization rising as the mythical phoenix bird from the ashes of Hohokam society".
One of the main reasons the Mormons were able to colonize Arizona was the existence of Jacob Hamblin 's ferry across the Colorado at Lee's Ferry then known as Pahreah Crossing , which began running in March John Doyle Lee established a more permanent ferry system at the site in One reason Lee chose to run the ferry was to flee from Mormon leaders who held him responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre , in which emigrants in a wagon train were killed by a local militia disguised as Native Americans.
Even though it was located along a major travel route, Lee's Ferry was very isolated, and there Lee and his family established the aptly named Lonely Dell Ranch. In , a group of adventurers from Georgia discovered gold along the Blue River in Colorado and established the mining boomtown of Breckenridge. Mining remains a substantial contributor to the economy of the upper basin and has led to acid mine drainage problems in some regional streams and rivers.
Prior to , the upper Colorado River above the confluence with the Green River in Utah had assumed various names. Through the mids, the river between Green River and the Gunnison River was most commonly known as the Grand River. The latter name did not become consistently applied until the s. In , U. Representative Edward T. Taylor saw the fact that the Colorado River started outside the border of his state as an "abomination".
Meanwhile, large-scale development was also beginning on the opposite end of the Colorado River. In , entrepreneurs of the California Development Company CDC looked to the Imperial Valley of southern California as an excellent location to develop agriculture irrigated by the waters of the river. Engineer George Chaffey was hired to design the Alamo Canal , which split off from the Colorado River near Pilot Knob , curved south into Mexico, and dumped into the Alamo River , a dry arroyo which had historically carried flood flows of the Colorado into the Salton Sink.
With a stable year-round flow in the Alamo River, irrigators in the Imperial Valley were able to begin large-scale farming, and small towns in the region started to expand with the influx of job-seeking migrants. It was not long before the Colorado River began to wreak havoc with its erratic flows. In autumn, the river would drop below the level of the canal inlet, and temporary brush diversion dams had to be constructed. In early , heavy floods destroyed the headworks of the canal, and water began to flow uncontrolled down the canal towards the Salton Sink.
On August 9, the entire flow of the Colorado swerved into the canal and began to flood the bottom of the Imperial Valley. In a desperate gamble to close the breach, crews of the Southern Pacific Railroad , whose tracks ran through the valley, attempted to dam the Colorado above the canal, only to see their work demolished by a flash flood. After the immediate flooding threat passed, it was realized that a more permanent solution would be needed to rein in the Colorado. In , six U. Each was given rights to 7. Hoover was the tallest dam in the world at the time of construction and also had the world's largest hydroelectric power plant.
The All-American Canal, built as a permanent replacement for the Alamo Canal, is so named because it lies completely within the U. The Lower Basin states also sought to develop the Colorado for municipal supplies. Central Arizona initially relied on the Gila River and its tributaries through projects such as the Theodore Roosevelt and Coolidge Dams — completed in and , respectively. Roosevelt was the first large dam constructed by the USBR and provided the water needed to start large-scale agricultural and urban development in the region. Nevada officials, believing that groundwater resources in the southern part of the state were sufficient for future growth, were more concerned with securing a large amount of the dam's power supply than water from the Colorado; thus they settled for the smallest allocation of all the states in the Colorado River Compact.
Water use had increased significantly by the s, and more water was being diverted out of the Colorado River basin to the Front Range corridor, the Salt Lake City area in Utah, and the Rio Grande basin in New Mexico. There was also the concern that drought could impair the upper basin's ability to deliver the required 7.
National Park Service and environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club. This was primarily because of Glen Canyon's remote location and the result that most of the American public did not even know of the existence of the impressive gorge; the few who did contended that it had much greater scenic value than Echo Park.
Sierra Club leader David Brower fought the dam both during the construction and for many years afterwards until his death in Brower strongly believed that he was personally responsible for the failure to prevent Glen Canyon's flooding, calling it his "greatest mistake, greatest sin". Agricultural and urban growth in Arizona eventually outstripped the capacity of local rivers; these concerns were reflected in the creation of a Pacific Southwest Water Plan in the s, which aimed to build a project that would permit Arizona to fully utilize its 2.
The Pacific Southwest Water Plan was the first major proposal to divert water to the Colorado Basin from other river basins — namely, from the wetter northwestern United States. It was intended to boost supplies for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as well as Mexico, thus allowing the Upper Basin states to retain native Colorado River flows for their own use. Although there was still a surplus of water in the Colorado Basin during the midth century, the Bureau of Reclamation predicted, correctly, that eventually population growth would outstrip the available supply and require the transfer of water from other sources.
