Why do we still call it the Colorado?
Sure, the river begins in the Colorado Rockies. But in law and practice, the waterway making headlines is clearly the California River. And the first provision of any deal to save the river should rename it accordingly.
This condition wouldn’t be about Golden State pride. Instead, a name change would more accurately reflect the imperial role California plays out in the movement of water, people and power in the American West.
Right now, the Grand Canyon-sized divide over how to reduce the amount of water drawn from the rapidly diminishing river is being portrayed as a dispute between states. On one side, six states that rely on California-nee-Colorado water — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — have come together to demand cuts in water use that would fall heaviest on California.
In response, California water officials have produced a plan emphasizing how our state’s rights to the water are more senior than those of our Southwest neighbors. Their newly released plan would cut less from California’s take, and more from Arizona and Nevada. In the Wild West of Water, this argument — We stole it first! We stole it fair and square! — is a strong legal position.
But such descriptions of the fight fail to capture the true dynamics of the situation — that California is less a state than an empire, and the six states challenging it over water are California colonies. California is by far the richest and most dynamic area in this half of North America. California has more residents and a bigger economy than all the other western states of the U.S. put together.
In recent generations, California, like other great empires through history, has grown so much that it has exported people,