The Colorado River: Past, Present, and Future

Karl Flessa
Tuesdays 1 PM – 3 PM
January 31, February 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2023
Watch the video to learn more about this course

The Colorado River: Past, Present, and Future

Spring 2023
In Session
1 PM – 3 PM
January 31, February 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2023


Main Campus



Attend In Person OR Online

The Colorado River starts in a high mountain meadow, flows through forests and canyons, and past tribal nations. The river now generates power and is diverted to farms and cities -- and no longer reaches the sea. How did we get here? Where are we going? One hundred years since the signing of the Colorado River Compact, 22 years into a mega-drought, and four years away from new rules on sharing the waters, it is time to take a close look at the Colorado River. In this course, we will explore various topics from the human and geologic history of the Colorado River, the perspectives of native peoples, the Spanish and American explorers, naturalists and novelists, the “law of the river,” and the dams and diversions that now serve farms and cities, the efforts to restore the river to tribes and to a semi-natural state, and what the river might look like in a warmer, drier future.

Hybrid Course Format

  • All classes will be delivered in-person and online via live video streaming. Students will enroll in their preferred format during registration.
  • In-Person classes will be held in the Rubel Room at the University of Arizona's Poetry Center (1508 E Helen St, Tucson, AZ 85721). Enrollment for in-person classes is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. All student enrolled to attend in person also have complete online access and may choose to attend one or all class sessions remotely if desired.
  • Online students may attend all classes via live video streaming and will be able to participate in all course Q&A sessions with the professor in real time. A high-speed internet connection and a device capable of running Zoom are required to connect. Online access will be password protected and only available to enrolled students.
  • Class Recordings - All HSP classes regardless of format are recorded and available for every enrolled student to watch for the duration of the course and one month after the last class session. This option is offered to aid students who may be unable to attend the live class times but desire to enroll and participate asynchronously. We hope this option also aids students who are traveling or have an important appointment that conflicts with a class session to stay connected and engaged with the course material.

Registration Will Open Online:
Monday, NOVEMBER 21, 2022, at 8 AM (AZ Time)

Required Reading: 

  • No textbook is required. All readings will be distributed to students electronically.

Recommended Reading: 

  • Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (1986). 
  • Philip Fradkins’ A River No More (1996 for the expanded and updated edition). 
  • Ed Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang and/or Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (both fiction)

Meet Your Professor

Professor Emeritus
Department of Geosciences

Karl Flessa is Professor Emeritus of Geosciences at the University of Arizona.  He has been studying the conservation biology of the Colorado River’s delta since 1992, and is a founding member of the Colorado River Research Group.  Since the delta “pulse flow” of 2014, he has been managing the binational science team that monitors the biological and hydrologic effects of restoration flows.


Poetry Center
Dorothy Rubel Room
1508 E Helen
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States
Located on the SE corner of Helen Street and Vine Avenue, one block north of Speedway and three blocks west of Campbell Ave.

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