American Rivers: Upper Colorado is sixth most endangered river

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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

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

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.

More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

“The most endangered river listings get the attention of media and policy-makers,” said Randy Scholfield, spokesperson of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project. “It does help to highlight some of the threats facing these rivers and helps them get the grassroots support they need.”

The Upper Colorado considered in the listing flows from about Granby to Dotsero…

The Upper Colorado fit the organization’s criteria for being the subject of major public decisions pending in 2010, specifically the Moffat Firming Project proposed by the Denver Water Board and the Windy Gap Firming Project proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Water Conservancy District. The Upper Colorado, especially the stretch from Granby to Kremmling, can lack healthy peak flows and baseline flows…

Without river protections from cumulative impacts outlined in draft Environmental Impact Statements, advocates fear the river could suffer from further detriment despite on-the-side negotiations for enhancement being conducted by river stakeholders.

“They didn’t consider the accumulative impacts at all like they were supposed to,” Neubecker said of those reports pending Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval. Instead they were saying “that the flows in the river right now are the way they always have been since the beginning of time. We have to be honest with ourselves and everyone on how we use the river.” Neubecker hopes the American Rivers listing can help inform Front Range water users, some of which have little idea “about the connection between what comes out of their faucets and the river resource,” he said.

From 9News.com:

“We really are concerned about destroying the essence of Colorado which includes world-class recreation and beautiful rivers like the Upper Colorado, so we want to make sure there is an appropriate balance struck between the needs of supplying citizens on the Front Range with water and the importance of those benefits of Colorado’s heritage,” [Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president of American Rivers] said…

Currently, meetings between headwater counties and major diverters have the potential to restore river health while also fulfilling domestic and agricultural needs in the state.

From KUNC (Erin O’Toole):

The threat of water diversion from the state’s namesake river has landed the Upper Colorado at number 6 on this year’s list, as compiled by the conservation advocacy group American Rivers. Spokeswoman Amy Kober says they’re primarily concerned about two new proposals – the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project. She says both could lower the river flow to the point of threatening its prized trout fisheries “Excessive diversions upset the natural balance of the river, increase water temperatures, and destroy the natural patterns of reproduction for endangered species.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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