The original version of the plan proposed to divert water from the Trinity River in northern California to reduce Southern California's dependence on the Colorado, allowing more water to be pumped, by exchange, to central Arizona. Because of the large amount of power that would be required to pump Colorado River water to Arizona, the CAP originally included provisions for hydroelectric dams at Bridge Canyon and Marble Canyon , which would have flooded large portions of the Colorado within the Grand Canyon and dewatered much of the remainder.
As a result, the Grand Canyon dams were removed from the CAP agenda, the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park were extended to preclude any further development in the area, and the pumping power was replaced by the building of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, in Various estimates place the time it would take for Powell to completely fill with silt at to years. Dams trapping sediment not only pose damage to river habitat but also threaten future operations of the Colorado River reservoir system.
Historically, the delta with its large freshwater outflow and extensive salt marshes provided an important breeding ground for aquatic species in the Gulf. Today's desiccated delta, at only a fraction of its former size, no longer provides suitable habitat, and populations of fish, shrimp and sea mammals in the gulf have seen a dramatic decline.
Reduced flows have led to increases in the concentration of certain substances in the lower river that have impacted water quality. Salinity is one of the major issues and also leads to the corrosion of pipelines in agricultural and urban areas. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act was passed in , mandating conservation practices including the reduction of saline drainage.
The program reduced the annual load by about 1. Further efforts have been made to combat the salt issue in the lower Colorado, including the construction of a desalination plant at Yuma. Agricultural runoff containing pesticide residues has also been concentrated in the lower river in greater amounts. This has led to fish kills; six of these events were recorded between and alone.
Both rivers and the sea are among the most polluted bodies of water in the United States, posing dangers not only to aquatic life but to contact by humans and migrating birds. Large dams such as Hoover and Glen Canyon typically release water from lower levels of their reservoirs, resulting in stable and relatively cold year-round temperatures in long reaches of the river. In November , the U. The water will be used to provide both an annual base flow and a spring "pulse flow" to mimic the river's original snowmelt-driven regime.
When the Colorado River Compact was drafted in the s, it was based on barely 30 years of streamflow records that suggested an average annual flow of In late , Lake Mead dropped to just 8 feet 2. The Colorado River and its tributaries often nourish extensive corridors of riparian growth as they traverse the arid desert regions of the watershed. Although riparian zones represent a relatively small proportion of the basin and have been affected by engineering projects and river diversion in many places, they have the greatest biodiversity of any habitat in the basin.
More than 1, species of plants grow in the Colorado River watershed, ranging from the creosote bush , saguaro cactus , and Joshua trees of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts to the forests of the Rocky Mountains and other uplands, composed mainly of ponderosa pine , subalpine fir , Douglas-fir and Engelmann spruce. Some arid regions of the watershed, such as the upper Green River valley in Wyoming, Canyonlands National Park in Utah and the San Pedro River valley in Arizona and Sonora, supported extensive reaches of grassland roamed by large mammals such as buffalo and antelope as late as the s.
Near Tucson, Arizona, "where now there is only powder-dry desert, the grass once reached as high as the head of a man on horse back". Rivers and streams in the Colorado basin were once home to 49 species of native fish, of which 42 were endemic. Engineering projects and river regulation have led to the extinction of four species and severe declines in the populations of 40 species.
Clear, cold water released by dams has significantly changed characteristics of habitat for these and other Colorado River basin fishes.
Colorado River - Wikipedia
Famed for its dramatic rapids and canyons, the Colorado is one of the most desirable whitewater rivers in the United States, and its Grand Canyon section—run by more than 22, people annually  —has been called the "granddaddy of rafting trips". Several other sections of the river and its tributaries are popular whitewater runs, and many of these are also served by commercial outfitters. The Colorado's Cataract Canyon and many reaches in the Colorado headwaters are even more heavily used than the Grand Canyon, and about 60, boaters run a single 4.
Eleven U. Fisheries have declined in many streams in the watershed, especially in the Rocky Mountains, because of polluted runoff from mining and agricultural activities. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Colorado River disambiguation. Main article: Course of the Colorado River. Main article: List of tributaries of the Colorado River. Also note that the SIB "Southerly International Boundary" is the point at which the Colorado ceases to form the border and passes entirely into Mexico. Census Bureau  and the State of Colorado. Geographic Names Information System.
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