In the Colorado River valley between the east end of Lake Mead and the international boundary with Mexico (see figure), the river is the principal source of water for agricultural, domestic, municipal, industrial, hydroelectric-power generation, and recreational purposes. Water is stored in surface reservoirs and in the river aquifer---permeable sediments and sedimentary rocks that fill the lower Colorado River valley and adjacent tributary valleys. The hydraulic connection between the river and the river aquifer, overbank flow prior to building of the dams, and infiltration as the reservoirs filled allowed the sediments and sedimentary rocks to become saturated with water from the river. Ratios of isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water from wells indicate that most of the water in the river aquifer beneath the flood plain and in many places beneath the adjacent alluvial slopes originated from the river. The water table in the river aquifer extends from the river, beneath the flood plain, and under the alluvial slopes until it intersects bedrock. Precipitation in the surrounding mountains and inflow from tributary valleys also contribute small quantities of water to the river aquifer.
Consumptive use of river water in the valley results from evapotranspiration by vegetation (crops and phreatophytes) on the flood plain, pumpage from wells to meet domestic and municipal needs, and pumpage from the river for export to areas in California, Arizona, and Nevada outside of the river valley. Most crops are grown on the flood plain; in a few areas, land on the adjacent terraces has been cultivated. Crops were grown on about 70 percent of the total vegetated area in 1984. Phreatophytes---natural vegetation that obtains water from the river aquifer---covered the remaining vegetated areas on the uncultivated flood plain. Most of the water used for irrigation is diverted or pumped directly from the river and reservoirs. Most of the water used for domestic and municipal purposes is pumped from wells on the flood plain, on adjacent alluvial slopes, and in tributary valleys. River water also is delivered to Mexico in accordance with an international treaty.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Accounting for Consumptive Use of Lower Colorado River Water in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah