Page 30

Watered-Down River By Wendy Worrall Redal

Looking west across the 445 acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, which straddles the Colorado River.

An interpretive sign overlooking the Colorado River near Windy Gap Reservoir heralds “The Mighty Colorado.” It’s a long-time moniker for the artery that drains nearly a quarter-million square miles through seven states before terminating at the Gulf of California in Mexico. Yet the vista below the sign is of a river that is dammed and diverted, harnessed and held back. Last year, the Upper Colorado was designated one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, earning the number-six spot on American Rivers’ 2010 list. Potential new water diversion projects could sap the life from the Upper Colorado, the conservation group noted, threatening already-challenged trout fisheries, boating and longterm sustainable water supply. “We are currently at the point of an ecological collapse on portions of the upper part of the river,” says Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute and past-president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We’re losing a tremendous resource here that’s going to be hard to get back.” A survey of stonefly and fish populations on the Upper Colorado from 1980-2009 conducted by the Colorado Division of Wildlife confirms a basis for concern. The 2010 report notes the virtual disappearance of the large stonefly P. californica, which it refers to as “one of the single most important species of the Windy Gap Reach of the Colorado River,” in the six miles below Windy 28

Gap Dam. The mottled sculpin, another indicator species that is reliant on cobbles and riffles to reproduce, is also vanishing from stretches directly below dams in the Upper Colorado River. Loss of biodiversity in the river may have major ecological impacts for the future, especially if more water is removed from the Colorado via additional diversions, according to the report. “At some point, if you’re losing a lot of water during runoff, you don’t have flushing flows, which can result in incremental degradation of the habitat quality,” says Barry Nehring, a biologist with the division’s Aquatic Wildlife Research Group and one of the report’s authors. Back in 1890, water from the Colorado headwaters began flowing over La Poudre Pass via the hand-dug Grand Ditch, bringing water to farmers and settlers on the arid, eastern plains. More than a century later, 10 transbasin diversions move water from the state’s wettest basin—the Colorado River mainstem and its tributaries—to the drier South Platte and Arkansas river basins, where most of the state’s usage occurs. The reservoir at Windy Gap, built in 1985, is but one compo-

Colorado foundation for Water Education

Profile for Water Education Colorado

Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

Headwaters Summer 2011: The Mighty Colorado  

As the Colorado River flows through its seven-state, canyon carving traverse, it is tapped and retapped-- supporting acres of irrigated agri...

Profile for cfwe