Lesson 903: The Lower Colorado River: Dwindling Lifeblood of the Southwest

Forty million people rely on water released from Lake Mead, on the Colorado River not far from Las Vegas. That booming city, renowned for vice, is also a world leader in water conservation. Far downstream huge canals de-water the river, as farmers look to technology to maintain their productivity, Californians deliver water to their vast population and farmland, and Mexico receives its entitlement. The once-great river and vast wetlands face a dried-out channel.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the importance of the Colorado River and the water shortage in the Southwest.

Social Studies Standards

Science, Technology & Society: B, E

Discussion Prompts

  • The video uses the analogy that rivers are like veins and arteries. Explain why they are the life blood of our planet.
  • Do you agree that rivers should have the right to remain free from contamination and the right to conservation? Should there be laws that enforce this? Why or why not?
  • Explain why Las Vegas is a model for water efficiency. What specific measures have they taken to address water demands and resources?
  • What are some proactive or innovative solutions to provide water for the 40 million who depend on the Colorado River?

Lesson Activities

  • Create a flow chart that illustrates the original four reasons why dams were created and the issues that they were supposed to solve.
  • In the video it is stated, “If there was a river that needed a voice, it was the mighty Colorado.” Create a poem, speech, or story in the voice of the river, incorporating the ideas from the video that rivers have rights.
  • You have been hired to fix the water problems in a city similar to Las Vegas. Create a water resource plan and list the first five steps you will take in your conservation effort. Explain why each is important.
  • Select 2-3 dams that you think are the most important and plan a learning station activity that will teach others about the history and purpose of each dam.


  • acre
  • circuitous
  • contested
  • elevation
  • extractor
  • irrigation
  • marvel
  • meander
  • myriad
  • turbine


In the Americas Season 9 Lesson Episode 3