The Cucapa fisherman rowed along the murky water of the Colorado; making for a marker floating a little upstream. He stopped and began to pull in his net. Halfway through the 40 metre net a small mullet landed with a lonely plunk in the pail at his feet. Minutes passed before another fish dropped in and by the time the net lay empty in the boat just 3 fish sat in the bucket. "At least it's breakfast" the fisherman muttered in Spanish. "The net's been here for 2 days." He paddled back to the village of the Cucapa, the "River" People, the last in line for the waters of the Colorado. Here, 50 miles South of the U.S. border in Mexico's Baja California, the previously great river of the west is nothing more than a shallow, narrow sump of salt and pesticide laced crop runoff.
For nearly a century the delta has been dying, and with it the Cucapa culture. No longer can the Cucapa tribesmen hunt muletail deer, plant squash with the floods, harvest salt wheat or eat fish 3 times a day. In fact several species of fish and plant life have disappeared. The Cucapa village has shrunk to 85 families from a flourishing population of 1,200 a century ago. The once rich estuary is filled with weeds and piles of rubbish, smouldering fires and occasional swamps of unhealthy water, barely enough to float their boats. Too salty to grow crops, to scant to support wildlife and too poisonous to bathe in or drink, the water that seeps by the village cannot, without being wrong, be called a river.
The Colorado binds the South West in a 244,000 square mile drainage area (roughly the size of France) and divided the region like nothing else: state vs state, farm vs city, Indian vs white. It has become the most legislated, litigated and debated river in the world.
The Colorado grows crops in New Mexico, brews beer in Colorado, raises minnows in Utah, floats rafts in Arizona, lights jackpots in Nevada, nurses elk in Wyoming, freezes ice in California and sweetens Cantaloupes in Mexico.