Conservation group mulls Colorado Basin drought
American Rivers, whose mission statement reads, “to protect healthy rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature,” held its annual board meeting this week, not in Washington D.C. where the group is based, but rather at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.
The national organization’s board of directors has been meeting in Glenwood Springs this week.
“It’s exciting to bring them to Colorado, especially a great river town like Glenwood,” American Rivers Colorado River Basin Director Matt Rice said.
Although a national organization, American Rivers began in 1973 in Denver when numerous river enthusiasts and preservationists met and started pushing back against dams, which according to the advocates, at the time, were unnecessary and subsequently negatively impacting many of the nation’s rivers.
This early group of river conservationists began the American Rivers Conservation Council, which later turned into American Rivers.
During their time in Glenwood Springs, the American Rivers Board members discussed two overarching topics, which addressed the new reality of water scarcity in Colorado and basin-wide, as well as how to better explore opportunities for river protection, particularly through grassroots organizations.
Rice noted that, “2018 is the 19th year of drought that the Colorado Basin has faced. We have had a couple of years with some high water and good snowpack, but generally it’s been 19 years of below average snowpack and below average flows in the basin.”
According to Rice, one of the reasons for this deals with increasing water demand from the Colorado Basin for agriculture development and municipal usage. However, Rice says only two words as the main reason for water scarcity in the basin – climate change.
“This is also one of the fastest heating regions in the country, if not the world,” he said. “And, some of the latest science right now is suggesting it is heat and maybe not necessarily precipitation that is having the biggest impact on our water availability.
“As we’re having these discussions about how we deal with scarcity, how we do more with less water, it is also a wholly appropriate time to have a discussion about, what are our last best rivers for recreation, natural values, cultural values and, are there opportunities to protect them?”
Rice described how American Rivers fights for rivers like those which flow throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Colorado River Basin, and outlined the need for increasing protection from federal laws like the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act as well as state such as the state of Colorado’s Instream Flow Program.
Two area waterways have been given consideration for Wild & Scenic designation, including Deep Creek, which flows out of the Flat Tops into the Colorado River near Dotsero, and the upper reaches of the Crystal River near Marble.
As declared on Oct. 2, 1968, the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, according to rivers.gov, ensured that when dams as well as other appropriate river infrastructure were built, comprehensive policy “that would preserve other selected rivers of sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes,” remains vital.
According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Department of Natural Resources, the Instream Flow Program also helps protect riparian vegetation at Hanging Lake as well as essential habitat for threatened or endangered fish in the Colorado River and other waterways throughout the state.
“It’s all connected,” Rice said. “This new normal; 19th year of drought which is maybe suggesting this isn’t a drought, which by definition has a starting point and an end point, this is the new reality that we are living in.”
The American Rivers board held its meeting at the Colorado Mountain College Morgridge Commons facility in Glenwood Springs. CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser is one of the members of the board. The group also took part in several outings to explore local rivers, including a flyover of Deep Creek.
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Fire investigators are still working on determining the cause of Tuesday’s house fire in Glenwood Springs, which left no one injured but caused extensive damage.