Colorado Water History
Colorado Water Documentaries
A list of films, documentaries, and shorts that focus on Colorado water history, or include some historical perspective. If you know of any to add, please email (info at right).
62 Years (2015, 9 minutes)
"The last time Ken Brower traveled down the Yampa River in Northwest Colorado was with his father, David Brower, in 1952. This was the year his father became the first executive director of the Sierra Club and joined the fight against a pair of proposed dams on the Green River in Northwest Colorado. The dams would have flooded the canyons of the Green and its tributary, Yampa, inundating the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. With a conservation campaign that included a book, magazine articles, a film, a traveling slideshow, grassroots organizing, river trips and lobbying, David Brower and the Sierra Club ultimately won the fight—ushering in a period many consider the dawn of modern environmentalism. 62 years later, Ken revisited the Yampa & Green Rivers to reflect on his father’s work, their 1952 river trip, and how we will confront the looming water crisis in the American West."
Arikaree: River on the Brink (2016, 6 minutes)
"Streams of the western Great Plains are home to unique native fishes, but groundwater pumped from their aquifers is also the lifeblood of agriculture in the region." In this supplementary video for his book For the Love of Rivers, Kurt Fausch explores "how the Arikaree River is shrinking as pumping continues, and ponders the future for native fishes."
The Arkansas River: from Leadville to Lamar (2018, 60 minutes)
"This hour-long documentary about the Arkansas River from Leadville to Lamar explores the economic and social importance of the river including its recreational, municipal, and agricultural value. By the year 2050, the population of Colorado is expected to double. But future growth and economic development hinges on a dependable water supply. In response, the State is implementing a water plan that will meet the needs of recreational, municipal and agricultural users. The Arkansas River basin is an important part of that plan, and this documentary will educate and inspire viewers to care for this critically important resource."
Big Thompson Flood (2016, 60 minutes)
"2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the most deadly natural disaster in Colorado's history. The combination of a state and national holiday, a downed weather warning station, and a torrential rainstorm that remained stationary over the Big Thompson River for several hours, left 144 people dead. Along with riveting first-hand accounts from survivors, "Colorado Experience" explores the conditions that led to this traumatic disaster, the ramifications to the road, property, and residents of the canyon, and the equally cataclysmic flood that occurred in 2013."
The Cache la Poudre River: Our River Basin Community (2015, 4 minutes)
"This animated video created by Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area gives a brief educational history of the river for viewers unfamiliar with local water issues."
Cadillac Desert (1997, 4 hours, 6 minutes)
The film inspired by the famous book. "An American four-part documentary series about water, money, politics, and the transformation of nature." Not Colorado specific, but a good historical view of water in the West.
Chasing Water (2011, 19 minutes)
"In Chasing Water, photojournalist Peter McBride sets out to document the flow of the Colorado River from source to sea. A Colorado native, McBride hails from a ranching family that depends on the Colorado for irrigation, and this is the story of his backyard. His simple desire is to find out where the irrigation water of his youth went after his family used it, and how long it took the water to reach the ocean. His experience, however, is not so straightforward, analogous, perhaps, to tracking down a special friend from childhood—one who was always full of vitality—only to find her utterly changed and diminished. Writer John Waterman joins McBride on this 1,500-mile journey, one that shows how the thirst of the 30 million that the Colorado supports takes an unhealthy toll."
The Cisco Kid S1 E26 "Water Rights" (1951, 26 minutes)
Fiction about the difficulties of funding a water project in the old west. "Cisco and Pancho witness some strange behavior by a coach driver near the town of Gunnison. Suddenly they are accused of attempting to rob the stage, Cisco clearly wants to clear his name, however, while investigating Cisco discovers a much bigger game being played."
The Colorado (2016, trailer)
"For five million years the Colorado River has carved some of the most majestic landscapes on the planet. It has also become the lifeline of a vast portion of North America, providing the water that sustains nearly forty million people, half a dozen major cities, and an immense agricultural empire. Because of these demands, the river is so overused and overpromised that it no longer flows to the sea or nourishes its delta. The Colorado, set to music by today's leading composers and narrated by the stage legend Mark Rylance, takes us on a journey in nine chapters through the prehistoric settlements of the region, the period of European exploration, the dam-building era, modern industrial agriculture and immigration, and the impact of climate change." See more information at https://www.projectcolorado.com/.
