Lesson 809 – Drought and New Realities in the Southwest

The Colorado River and its tributaries form the hydraulic backbone of the Southwest. It is an endangered river because there is not as much water as people originally thought. It is over allocated, excessively dammed and diverted, but its importance has never been greater.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the Colorado River and its current and future situation as the hydraulic backbone of the Southwest.

Social Studies Standards

Science, Technology, & Society: B, C, E

Discussion Prompts

  • David Yetman explains that the Colorado River journey is not as long as it used to be, 1450 miles long. Discuss the root of the cause of this matter. Is there a problem? What is really the problem/s? Can it be fixed?
  • Who owns the Colorado River? Discuss how the impact of manmade decisions based on nature cycles is contributing to the endangerment of the river. 
  • How might a historical mathematical error where people overestimated the water in the river, as well as climate change, impact the lives of the people dependent on this water? Discuss the implications of such an error.
  • The host talks about how some of the snow on the ground does not hold much water. How is that possible? What might be the reason for that? What are the implications of it?

Lesson Activities

  • Create a map of the 1450 mile-long Colorado River journey illustrating tributaries and the current length of its journey today as an endangered river. Highlight the regions impacted for its short fall.
  • Create a visual display illustrating through the lens of tradeoffs, like the Water Policy Consultant, Amy McCoy explained in the video, the system of how the river water is allocated throughout the different states.
  • Create a proposal on how to reconcile the Colorado River Compact drawn in 1922. In this proposal, address the historical mathematical error of overestimating the amount of water in the river, users’ alternatives for changes on their consumption of water, and climate change.
  • As a climate scientist, you want people to be aware of the dwindling source of water by engaging them in finding solutions for this dire situation. Create a series of informational clips for different social media platforms soliciting responses from your audience on how to curtail such a crisis.


  • compact
  • curtail
  • dammed
  • dependent
  • diverted
  • endangered
  • hydraulic
  • overestimate
  • scheme
  • tributary


In the Americas Season 8 Lesson Episode 9