Bobby Magill is a terrific writer. Click here to read his in-depth report on the current state of the Colorado River, running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado River — the carver of the Grand Canyon and the chaotic stage for river runners in Glenwood, Westwater, Cataract and numerous other canyons — is bridled by urban growth from its headwaters at La Poudre Pass at the Larimer-Grand county border all the way to its dry delta in Mexico…
Top to bottom, the story of the Colorado River is one of a plumbing system for the west’s cities, farms and backyards — a story that is both national in scope and intensely local to Northern Colorado even though the course of the river itself never touches Front Range cities.
The first drops are stolen from the Colorado River by the Grand Ditch, which girdles the Never Summer Mountains near La Poudre Pass, diverting spring snowmelt into the Poudre River for the benefit of farmers far below on the plains.
A few miles south, Colorado River water filling Lake Granby and Grand Lake is piped beneath Rocky Mountain National Park to provide water to Fort Collins, Loveland, Boulder and other cities via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. That project supplements the water Fort Collins takes from the Poudre River — a lifeline for the city after the High Park Fire dirtied Fort Collins’ Poudre River water.
Denver diverts even more water from the Colorado River, and as ongoing drought leaves the mountain slopes bare of snow, those who rely on the Colorado River farther downstream worry about what the river’s future means for them…
Nearly all Colorado River water managers agree that the river’s headwaters are likely to become hotter and drier as the climate changes, making flows more erratic and less predictable from year to year. So, the problem is this: Because 90 percent of the people who rely on the Colorado River for water live in the Southwest, but 90 percent of its water comes from Colorado and Wyoming’s mountains, the laws of supply and demand on the Colorado River don’t benefit Coloradans.
Sometime down the line — maybe 20 years, maybe 30 or more — Colorado residents may be forced to cut back how much of the river’s water they use if there isn’t enough water in the river basin to give Front Range cities the water they need while sending Colorado’s legal quota of water down the river to Arizona and California, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.