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Environment & Science

The Colorado River's history is wet with fighting




The Colorado River not far from the Project Rulison test site in Rulison, Colorado.
The Colorado River not far from the Project Rulison test site in Rulison, Colorado.
David Owen

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"There it is. Take it."

Those are the famous – or to some, infamous – words of William Mullholland when the Los Angeles Aqueduct opened over 100 years ago.

That water rushed from the Owens Valley into the San Fernando Reservoir and gave the city the life blood it needed to thrive and grow.

This same scenario, more or less, has played out in many other parts of the West like the Colorado River.

But the history of that waterway is riddled with fighting.

"There are more legal claims to water in the river than there is actual water in the river," says David Owen, author of, "Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River."

"Water lawyers in the Colorado River basin talk about 'paper water,' which is water that people have a legal claim to," he says, "and then 'wet water' which is what you and I think of as water."

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