How Front Range water usage is sucking the life out of the upper Colorado.
Existing water diversion structures like Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel act like a straw, sucking out half of the Upper Colorado River’s water annually and pumping it to Front Range cities and suburbs. These diversions rob the river of the cold, clean water it needs to sustain healthy populations of fish and wildlife. Today, proposals are on the table to take more by expanding Moffat and Windy Gap operations, leaving as little as 20% of the river’s water to flow downstream. Removing this extra water without fully addressing negative effects on fish and wildlife could lead to an ecosystem-wide collapse.
DECLINING WATER QUALITY AND AVAILABILITY
Because of reduced water availability and low flows, high temperatures, algae and sediment are all problems in the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers. Fish and the bugs they depend on for food need cool, oxygen-rich water to survive. When water is removed from the river, the river becomes shallower, slows down and warms up faster, causing algae to multiply and sharp reductions in available oxygen. Add that to increased sediment that clogs streambeds and chokes bug life, and you have a recipe for disaster.
DECLINING FISH AND WILDLIFE
Biologists from the Colorado Division of Wildlife have recorded significant declines in trout, native fish and macro invertebrate (stonefly) populations since water projects like the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap began diverting flows from the Colorado River and the Fraser River. Fish and wildlife need cold, clean, free-flowing rivers to survive. And while some consider taking more water from these rivers to meet Front Range water needs, we must acknowledge the current threats to our rivers and demand immediate and real action to avoid further harm to trout and native fish.
WATER USE & POPULATION GROWTH
Front Range water use drives the demand for expensive water projects that hurt rivers, fish, wildlife, and Western Slope communities. Despite a dry environment, Denver-metro residents use approximately 168 gallons of water every day. Half of that water is used outdoors during summer months to sustain thirsty lawns and landscaping. Because of projected Front Range population increases, it’s more important to ensure every drop taken from our rivers is used efficiently and responsibly. By cutting water use outdoors and implementing more aggressive water conservation measures, we could save millions of gallons of water, which means more water stays in Colorado’s rivers where it belongs.
Whether you believe warming temperature and extreme weather conditions are the result of natural changes in the earth’s atmosphere or of human activity, one thing is certan: hotter temperatures and climate uncertainty is likely to affect water supply throughout Colorado. As the atmosphere warms, the distribution and intensity of rainfall is predicted to cause not only longer droughts but also increased flooding from big storms, as well as longer and more intense wildfire seasons. Reduced snowpack, increased frequency of rain and snow, and earlier runoff of snow will mean increased winter flooding and less cold water in the Colorado River for trout and salmon throughout the year.