Colorado Water Plan (2015, 8 minutes)
"Colorado's Water Plan was officially adopted by the CWCB Board and released to Governor John Hickenlooper at 10am on November 19th, 2015." This video details the history of statewide collaborative efforts to develop the plan.
Colorado Water Supply (2012, 8 minutes)
"Water Supply explores the tension on the Colorado River system between water supply for a growing Front Range through transmountain diversions and the legal demands to let a certain amount of water flow downstream to satisfy the Colorado River Compact. It's like being in the middle of a rubber band, says Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn, who is interviewed in the video. As the speakers point out, the last increment of the Colorado River is in play for in-state use and four big factors compete for the water: population growth, agriculture, energy development and the environment and recreation, the latter which are non-consumptive needs. Complicating the picture are the uncertainties of climate change and long-term drought."
CoCoRaHS Water Cycle (7 minutes)
"The first in a series, CoCoRaHS Presents: The Water Cycle. Learn about the water cycle with this fun new video."
Delta Dawn (2014, 16 minutes)
"The Colorado River hasn't kissed the sea in almost two decades—until the spring of 2014 when an experimental pulse of water was released into this forgotten delta. A team of river runners followed the water to witness this unprecedented restoration effort, and attempted to be the only, and potentially the last to float the Colorado River to the sea by paddle board. With unpredictable adventure as the backdrop, filmmaker Pete McBride tells the story of Western water, a challenged Colorado River and the uplifting potential for environmental restoration via collaboration, all through his repeated experiences chasing a river to the sea."
Good to the Last Drop (2013, 8 minutes)
"This animated short explains approaches to agricultural water conservation in Colorado for viewers unfamiliar with water issues in the state."
The Great Divide (2015, 95 minutes)
"The Great Divide illustrates the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid state and region. From Ancient Puebloan cultures and the gold rush origins of Colorado water law to agriculture, dams, diversions and conservation, the film reveals today’s critical need to cross “the great divide,” replacing conflict with cooperation."
- Trailer at link above. Available to rent from Vimeo for $5.99.
The Great Pueblo Flood (2021, 56 minutes)
"In early June of 1921, Pueblo experienced a devastating flood that destroyed much of the downtown area. The very river that formerly brought life and sustenance to the region now left death and destruction in its wake. A century later the river has been tamed by a dam and a levee, and the Historical Arkansas River Project is the centerpiece of a development effort that is changing the face of a city.."
H2O Jo Takes a Ride Through the Storm Drain (2010, 8 minutes)
"The water drop takes a ride through the storm drain to show how polluted runoff affects water quality."
History of Denver Water (2007, 4 minutes)
"The history of Denver Water began more than 150 years ago at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek." This brief video explains the development of water supply systems that have helped the city of Denver grow and thrive.
Killing the Colorado (2016, 66 minutes)
"The American West is in the midst of a serious drought, which compounds the underlying water crisis that stems from overdevelopment, misuse, and political maneuvers carried out long ago. This documentary examines the causes and consequences."
- Trailer at link above. Available to rent from YouTube for $1.99.
La Sierra, a Discussion with the Land Rights Council (2020, 76 minutes)
This discussion was hosted by History Colorado as part of their online Borderlands of Southern Colorado series. "For 150 years descendants of Mexican settlers in Costilla County, Colorado have claimed communal rights to graze livestock, hunt and fish, and gather firewood on La Sierra, the mountain tract in the Culebra Valley above the village of San Luis. Hear from members of the Land Rights Council tell their stories related to the ongoing struggle to guarantee access to La Sierra, originally granted through the 1844 Sangre de Cristo Land Grant."
The Last One: A Story about the Yampa River (2012, 16 minutes)
"The Friends of the Yampa presents "The Last One," a documentary that features the Yampa River at flood stage during the historic 2011 runoff. The Yampa, located in Northwest Colorado, is the last major river in the 7-state Upper Colorado River Basin that does not have any major dams or diversions that significantly impact its flow. As pressure mounts in Colorado to locate future water supplies, the Yampa is and will always be a possible source. Take a journey down the Yampa through this 16-minute film and learn all about why this river is perhaps the most important river in the West today."
