American Rivers announced last week its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, naming the Colorado River the Most Endangered in the country.
The river advocacy group named the Colorado River endangered due to outdated water management that is too inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought.
“American Rivers is calling on Congress to fund programs that encourage 21st century water management, while protecting rivers and the people, communities, and wildlife they support across the Colorado Basin,” states American Rivers in a press release.
“This year’s America’s Most Endangered Rivers report underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, in statements. “The Colorado River, the No. 1 Most Endangered River in the nation, is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea. We simply cannot continue with status quo water management. 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.”
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. Over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies and river health, and the basin is facing another drought this summer.
Lower river flows threaten endangered fish and wildlife, along with the $26 billion dollar recreation economy that relies on the Colorado River.
There is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin’s current water demands, aaccording to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (December 2012), let alone support future demand increases. Scientists predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050.
American Rivers and its partners urge Congress to immediately follow the Bureau of Reclamation’s recent study with “bold action and funding to build a future that includes healthy rivers, state-of-the-art water conservation for cities and agriculture, and water sharing mechanisms that allow communities to adapt to warmer temperatures and more erratic precipitation.”
Awareness for Upper Colorado
For Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, president of the Colorado River District board, the designation comes as no surprise.
“We realized that quite a long time ago, that the Fraser was in trouble and the Colorado River was in trouble. We’re trying to do something to fix it,” he said, referring to negotiations with water utilities attempting to divert more water from the Upper Colorado River basin. “We’re doing what we can to make the Colorado and the Fraser better,” he said. This year’s American Rivers designation, “shows how important that effort has been.
“It’s an awareness,” he continued. “It shows the work we have ahead of us.”
The 2013 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers also highlights other rivers across the country threatened by outdated water management. The Flint River in Georgia is going dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals in its southern reaches, as well as increasing municipal demands. The San Saba in Texas is running dry due to excessive agricultural withdrawals. The Little Plover in Wisconsin is at risk due to withdrawals from high capacity wells.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur some successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.