The Roaring Fork River basin is part of a system that was identified as one of the most endangered rivers in America by a conservation group on Wednesday.
American Rivers released its annual most endangered list and identified the Upper Colorado River and its major tributaries as the second most endangered river in the country. The Roaring Fork River was singled out in American River’s report as one of the headwater rivers endangered because of the potential for additional diversions.
Ken Neubecker, a Roaring Fork Valley resident who works with American Rivers, said the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers face the threat of increased diversions from Colorado Springs and Aurora, respectively.
The diversion system in the Upper Fryingpan River can be expanded to tap additional creeks — if the plumbing system that diverts water from the Western Slope to the Front Range is expanded to handle increased water capacity, according to Neubecker.
Additional water also can be diverted from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, under certain conditions such as high runoff years, if infrastructure capacity is increased, he said.
“At a certain point, they’re going to do it whatever the cost is,” Neubecker said.
Even if Colorado Springs only diverts additional water from the Roaring Fork River on years when spring runoff is above average, it still harms the ecosystem, he said.
“It’s condemning rivers to permanent drought conditions,” Neubecker said.
American Rivers identified the Colorado River basin as endangered as Colorado works on a statewide water plan to identify how to narrow the gap between supply and demand. “Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come,” American Rivers said. Further diversions will degrade healthy rivers and prevent the recovery of those already degraded, the organization said.
The San Joaquin River of California was tops on American Rivers’ endangered list.
Neubecker said residents of Colorado’s Western Slope must get involved in the formation of that plan to ensure their rivers don’t get tapped for increased diversions.
“The Front Range is clamoring for diversions out of the Colorado Basin,” he said.
The value of American Rivers’ endangered rivers list is it draws attention to the issue, he said. Colorado residents can learn more about the Colorado Water Plan and submit comments by visiting www.coloradowaterplan.com.