Living West: Water (2014, 28 minutes)
"What happened to the Ancient Puebloans of Mesa Verde and Goodman Point? After settling in southwest Colorado for over 700 years, they suddenly left their cliff dwellings and spring side kivas, leaving behind a variety of archaeological treasures. Historians and archaeologists discuss the possibility that this drastic move was caused by a devastating drought in the southwest region. Discover the similarities in conditions and what the disappearance of water might mean for our state today."
The Mighty River That Dried Up: "I Am Red" (2014, 4 minutes)
"For six million years, the Colorado River has carved some of the wildest geological wonders in North America. Today, its waters nourish over 36 million people. But a steady surge of settlers and drastic climate change are threatening the mighty river. In this short from filmmaker Pete McBride, the river becomes the narrator of a visual poem that tells the story of its history, significance, and potential future outcome."
NISP (and its SDEIS) in a Nutshell (2015, 8 minutes)
"This animated short answers the questions like, what is NISP? What is a supplemental draft environmental impact statement? Why should I care? The film provides a basic understanding of the project and the process of NISP and a foundation from which to dig deeper." [NISP=Northern Integrated Supply Project]
The River of Sorrow (2016, 44 minutes)
"About 300 years ago, Spain sent endless expeditions across the Southwest. In doing so they practically littered the landscape with the names of rivers and mountains we use today. One of those names has come to carry an appropriate irony: El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores, Our Lady of Sorrow. What kind of river is the Dolores today? After installation of one of the West's last large dam projects the Dolores river below the dam is in a fast state of change. Water from this river is the lifeblood of an agricultural district where vast quantities are shuttled and pumped this way and that to grow crops. How efficient and flexible this use of water is for the future, well, that's a question of for the generations who stand to inherit these places and a river in decline."
Water in the Desert: The Grand Valley and its Rivers (2014, 30 minutes)
"Throughout the West water is a precious resource. In the Grand Valley, the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers join, nourishing the lives and livelihoods of this western Colorado community. This documentary explores the community's relationship to its water resources through the history of water development, current usage and future challenges as it applies not only locally, but also in a regional context."
Watering the West (2022, trailer)
"This documentary series covers critical water issues facing the American West with a close look at characters who live these issues in the Poudre Valley, the Grand Valley, the San Luis Valley and along the Colorado River."
Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West (2012, trailer)
"Watershed tells the story of the threats to the once-mighty Colorado River and offers solutions for the future of the American West. Meet Jeff Ehlert, a fly fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado rancher Dan James, Delta restoration worker Edith Santiago, Navajo Council member Glojean Todacheene, Rifle Colorado Mayor Keith Lambert, Los Angeles native Jimmy Lizama and a group of Outward Bound teens rafting down the Colorado River as they all reflect a compelling new water ethic—one that illuminates how letting go of the ways of old can lead to a path of coexisting with enough for all."
Western Water—and Power (2020, 57 minutes)
"Ever since Western settlers dreamed of deserts in bloom, men have chased the mirage of more water than these arid lands can provide. “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting” describes the urgent struggle every generation of Coloradans faces to control this fleeting resource—creating hydrodynamic history through structures that can propel water to run uphill toward money, and power."
Working the Water: A brief human history of the South Platte River and its alluvial aquifer (2014, 15 minutes)
"This animated short produced by the Colorado Water Institute outlines a brief history of the South Platte River and its alluvial aquifer for viewers unfamiliar with water issues in Colorado."
Wright Water Engineers' 60 Years of Sustainable Solutions (2021, 13 minutes)
"Wright Water Engineers has been employee-owned and operated for 60 years! Join us for a tribute to our past and a look towards our future."
Written in Water: Reflections on a Century of Service (2018, 52 minutes)
"A new documentary celebrating Denver Water’s 100 years of service."
Various short films about the Cache la Poudre River from the Poudre Heritage Alliance
Various short films about Colorado water by Christi Bode