Do You Know Your Water, Colorado?

Curious about how water from the Colorado River ends up in your tap? Chances are it’s gone through tunnels, pipelines, canals, and reservoirs to get there. Trace your water’s journey from the river to the tap.

Upper Colorado River sunrise. | Russ Schnitzer

Rivers are the lifelines of Colorado’s economy, environment, and lifestyle. They touch everyone in our state, providing most of our clean, safe, and reliable drinking water; supporting our thriving farms and ranches; and contributing to culture, heritage, and recreation — everything from world-class fishing, paddling, and scenery — drawing visitors from around the world.

Colorado’s rivers provide so much to each of us, but do we really know enough about them?

Colorado’s rivers sustain our economy and quality of life, however our state’s lingering aridity and variable climate does not guarantee enough water will be in the right place at the right time for people or wildlife. The journey of water and the ways we’ve engineered our river systems to move water to where it is needed is complicated.

As Colorado developed, the Front Range grew beyond what nearby available water sources could reliably supply. Envisioning a future of water scarcity, Front Range water providers secured significant Western Slope water rights, allowing them to pipe and pump Western Slope water east across the Continental Divide to support the water needs of the Front Range. These trans-basin diversions permanently remove water from one basin, depriving downstream ecosystems and communities of water that would have naturally flowed through them.

Rivers supply the majority of Colorado’s drinking water. Unfortunately, today our rivers are under strain from high water demands and limited supplies. Colorado’s population is rapidly increasing, topping 5.6 million in 2017, and experts predict our state’s population could double in 30 years. Our rivers are already overworked providing for current demands, let alone for future growth.

Today, American Rivers and Audubon Rockies released “Do You Know Your Water, Colorado?” a resource to illustrate the long, complicated journey a drop of water has from its home in a river to your tap. Take a look, and explore how the rivers we love are connected to our clean, safe, reliable drinking water, and ways you can step up to protect the rivers and places we love in Colorado.

In many ways, water ties our state together, but managing water in Colorado has never been easy. With a changing climate, growing population, and numerous competing needs, managing Colorado’s water will not get any less challenging in the future. It’s more important than ever that we all understand where our water comes from, and what we can do to preserve our critical water resources.

In 2015, Colorado’s first Water Plan was signed, establishing the first holistic approach to managing the state’s water. Colorado’s Water Plan offers solutions to water uncertainty by charting a collaborative path forward towards water security for people and the environment. The Plan provides a blueprint for improving water conservation, using land smartly, storing and sharing water more efficiently, and ensuring our rivers and natural places have the water they need to stay healthy and to support Colorado’s vibrant recreation economy and way of life. It is now up to Colorado to put the Water Plan into meaningful action.

Coloradans know what makes our state so great – our rivers. We must meet future water demands without sacrificing our rivers and the wildlife, communities and economies they support. Our communities, economies, environment, and drinking water depend on all of us working together. Can our rivers count on you to help move Colorado’s water future forward?

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