Economic impact study on the Colorado River
Rivers were a source of industrial power before electricity (look up mill towns) and today some rivers play a role in hydroelectricity production.
In cities, riverfronts served port functions, warehousing, and industry. As those functions declined or moved to other locations, these waterfronts have often been central to urban revitalization effort,s, keeping marinas in place, but shifting to tourist-related activities. Some even serve as ports for cruise travel.
Water drawn from rivers is the primary source of drinking water in the United States.
I don't think I've ever seen an economic impact study for a river in its entirety, although I have seen studies of the economic impact of lake-based recreation and for marinas.
The Colorado River flows through six states--Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and part of Mexico. The Colorado River Basin also includes New Mexico.
In the context of drought and reductions in available water, Arizona State University conducted an economic impact study, which found that the river is vital to the economies of the states in the Colorado River basin, generating $1.4 trillion of economic activity and supporting 16 million jobs.
-- The Economic Importance of the Colorado River to the Basin Region, Carey School of Business, Arizona State University
-- Protect the Flows is a business advocacy group focused on Colorado River matters. The website has additional resources and reports on various River-related matters
-- Mission 2012 Clean Water webpage on the Colorado River
-- "Sucking the River Dry," Denver Post, 2012
As metropolitan areas have grown in states like Arizona and Nevada, there is more competition between urban and agricultural interests for access.
Demand is greater than supply, and that doesn't even take into account the current drought. As the Southwest continues to add population, questions about access to water in general, and to the Colorado River in particular will become even more contentious.
Water-related advocacy groups believe that the Colorado River is in great crisis, one of the nation's most endangered, and American Rivers called in the nation's the most endangered river of 2013.
Then, there is the issue of water for conservation and wildlife and ecosystem issues other than related to consumption by humans.
Image from High County News.