The Vanishing River: USA's Mega Drought | Foreign Correspondent

Published 2022-09-08
The once mighty Colorado River is in trouble. Stretching from the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains all the way down to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, its’ waters are a lifeline to tens of millions of people. Subscribe:

But the pressures of the decades-long megadrought in America’s Southwest and a warming planet mean the water levels in the river and its dams are dropping.

“I’m not going to say it’s too late, but we are in true crisis’, says renowned river scientist, Professor Jack Schmidt.

The pressures on the river are largely man-made.

The building of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s tamed the waters of this once wild river, harnessing its flows to make hydropower and feed a massive agricultural industry across the Southwest.

But the water was over allocated from the start. Now as dam levels drop to their lowest ever, the survival of farms and industries are threatened.

‘I feel every day of my life that my son will not be able to share in this magnificence …and the beauty of this profession’, says Jace Miller, an Arizona farmer of five generations.

He grows feed for livestock, but next year, his water allocation will be cut to zero.

US correspondent Barbara Miller travels along this spectacular river to meet the communities whose livelihoods depend on it.

Miller rafts down the Colorado rapids with the Native American tribe which depends on tourism for a dollar.

She visits the thriving desert city of Las Vegas, which has become a US leader in urban water conservation.

And there’s a silver lining. As waters in the dam reservoirs recede, natural wonders which were flooded for decades are emerging.

‘We’re seeing this flowing waterfall and this trickling creek. We’re seeing the vegetation start to come back’, says environmentalist Eric Balken.

The vanishing river is a wake-up call for all those who depend on it.

‘We just pretended the Colorado River is just a check account’, says Professor Schmidt. ‘There are gonna be limits…and we’re gonna have to deal with them.’

