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Upper Colo. deemed 2nd most endangered river

The Colorado River flows through Hot Sulphur Springs as seen last winter.  West Slope water interests are concerned about the ongoing drought in California and the effect it could have on water use  in the Upper Basin states.

The Colorado River flows through Hot Sulphur Springs as seen last winter. West Slope water interests are concerned about the ongoing drought in California and the effect it could have on water use in the Upper Basin states.

America’s Most Endangered rivers of 2014

1. San Joaquin River, Calif.

Threat: Outdated water management and excessive diversions

2. Upper Colorado River Basin, Colo.

Threat: New trans-mountain water diversions

3. Middle Mississippi River, Mo., Ill. and Ky.

Threat: Outdated flood management

4. Gila River, N.M.

Threat: New water diversions

5. San Francisquito Creek, Calif.

Threat: Dam

6. South Fork Edisto River, S.C.

Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

7. White River, Colo.

Threat: Oil and gas drilling

8. White River, Wash.

Threat: Outdated dam and fish passage facilities

9. Haw River, N.C.

Threat: Polluted runoff

10. Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers, Idaho

Threat: Industrialization of a Wild and Scenic River corridor

For more information on the report, visit www.americanrivers.org/UpperColorado.

For a second year, the Upper Colorado made it on American River’s list of most endangered rivers.

The environmental advocacy group ranked the river and its tributaries at the No. 2 spot, meaning it at least dropped a notch compared to last year.

The Upper Colorado’s primary threat is new transmountain diversions as the state’s metro population continues to grow.

“Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers farther away, like the Yampa and Gunnison rivers — rivers not yet impaired by transmountain diversions,” the American Rivers report said.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report selects rivers considered to be at a “crossroads,” where pending management decisions can influence river health for better or worse. In 2013, the group listed the Colorado River as the No. 1 most endangered river because of outdated water management policies throughout the river’s basin. Last May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order demanding a statewide water plan by December 2014. Representatives with American Rivers and other environmental groups have urged the governor to make river protection a high priority in future water considerations.

“We can solve the puzzle of meeting water demands of new Colorado residents with an increased focus on conservation, recycling and sharing agreements between irrigators and cities,” said Bart Miller, water program director with conservation group Wester Resources Advocates, in a press release. “The pieces are there, we just have to put them together.”

While the bulk of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range, 80 percent of its precipitation falls on the West Slope, mostly draining into the Colorado River. Agricultural irrigation accounts for most of the state’s water use. Some estimates set agriculture at consuming 86 percent of Colorado’s water. To help prevent more transmountain water diversions like the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Grand County, the American Rivers report urges Hickenlooper and the state’s water managers to “modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators … to share water with urban areas.”

“The ‘America’s Most Endangered Rivers’ report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubeck of American Rivers in a press release. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin.”

Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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