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The Mighty Colorado.

It’s been called America’s Nile River, flowing as it does through the most arid region of the country on its seven-state, rambling and canyon-carving traverse. Along that journey, the river is tapped and re-tapped, its flows supporting millions of acres of irrigated agriculture and such unlikely desert communities as Las Vegas. In Colorado, we too depend on this lifeline to the West, to a far greater extent than many realize. All of the rivers on Colorado’s West Slope tie into the larger Colorado River system eventually. But this issue of Headwaters focuses on the Colorado River’s mainstem, including its tributary streams, as defined by Colorado’s Water Division 5. As the most copious source of water available to the state, and one most readily accessed by the more populous East Slope, the Colorado River binds the state with its life-giving flows. Here, the river weaves a common thread through communities as distinct as Colorado’s peach capital of Palisade, its high mountain ski country, and its population center along the northern Front Range. The sheer breadth of those affected creates a high level of consternation over where and how Colorado’s share of the mother river’s water should be put to use. Everyone’s got a slightly different take. And the compromises haven’t come easily. But in the face of shrinking water supplies and growing water demands, it’s not uncommon to hear people remind themselves that “We’re all in this together,” as they look toward taking maximum advantage of the Colorado River’s relative abundance. At the same time, as bearers of the river’s largest headwaters and the self-same name, many Coloradans harbor an innate sense of pride and ownership over the Colorado River. Not only do we recognize our long-standing dependence on the river, but we care about whether its flows are well-managed and protected, whether it will support native fish populations and wildlife, and whether it can still flow mightily along its long and varied path—with us riding its waves, fishing its ripples or simply appreciating its beauty—all the way to its delta in Mexico. In 1921, this sense of ownership led Congressman Ed Taylor to petition Congress to change the name of what was then called the Grand River in Colorado. The Grand River was today’s Colorado River mainstem, from the headwaters down to the confluence with the Green River in Utah, where it then became the Colorado. Taylor argued successfully that this tributary—the Grand—contributed more water to the Colorado River than any other and should bear its name. The river is no longer known as the Grand, but the path it followed is still evidenced by local communities and geographic markers like Grand County, Grand Junction, Grand Mesa and the Grand Valley. It’s been ninety years since the change and our namesake river, though facing its share of challenges, is still pretty grand. It’s leading us to stand together as a state, recognizing our mutual dependence on its flows and working on creative ways to ensure the river can be used while still remaining healthy. It’s a balancing act to say the least—or a balancing myth, as some would argue—but there is really no other option but to come together and try to find those win-win scenarios. Most believe, however, that some sacrifices will need to be made. Maybe, for example, we really don’t need to grow so much bluegrass. As a Denverite who drinks Grand County water—and uses it to water my garden and (small) lawn—but also frequents the Colorado Basin on pleasure-seeking adventures, I remain hopeful that the balance can be struck and that we will be diligent to use our Colorado River water wisely.

n Jayla Poppleto Editor

Headwaters | Summer 2011

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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