Vail Valley Voices: Upper Colorado River in peril
Vail, CO, Colorado
New water-diversion projects could sap the life from the Upper Colorado River, threatening prized trout fisheries, boating and the long-term sustainable water supply for the region.
This threat landed the Upper Colorado in the No. 6 spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2010 edition, produced by American Rivers.
“The key to a reliable and predictable water supply is a healthy river,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “We need 21st-century solutions like water efficiency and green infrastructure to ensure a future of water security and river health for the Upper Colorado.”
American Rivers called on the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include conservation and efficiency requirements in the Final Environmental Impact Statements for the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project before allowing any additional water withdrawals.
“We can’t continue to take and take water from the upper Colorado without accounting for the serious impacts to fish and wildlife habitat,” said Ken Neubecker, of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “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.”
The Colorado headwaters have been subject to major water diversions and depletions for more than 100 years, and the health of the river and its fish and wildlife has paid the price.
Two new projects, the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project, have been proposed, which would lead to the diversion of even more water from an already heavily tapped basin.
If these projects proceed as planned, the flows of the Upper Colorado could be reduced to levels that can no longer maintain a healthy river. Conversely, if the projects incorporate appropriate river protections, they could herald an era of water-supply planning that better balances water development with the needs of the river.
The Upper Colorado River begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows southwest toward Utah. The area is home to 93,000 full-time residents and hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
The Upper Colorado and its major tributaries provide water to the resort areas of Granby, Winter Park, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail and a large percentage of the urban Front Range of Colorado.
The river is a recreational hotspot, with its gold-medal trout fisheries, world-class rafting and kayaking and outstanding scenic canyons. These values have qualified the river, from near its source to its confluence with the Roaring Fork in Glenwood Springs, as a candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation.
The report is a call to action and emphasizes solutions for the rivers and their communities. By shining the spotlight on key decisions that will impact the rivers, and by providing clear actions the public can take on their behalf, the report is a powerful tool for saving these important rivers.
American Rivers aims to protect and restore America’s rivers for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature. Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters, with offices in Washington, D.C., and nationwide. Visit http://www.americanrivers.org.