Your Watershed: A Colorado River report card |

Your Watershed: A Colorado River report card

Annie Whetzel

Colorado River has been all over the news this past month from the Colorado River Report Card, to the local river clean-up in Glenwood Springs. We are living in an exciting time for water.

I’ll start local.

The Glenwood Springs River Commission is a group of local community members interested in helping advise the city of Glenwood Springs on how to best protect the two rivers that run through town, the Roaring Fork and Colorado. To raise awareness and clean up the area before the bridge building begins in earnest, they hosted RiverFEST. The Post Independent reported 80-100 people came out to clean the edges of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers in their boats, on foot and by bike.

I was one of these volunteers, and it was inspiring to see so many people come out on a Saturday morning to clean up their important resource.

River clean-ups are just one step in protecting our water.

Last month, Conservation Colorado, an environmental advocacy group based out of Denver, put out the Colorado Rivers: A Report Card. This report assessed the health and needs of eight major rivers in Colorado, taking into account the challenges surrounding water quality, climate change, water management and increasing demand.

The Colorado River, including the Upper Colorado and Middle Colorado River watersheds came in at a D, which according to the report’s grading means, “Severely damaged from diversion, damming, or climate change and requiring immediate conservation action to prevent the total loss of its natural state.”

We have a few ticks against our river, which includes climate change affecting water quantity, diversions affecting water quantity and land-use management and development affecting water quality.

Based on the most recent research by Brad Udall, a senior research scientist with the Colorado Water Institute with Colorado State University, it is no surprise the Colorado River had a low score in water quantity. Udall’s research highlighted that high, and rising, temperatures are in fact diminishing the flows in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin, which includes the Upper and Middle Colorado River watersheds.

As many who have lived in the region know, transmountain diversions are essential for Front Range Coloradans. The diversions transport water from one side of the mountains to the other. In the case of the Colorado River, they transport water from the Upper Colorado River and Roaring Fork watersheds to the Front Range.

With a growing population across Colorado, the report card calls us all to action, stating that “it is imperative we continue to work together to increase water conservation so that our existing water supply can go further, rather than demanding more water from this river.” Conservation begins with us in the mountains and extends down to those living in the Front Range in order to protect our river.

Finally, water quality is something that the Middle Colorado Watershed Council also aims to protect and improve. The Conservation Colorado report card gave the Colorado River a “C,” which means it needs work. This is consistent with what we have found in our water quality assessment for the Middle Colorado River watershed completed in 2015.

There are gaps in the data for water quality, which we hope to fill. Filling these holes will give us a much better picture of what is happening with water quality in the tributaries and the main stem of the Colorado, and how we can possibly improve it.

The take away from the Colorado Rivers Report Card is that we need to work together, across the state to work on water conservation, and water quality improvement. River clean-ups are an important step in bringing the community together to protect water quality, and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council’s is Oc. 7, check out our website for more information. Thanks to the Glenwood Springs River Commission for bringing us all together this summer.

Annie Whetzel is the Community Outreach Coordinator at The Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the MCWC, go to You can also find them on Facebook at

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