@ConservationColorado: #Colorado’s Rivers — A Report Card

Click here to go to FaceBook to view Conservation Colorado’s introductory video.

Click here to read the report card. From the website:

Our rivers in Colorado are a fundamental staple to our communities, our economy, our environment, and our way of life. Unfortunately, they are threatened by climate change, overuse, poor dam management, energy development and the needs of a growing population. In order to take action to protect our rivers, we must first have a clear understanding of what threatens them. That’s why Conservation Colorado just released a new report that assesses the health of eight major rivers across the state. Read the full report here.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

It’s a provocative report, and it’s meant to be, Conservation Colorado water advocate Kristin Green said during a phone interview Thursday.

“We want to bring attention to some of the opportunities we have to improve our water quality,” Green said. “In all of these, there’s a call to action.”

Green’s team graded one river in each of Colorado’s eight river basins, assigning an “A” grade only to the Yampa River, which flows through Steamboat Springs.

The Colorado River earned a “D,” and the South Platte River earned a “C.”

Reasons for the grades ranged from water diversion — which Greeley and at least a dozen other Front Range communities do with the Colorado River, diverting water across the continental divide to quench residents’ thirst — as well as water quality issues arising from farm or yard runoff, legacy mining pollution and sediment from wildfires.

Local water officials don’t agree with the grades, or the approach, saying these types of reports are consistently negative and unbalanced.

“It’s all subjective,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water Conservancy District, which manages the Big Thompson water project. “Find another organization, and they may look at it differently.”

Werner said it’s good that reports like this get people thinking about water quality and conservation, but he said these types of reports often leave out discussion of the positive steps water officials have taken over the years.

The report assigned individual grades the rivers to make up their overall grades. Water quality in the South Platte, which feeds the majority of the state’s population, was rated “D.”


“Colorado is not an extremely industrialized state,” [Eric] Reckentine said. “So what are we comparing against?”

Reckentine acknowledged the South Platte River Basin has issues, including farm runoff. It’s why Greeley is in the early stages of a pilot program working with farmers to reduce that runoff.

Other parts of the report focused on the diversion of water, as well as dams and reservoirs, impacting the natural state of Colorado’s rivers and river basins. That focus knocked the Colorado River because of the amount of water Front Range communities pump out…

Werner had plenty to say on these rivers’ natural state. When it comes to the Colorado River, Werner said Trout Unlimited supports diversion projects that will actually improve fish habitat in the river.

And the South Platte, Werner said, didn’t flow year-round before people got to Colorado.

“Now, because of diversions, it flows year-round,” Werner said. “If there’s no water in there, there can’t be any fish.”

“They pick out this little slice; they don’t look at the big picture,” Werner said.

For Werner, the big picture is the mission to provide water for another 5 million people in the coming decades, and to do so while keeping conservation top of mind.

Reckentine agreed.

“It’s all part of the consideration,” Reckentine said. “We have a very intricate conservation plan, and demand reduction is a critical component of our future water planning.”

From KOAA.com:

A statewide environmental organization has released its first-ever “rivers report card,” which ranks the health and well-being of eight Colorado rivers.

The ranking takes into account several factors including water quality, flow, amount of water diverted out of the basin, and existence of major dams. Only one river in Colorado received an “A” on the report card, with four other rivers graded at “C” or worse.

Rivers are important for Colorado’s environment as a whole, and they are also major destinations for outdoor activities. Conservation Colorado put the report card together to help Coloradans understand how to better take care of our rivers.

In the report, the group provides details on what the results mean, as well as more information on how to protect our rivers. Find the full report, an interactive web tool, and more at Conservation Colorado’s website.

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

In a river report card released Thursday, Conservation Colorado gave the Dolores River a D-minus based on low flows below McPhee Dam.

The environmental group says improved dam management is needed to better support long-term ecological and recreational values on the river.

“We recognize there has been some recent local action to improve conditions below the dam, but there is room for improvement,” said Kristin Green, a water advocate for Conservation Colorado.

The Dolores was graded on flow, water quality, water diverted out of basin and major dams.

“Based on flow data from the last 10 years, McPhee Dam has reduced the rivers flows by 50 percent,” resulting in an F, the report said.

Water quality received a D because the reduced flows have resulted in dramatic increases in water temperature and increases in silt and sediment, both of which threaten native fish.

According to the report, the river received a low grade because nearly two-thirds of its water has been diverted every year, “which is incredibly unsustainable if we aim to conserve this river for the future.”

Among major dams, the river got a C because river flow has been “severely impaired” and “management of McPhee Dam is a critical component to the viability of the lower Dolores River.”

The report concludes that “overall, the Dolores River is in poor condition below McPhee Dam, but it is in no way a lost cause.”

Green said the wide-ranging solutions to improve conditions include conservation by water users, voluntary leasing of water for downstream benefits and adjusting water law’s “use it or lose it” so water-right holders are not penalized for conserving water…

In response to the low grade, Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservation District, which manages the dam, explained that in the past 10 years, there has been a sustained effort by a diverse group of stakeholders to improve ecological and recreational aspects of the lower Dolores…

This year, there was a large and extended release below the dam that peaked at 4,000 cubic feet per second and flushed sediments, scoured channels and distributed seeds. This month, pulse releases from a reserved fish pool were triggered to flush non-native and predatory smallmouth bass off their nests to reduce populations in favor of native fish.

Preston said dam managers have worked more closely with boaters to accommodate their needs and preferred flow levels. To further fine-tune downstream management, teams descended on the river this year to study the effects of the high flows.

“There were more ecological and recreational studies done on the lower Dolores this year than ever before,” Preston said.

Water conservation by all water users is one solution that helps improve flows below the dam. Preston said that when farmers use less water to produce the same amount of crops, more water stays in the reservoir contributing to carryover storage the next year.

“Carryover storage year to year benefits everyone, including agricultural users, the downstream fishery and boaters,” he said.

To increase conservation, the district promotes cost-sharing programs for farmers to switch from side roll sprinklers to the more efficient center-pivot sprinklers.

More collaboration with groups with differing opinions on best use of water has improved the outlook and possibilities for the lower Dolores, Preston and Green said.

McPhee managers also have worked more closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Dolores River Boating Advocates, American Whitewater and The Nature Conservancy…

In response to the report, Sam Carter, of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said there is no question that the Dolores River is challenged, but it is not due to poor reservoir operations.

“The problem is not dam management, there is simply not enough water for today’s competing interests,” he said. “It is extremely important to acknowledge that a lot of great collaborative work has been done at the local level.”

He said boating groups are dedicated to respecting water-right holders and are working with a diversity of stakeholders to find solutions for the lower Dolores.

“This year is a great example of the progress that has been made. We worked to together to ensure McPhee allocations were met, while providing a great boating season and accomplishing important ecological goals. Local conversations about a possible National Conservation Area for the Lower Dolores are still underway.”

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