The Colorado River: Water in the West as Seen from a Raft in the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River is the life-giving artery that waters much of the arid American West. Rushing from the high peaks of the Rockies through deep desert canyons to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River drains seven western states, irrigates more than 3 million acres of farmland, and provides hydropower and water for more than 30 million Americans before trickling into the Sea of Cortez. These competing demands make the Colorado River one of the most contested and controlled rivers in the world.

On August 30, 2011, students and faculty members from Stanford University began a 225 mile, 14-day field seminar rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon immersing themselves in the interdisciplinary subject of water in the West. The Sophomore College, “The Colorado River: Water in the West as Seen from a Raft in the Grand Canyon,” offered students from the Class of 2014 a unique opportunity to learn about the river through a variety of disciplines including history, law, politics, hydrology, geology, and education.

In between listening to lectures in awe-inspiring slot canyons and writing papers on sandy beaches, the students formed project groups around four themes explored in summer readings and expanded on during lectures and discussions on the river. Their projects highlight tensions between upper basin and lower basin states, competing resource demands of the United States and Mexico, issues of preservation and conservation of the Colorado River basin, and our time on the river, in the Grand Canyon, and exploring the Colorado River Basin.  In addition to presenting their work to a small group once we arrived back on campus in September, the students have prepared articles, reports, and pictures to share some of the intellectual themes that were explored in one of the world's most amazing classrooms: the Grand Canyon.

You can read a feature story about the course in Stanford Magazine and view an interactive map of the expedition. And learn more about our research program on Water in the West, a collaboration with the Woods Institute for the Environment here.

To view the student's projects, please explore the links below:

Teaching Assistants
Amanda Cravens
Lauren Oakes
Nicola Ulibarri
Heather West


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