By Jack Curtis

For many years explorers wandering through the West referred to the Colorado River as the Grand River. The river’s name then changed from Grand to Colorado where the Green River met it in southeastern Utah and continued on through the Grand Canyon and out to sea in Mexico. Prior to being called the Grand River around 1836, portions of the river had also been known as the Rio San Rafael River, the Bunkara River, the North Fork of the Grand River, and the Blue River. The “Colorado” in the river’s name is Spanish for the “color red,” referring to the river’s muddy color flowing through the canyons in Arizona and Utah. “Colorado” was just the final name in a long line of labels. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers called the river Rio del Tizon, which translated to River of Embers or Firebrand River. Later, some portions of the river may have been Rio de Buena Guia, Rio Colorado de los Martyrs, Rio Grande de Buena Esperanza, Rio Grande de los Cosninos, and the El Rio de Cosminas de Rafael as explorers discovered those portions. By the time John Wesley Powell navigated and mapped the Grand Canyon in 1869, “Colorado” was the accepted name of the river flowing through the canyon.

In 1921, U.S. Representative Edward T. Taylor of Colorado petitioned Congress to rename the Grand River as the Colorado River. On February 18, 1921, he appeared before the Congressional Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce regarding House Joint Resolution 460 “Renaming of the Grand River, Colo.” Colorado’s 23rd General Assembly sent its support for renaming the Grand to Colorado in Senate Bill 79, later approved on March 24, 1921. On July 25, 1921, the 66th Congress passed the resolution renaming the Grand River, in spite of some lingering objections from some Wyoming and Utah representatives.

Once the Colorado basins had been established, the work began on planning and building dams and reservoirs on the 1,450 mile long river basin. The dams serve one or more of the following purposes: 1. Flood control, which provides temporary retention and quick release of flood flows, 2. Hydropower for generation of electricity utilizing water flow through the hydraulic head provided by the dam and its reservoir, 3. Irrigation provision and storage of water for agriculture, 4. Municipal provisions and storage of water for residential, commercial and industrial uses, 5. Regulation, to control erratic inflows to provide either a stable flow downstream or to release water on demand to downstream users.

The Colorado River system is one of the most heavily developed in the world, with fifteen dams on the main stem of the Colorado and hundreds more on the tributary rivers. Collectively, dams in the Colorado River basin can hold four to five times the river’s annual flow, generating hydroelectricity and supplying irrigation and municipal water for over 55 million people. The two most widely known dams are the Hoover Dam, completed in 1936 and its Lake Mead reservoir; and the Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1966 and its Lake Powell reservoir. The Glen Canyon Dam is used primarily for hydropower regulation whereas the Hoover Dam is used for flood control, hydropower, irrigation, municipal, and regulation.

I was born 2/3/35 in Muskegon, MI, 12 years in USAF, married twice, 2 +3 children, moved to Tucson 1969, retired from Raytheon 1989. Moved to Sierra Morado community in 2012. Started working on a Mississippi River inter basin water transfer to the Colrado River project around 2000. I had been thinking about it on and off since I read an article about the arid southwest in a science magazine in 1946. I got to experience it when I was stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas for 6 years, most of it in the hot sun on the flight line with no sun protection. I am now recovering from a bad case of skin cancer.

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