The Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park in Yuma is home to a new library dedicated to protecting the history of the Colorado River.
It took decades, and a series of dams, lakes, irrigation systems and political maneuvering to harness the water of the mighty Colorado River and direct it all over the Western states.
Now, you can see the river’s history by stepping inside the new Colorado River Research Library, only a few steps away from the banks of the river itself.
Lining the wooden shelves, there are diaries of early explorers and historical accounts of endangered fish, and even works of fiction inspired by the river. All told, there is a thousand dollars’ worth of books, maps, videos and other resources, says Tammy Snook, a park ranger and city historian.
The Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, a nonprofit organization, partners with Arizona State Parks and the City of Yuma to manage the park where the new research library is housed.
Among the first researchers to visit the library was Gary Hovatter, a longtime Yuma resident who retired last year after a career with the U.S. Army and Arizona Game and Fish. He visited the library to read up on the Colorado River expedition of Colonel Joseph Christmas Ives. This expedition traveled through Yuma in 1857, and Hovatter is using the library gather information for an article he will write about Colonel Ives’ journey.
“I think that library tells a really great story just about the fact of what it’s like to be a river town in a desert country." -Gary Hovatter
Yuma sits about 20 miles southwest of the Imperial Dam, one of the more than 100 dams controlling water flow on the 1,450 miles of the Colorado River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation built these dams to store water for urban and agricultural use, generate electricity through hydropower and prevent flooding in the river basin.
Jim Cherry managed the Yuma area for the Bureau of Reclamation for seven years.
“Just 10 percent of the water that arrives at Imperial Dam equates to six feet of water elevation in Lake Mead," Cherry says. "So the Yuma area gets a great deal of the lower Colorado River water.”
Imperial Dam is the final diversion point – or large facility where water is drawn from the river – before the Colorado flows into Mexico. From the dam, water is sent to towns and cities east and west, and also out to irrigation districts supporting Yuma agriculture.
“There is a great need, as the drought continues on, for people to understand not only where their water is coming from, but where it is going, too,” Cherry says.
Charles Flynn, the executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, agrees.
“People simply don’t know that the entire Southwest is dependent on the Colorado River, and that it does not flow to the ocean anymore and that it’s over allocated," he says. "They’re beginning to hear that with what’s happening in California."
“Our first step at trying to reach some kind of common understanding is to have a common set of facts." -Charles Flynn
For now, the library occupies one small set of shelves, but this is only the beginning, according to Flynn. This library is the first step for what he hopes will be a redesign of the Quartermaster Depot into the Colorado River State Historic Park.
“Ultimately what we want to do is make this park a forum for discussion on the future of the river,” Flynn says.
If you want to see the library, contact Tammy Snook at 928-247-6391.