Protect the Flows group lobbies Salazar, congressional leaders on Colorado River health

The Colorado River cuts through a mesa. (Photo/Wolfgang Staudt, Flickr)

Five representatives of a coalition of 250 small businesses in the Colorado River Basin called Protect the Flows have been in Washington the last two days meeting with congressional leaders and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to advocate for policies that maintain sustainable water levels in the river and its tributaries.

Their message has been simple: healthy river flows translate to healthy local economies for tourism and outdoor recreation businesses that rely on the river. The coalition is made up of all sorts of outfitter, lodging and tourism businesses throughout the seven-state basin, which includes Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Wyoming and Nevada.

“Healthy rivers mean beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, fantastic camping locations, wonderful fishing and rafting, and incredible hiking and biking,” said Karen Avery, a member of the delegation who owns Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs in Ouray, Colo.

“But more importantly, healthy rivers mean healthy economies for the myriad of small towns and communities that lie on the Colorado River and within the surrounding 246,000 square mile basin.” Those businesses generate billions in tourism and outdoor recreation spending.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said he understands the message.

“The economic future of Colorado and the West is tied to a Colorado River that has healthy flows and invites people to communities along its banks for recreation and tourism,” Bennet said in a release.

Protect the Flows has taken a particular interest in an interim Bureau of Reclamation study that’s attempting to identify ways to address looming shortages in the basin that already supplies water to more than 25 million people.

That study shows global climate change may severely deplete water supplies in the basin, and the Protect the Flows advocates want the overall health of the river taken into consideration, including aquatic life, riparian areas and adequate supplies of clean water for recreation.