Large-scale settlement of the lower basin began in the mid- to late-19th century, with steamboats providing transportation from the Gulf of California to landings along the river that linked to wagon roads to the interior.
Lesser numbers settled in the upper basin, which was the scene of major gold strikes in the 1860s and 1870s. federal government was the main driving force behind the construction of dams and aqueducts, although many state and local water agencies were also involved.
Most native peoples that inhabit the basin today are descended from other groups that settled in the region beginning about 1,000 years ago.
Europeans first entered the Colorado Basin in the 16th century, when explorers from Spain began mapping and claiming the area, which later became part of Mexico upon its independence in 1821.
The environmental movement in the American Southwest has opposed the damming and diversion of the Colorado River system because of detrimental effects on the ecology and natural beauty of the river and its tributaries.
Intensive water consumption has dried up the lower 100 miles (160 km) of the river, which has rarely reached the sea since the 1960s.
Early contact between Europeans and Native Americans was generally limited to the fur trade in the headwaters and sporadic trade interactions along the lower river.
After most of the Colorado River basin became part of the U. in 1846, the bulk of the river's course was still the subject of myths and speculation.
As demands for Colorado River water continue to rise, the level of human development and control of the river continues to generate controversy.
For the first 250 miles (400 km) of its course, the Colorado carves its way through the mountainous Western Slope, a sparsely populated region defined by the portion of the state west of the Continental Divide.