Colorado River at the top of 2013 ‘most endangered’ list
Ryan Summerlin April 19, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – For the third time in a decade, the Colorado River has landed atop an annual listing of the “most endangered rivers” put out by the national conservation group American Rivers.
The Colorado River passes through Glenwood Springs, originating near the Continental Divide high in Rocky Mountain National Park, en route to the lower basin states and the river delta region of Mexico.
But the primary river basin that serves municipal water, irrigation, energy and industrial needs across seven southwestern states is endangered due to outdated water management, according to American Rivers.
Existing management plans are inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought, said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, in a Wednesday news release.
“The Colorado River is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the [Sea of Cortez],” Irvin said. “It is time for stakeholders across the Colorado Basin to come together around solutions to ensure reliable water supplies and a healthy river for future generations.”
In listing the Colorado as the Most Endangered River for 2013, American Rivers called on Congress to fund modern water management programs that protect river users and the environment alike.
The Colorado River has appeared on the annual listing seven times since American Rivers began issuing the report in 1986. In addition to this year, it was designated as the Most Endangered river in 2004 and 2010.
The report sites the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, which was released in December of last year. The study concluded that there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin’s current water demands, let alone support future demand increases.
Chris Treese, spokesman for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, welcomed the listing as a way to call attention to river management issues and other conclusions in the Bureau of Reclamation study. The River District was one of the partners in developing that study.
“I think it’s great,” Treese said of the American Rivers report. “It’s helping us to do exactly what we all want to do, which is to highlight the situation and continue the process of coming up with interim and long-term solutions.
“That can range from management changes and conservation incentives to mitigation requirements,” he said.
At the same time, Treese called on American Rivers and other groups to come to the table and help come up with those solutions.
“It’s always helpful to bring attention to the issue, but that’s only one step in a longer process to address the issues,” he said.
Glenwood Springs native Zak Podmore, an avid kayaker who has spent much of the past two years researching Colorado River issues, also applauded the listing.
“It’s great to see the Colorado River in the forefront of conservation work being done on rivers in the United States,” said Podmore, who helped produce a Colorado College State of the Rockies Project study of the Colorado River last year.
In late 2011 and early 2012, Podmore and fellow Colorado College graduate Will Stauffer-Norris kayaked from the headwaters of the Green River in Wyoming to the Mexican delta, documenting the various impacts along the way.
Again last summer, Podmore and Stauffer-Norris were joined by other researchers in floating from the Colorado River headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Powell. The group continued their research, talked to river users and gave presentations about their work.
“This is such a vital lifeline for 30 million people living in the Southwest, and the Colorado River passes through some of the most beautiful river canyons in the world,” Podmore said. “It is an imperiled river, and it’s good to see it getting this kind of attention.”
According to American Rivers, 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly four million acres of land, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops.
Scientists now predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050.
“Over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies and river health, and the basin is facing another drought this summer,” according the statement issued by American Rivers on Wednesday. “Lower river flows threaten endangered fish and wildlife, along with the $26 billion dollar recreation economy that relies on the Colorado River.”
One other local tributary of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers that made the American Rivers list of endangered rivers last year, the Crystal River, is not on this year’s list.
That listing came as a result of conditional water rights held by the Colorado River District and West Divide Conservancy District that could be used to build 4,000-acre-foot reservoirs at Placita and on Yank Creek, a tributary of the Crystal River.