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All Comments (21)
  • Twoprop
    My wife and I have been going down to this area since 1989. When we first went down to Las Vegas and travelled out to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead it was mind blowing all that water in the desert. Over the years we have travelled all over the south west from San Diego to the Grand Canyon and seen the growth in the cities and towns but what amazed me was the development and extent of the farming in this area. Two years ago we travelled from Las Vegas to Nogales stopping at Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and Lake Havasu and couldn't believe the drop in water levels. Viewing this video reaffirms what I often wondered, how this could be sustainable. The Arizona area use to sustain a large population of Native Americans that had a well developed society with canals and water control that disappeared. It was suspected that there was an extended period of drought that caused the society to collapse. Seems history is repeating itself. I hope the people in this area can come to grips with the fact that living within the environment and not controlling it will be the answer to this dilemma.
  • Tim Cleveland
    I moved to Southern California in 2010 from the South East, I was blown away by how many people lived there and took water for granted. In just 3 years water was being rationed, grass being replaced by desert landscape. I saw a big crack on the wall and moved back near the mountains of NC. Before I moved I visited the Hoover Dam, in 2012, it freaked me out then, I can’t imagine what will happen when the Dam goes Deadpool, because it will. As beautiful as the desert is, it’s no place to live.
    If you live in the Western states get out now. It may be only another 10 years or less, but There will be a mass migration from California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah to name a few, your homes will drop in value overnight. The Government should have started building Desalination Plants in the 1960s.
    To late now, the Salton Sea is a good example of an inland Sea, a nightmare.
    I would sell now & move east of the Mississippi River, stay way from Florida & Louisiana and the Coast.
    Good Luck.
  • K Espo
    How embarrassing that the states are fighting for golf courses and new housing developments when the tribes don't even have running water. I'd like to see people in those developments haul their water and boil it every day and see how long that lasts.
  • Lauren Kennon
    Sadly, after 30 years, I sold my mom's house (she passed) in Phoenix to go to sustainable land and water (also where rain harvest is good) with lakes, natural springs, rivers, etc- a place of refuge for my family to follow. I figured most people put their head in the sand regarding the water crisis until it was all over the news. Once it is all over the news, this can make it difficult to move. Who wants to live where there is no water? I was called rash but now as a creek runs through my acres (which cost way less than a house in Phoenix or up north even) with deer and wild turkeys too, I'm thinking I made a good move. I also considered out of the city and less than national average crime rate in constitutional country.
  • Dave D
    This is the definition of insanity.
    You know you have a water problem but you still keep building new homes.
  • Desalinization of ocean water isn’t just free water you can have, the process is energy intensive, expensive, and results in “brine” which is difficult to get rid of
  • MrRipsaw1
    This report is very similar to an IMAX film called "Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk" in which narrator Robert Redford heads along the river with his daughter and a group of friends explaining the unsustainable consumption, waste, increasing demands and the negative impact on farming and native residents just as this report does. However 'River at Risk' was released in 2008!
  • Mike Garcia
    It was a pleasure getting to speak with Barbara in regards to this water issue that is crippling the southwest. The more people are informed the quicker we can find solutions that help all of us here in the southwest.
  • Bobby Paluga
    I live in Arizona this report does a tremendous job in illustrating the water and power issues we’re dealing with. Thank You
  • A.S. SHOLE
    I was stationed at NAS Lemoore for almost three years in the '80s. I learned a lot of history from the locals. First and foremost was the fact that the San Joaquin Valley was a desert before irrigation.
  • Daddyoh
    Great informative truthful video. I live in California and have tried pushing for more desalination plants on social media and talking to state legislature candidates. I believe it'll still take a catastrophe before something like huge desalination projects are considered. People have their heads in the sand still or just want to build more dams. But if there is no rain to fill the dams then all you have is a mud hole or sand pit.
  • Grace S
    Hard to believe a desert can't support 40 million people and CA agriculture anymore
  • Angry Britches
    "Deadpool means we can no longer deliver water or produce power." "Having that happen, is not an option." - It's this kind of arrogance that has them in this position, in the first place.
  • jose machado
    There is another video series on YouTube that focuses on lake Mead going dry. I was talking to an older gentleman the other day and we got in the subject of droughts because of how early and how long the heat has gotten over the years. He says the entire world has been experiencing a drought for the past 20 years. But because of it we have found towns roads bridges that have been long gone.
  • MoJoHand
    I’ve been to Hoover Dam before it is shocking how beautiful it is there. The cameras/pictures don’t do it justice at all. If you are afraid of heights it’s not somewhere you want to go.
  • Carolyn Morris
    I've been to the Hoover dam, and I've seen it. It really is amazing. Modern marvel engineering.
  • William Burdon
    As I drove out of Phoenix Az 8 years ago, I saw the sprinkling system come on in a place that looked like a moon scape, dry as a mother in laws kiss and covered in stones the size of baseballs. Sure, you can grow something there, but it will take 10 times as much water as in a normal midwest climate.. Half of those fields are empty or getting ready for houses. It almost seems like a plan for failure.
  • MammaDuck
    I ran the river when it was at its highest. At that point they had the opposite problem, and the dam was close to collapse. We weren't told that they would have to do a water release, and it was a total surprise when the water started and didn't stop. We were in kayaks. All the way down we were seeing wrecked rafts which had been thrown on the rocks or against the walls of the canyon and torn to shreds. We were going to camp on one of the sand banks where rafting companies made camp, but they were all underwater. We ended up spending the night clinging to a small tree until it got light enough to see. I guess we were not surprised when we heard that one person had been killed when the raft she was in was torn apart in a hole. Actually what surprised us was that more people weren't killed. We later heard that the dam which backs up Lake Powell had nearly collapsed due to cavitation of water being pushed through the outlets as fast as they could let it go, and that when they saw chunks of concrete and sand coming out of them, they had to reduce the flow, which caused the dam to come close to being overtopped. The only thing which kept it from being overtopped was the addition of plywood boards to raise it's top. If it had have been overtopped, the dam would have collapsed, and the resulting flood would have killed everyone down there, and I would not be here to write this today. Neither would the Indians who are currently worried about the river drying up to the point of being unrunnable. The flow of the river at that time was a boggling 100,000 CFS. All of the major navigational landmarks were underwater, and most of the rapids were washed out, often with a strong current slamming up against the opposite will of the canyon. We were paddling for our lives. Under normal conditions we would have been aiming for those currents, as that was where the most exciting waves were, but at that time, the waves were gone, and we were simply paddling as hard as we could to stay out of the current. The whole hydrology of the river changed, and we had to play it all by ear. What we expected to be the best kayaking trip of our lifetime ended up being the worst. Looking at it now, it's hard to believe that it's the same river we went down 40 years ago. Something is definitely wrong with the climate.
  • B. A. D.
    I'm 78 and have lived in the same Utah town all my life. I remember the wonders of a wild Colorado River. I remember dense, clean fog from the Great Salt Lake. I remember how even in dry years the orchards and large vegetable gardens thrived and water went out to the wildlife refuges and the lake. The air was clean. Then the deluge of people came and all the beauty, prosperity and quiet gave way to "Growth" and the clean desert became polluted and paved over. The Great Salt Lake is nearly gone and toxic everything has replaced it. It makes me very sad but I have faith in nature. Nothing is forever just as a cloud never dies.
  • planeta rubscons
    Respect nature! Respect the water! Respect your body! Respect your creator.