Don’t let the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers dry up

Last week American Rivers released the 2011 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.  Rivers that were not on the list but certainly fit the bill are the Upper Colorado River and the Fraser River. The Fraser River is no stranger to the Most Endangered Rivers list, it was number three on the list in 2005.  Did you know that over 60% the water in these two rivers is already diverted to the Front Range never to return to the Colorado River Basin again?  Water is pumped and then diverted through the mountains through pipelines called the Moffat Tunnel and the Windy Gap Project. 

Denver Water has plans to expand the Moffat Tunnel and further divert additional water out of the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers to the East Slope primarily for irrigation.  This project is called the Moffat Expansion Project.  Meanwhile, The Northern Water Conservancy District also has plans to take more water out of the Upper Colorado through a separate project called the Windy Gap Firming Project.  The result of these projects will leave, at times, less than 15% of the rivers natural flows severely damaging habitat, increasing water temperatures, and degrading water quality.

While it looks like these projects are going forward, Denver Water and the Conservancy District have worked together to come up with a mitigation plan to address both projects impacts.  Unfortunately, the plans do not address previous impacts from previous diversions. These impacts have been substantial; in the last ten years, stoneflies and sculpins, important trout food, have disappeared from sections of the Upper Colorado due to inadequate high flows that keep gravel clean and water temperatures regularly approach terminal levels for trout and other aquatic species.  The mitigation plans also do not provide a safeguard for the rivers if they fail due to the increased diversions nor do they provide for a meaningful water conservation plan in times of drought.

Without adequate mitigation it is entirely possible that the headwaters of Colorado’s namesake river and some of her tributaries will be lost forever.  If you are an angler, boater, hunter, or water drinker, you know how important healthy rivers are to communities. They are economic engines driving tourism and creating outdoor recreation jobs that can’t be outsourced, they provide clean drinking water, and are important in maintaining our cultural identity.

Learn more about the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers at the Colorado Trout Unlimited website.  

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is in the process of determining the state’s position on mitigation needed to address impacts from both projects. Send the Commission a letter or drop them an email by May 26th letting them know that you appreciate their commitment to standing up for healthy rivers and that mitigation for these projects must meaningfully protect the natural and community values of the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers for our children and grandchildren.

Tell them that they can’t support a plan unless:

  • There is a forceful stream monitoring and adaptive management plan paid for by Denver Water and the Conservancy District that will safeguard the rivers from failing.
  • There is adequate flushing flows that restore river habitat.
  • There is a plan in place to stop or reduce diversions if river temperatures approach state standards for a healthy river.

Send your letter or email to the Colorado Wildlife Commission By May 26th at:

Colorado Wildlife Commission
c/o Public Involvement Unit
Colorado Division of Wildlife
6060 Broadway, Denver, Colorado 80216

Or email: