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Wyatt Hersey for Vox

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The 100-year-old mistake that’s reshaping the American West

What happens if the Colorado River keeps drying up?

You may have heard this before: The Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to seven states in the US and two in Mexico, is the lifeblood of the American West and beyond. It’s drying up at an alarming rate, threatening cities, industries, agriculture, and energy sources. As it shrinks, rich ecosystems across its 1,450 miles are also disappearing.

In this issue of The Highlight, Vox’s reporters across the science, health, climate, and Future Perfect teams explore the interconnected causes of this crisis, the startling consequences that are already reshaping life in this important region of the world, and the difficult trade-offs we may need to accept to avert disaster.

Wyatt Hersey for Vox

The worst-case scenario for drought on the Colorado River

One in eight Americans depend on a river that’s disappearing.

By Umair Irfan

A man in jeans and a checked short-sleeved shirt kneels next to a long row of mounded soil, where small green plants are growing. Benji Jones/Vox

You — yes, you — are going to pay for the century-old mistake that’s draining the Colorado River

A huge amount of US food is grown in the desert using water from a river that’s drying up.

By Benji Jones

An illustration of a cow drinking from a stream. Wyatt Hersey for Vox

Let’s talk about the biggest cause of the West’s water crisis

The Colorado River is going dry ... to feed cows.

By Kenny Torrella

Millie von Platen for Vox

The devil lurking in the dust

How extreme weather is driving a deadly fungus further into the American West

By Keren Landman

Millie von Platen for Vox

These 8 species depend on the Colorado River. What happens as it dries up?

Wildlife needs water, too.

By Benji Jones


Editors: Sam Oltman, Brian Resnick, Adam Clark Estes, Bryan Walsh
Copy editors/fact-checkers: Elizabeth Crane, Kim Eggleston, Tanya Pai, Caitlin PenzeyMoog
Additional fact-checking: Anouck Dussaud, Sophie Hurwitz
Art direction: Dion Lee, Paige Vickers
Audience: Gabriela Fernandez, Shira Tarlo, Agnes Mazur
Production/project editors: Lauren Katz, Nathan Hall

Future Perfect

How the US is preparing to fight — and win — a war in space

Even Better

How to make your anger work for you

Future Perfect

We have treatments for opioid addiction that work. So why is the problem getting worse?

View all stories in The Highlight

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