The scenic Upper Colorado River between its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and its confluence with the Roaring Fork River has landed the sixth spot on the America’s Most Endangered Rivers list.
Threatened by two major diversion projects that would suck even more of its flow from the Western Slope to the middle-of-the-day, Kentucky-bluegrass, sidewalks-and-street-watering environs of the Front Range, the once-mighty Colorado is in big trouble, according to a report by American Rivers.
The national nonprofit group, in concert with other conservation groups such Colorado Trout Unlimited, is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to require conservation and efficiency measures in the Final Environmental Impact Statements (FEIS) for both the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project.
“We can’t continue to take and take water from the Upper Colorado without accounting for the serious impacts to fish and wildlife habitat,” Colorado Trout Unlimited’s Ken Neubecker said in a release. “This is a river on the brink. A vibrant, healthy river system in the Upper Colorado is every bit as important to the future of Colorado as the water it supplies to our farms and cities.”
Recent media coverage has also focused on the growing demands on the Colorado for energy production, including hydroelectric in Glenwood Canyon and oil and gas development further downstream in Garfield and Mesa counties.
The Upper Colorado, though, is a recreational paradise, with world-class whitewater and gold-medal trout fishing. It runs through the heart of the state’s most popular mountain resorts from Grand County to Glenwood Springs, with its tributaries supplying water to ski towns like Breckenridge and Vail. It’s a perennial candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation.
Other groups have cropped up in recent weeks to help stem the tide of diversion projects pulling more and more water from the Colorado and reducing its overall quality and aquatic habitat value. Spearheaded by New Belgium Brewing and the Clean Water Fund, Save the Colorado is donating funds to environmental non-profits in the Colorado River basin promoting water conservation. Save the Colorado is accepting grant applications throughout June.