TU Says the Colorado River is “Dying”


Guest Commentary by Erica Stock

The Colorado River is Dying… and the fly fishing community must help save it.

If this doesn’t upset you, I don’t know what would. As you may or may not be aware – at its headwaters in Grand County, over 50 percent of the Colorado River’s historic annual flows are removed and diverted across the Continental Divide to Front Range cities like Denver, Broomfield, Arvada, and Longmont through the Moffat Tunnel and Colorado Big Thompson Project (aka, the “CBT”).  Once it reemerges through spigots and spouts, OVER HALF of that water is used outdoors to sustain lawns and thirsty landscaping.

So what effect has this had on trout? Since these projects came online, we’ve seen water temperatures skyrocket, whirling disease outbreaks, and algae and rock snot (didymo) that coat riverbeds like a thick layer of shag carpet, choking out important bug life and reducing trout populations and other native fish to a fraction of their historic abundance.

If that isn’t outrageous enough, today, municipal water providers Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (aka “Northern”) have proposed taking 25% MORE water from the Colorado River and its major tributaries like the Fraser River. Through the Windy Gap Firming Project and Moffat Expansion, they plan to draw and ship this additional supply to the same Front Range cities and suburbs that already waste precious Colorado River water, no strings attached.

So what does this mean for the river and fly fishing? After all these projects come online, less than a quarter of the water flowing from the Colorado River headwaters and Fraser River will remain, reducing these once mighty rivers to shadows of their former selves. As trout populations will likely decline, we could expect fewer fish and fewer days of gold medal fishing.

So what can you do to prevent all this? Trout Unlimited believes we can meet Front Range water needs and keep the Colorado River headwaters alive if and only if we fully mitigate potential impacts to fish and wildlife. From now until the end of May (time is running out!), the Colorado Wildlife Commission will accept public comments on mitigation plans for these two water projects, the Moffat expansion proposed by Denver Water and the Windy Gap Firming Project proposed by Northern.  For an overview of the mitigation plans, click here. After that, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and possibly Governor Hickenlooper will have a chance to weigh in.

While the mitigation plans are intended to reduce the impacts of these two water projects on fish and wildlife, current plans are extremely inadequate and lack the safeguards needed to keep the river healthy for fish, wildlife and the local headwaters communities.

As folks whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the future health of the Colorado River, the Wildlife Commission needs to hear from you, anglers, guides, manufacturers and outfitters.  Please consider writing an email or a letter to the Commission, and even to Governor John Hickenlooper himself.  Describe why the river is important to you, the declines you’ve already witnessed in the Colorado River headwaters, and ask the Commission to create an ‘insurance policy’ that ensures the Colorado River and its trout will remain healthy into the future.  If you don’t guide or fish the Colorado, talk generally about the importance of keeping all Western rivers healthy by managing our water resources responsibility.

For a list of possible solutions to include in your letter, click here.

To contact the Wildlife Commission:

Emails: [email protected]


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

To contact Governor Hickenlooper:

Electronically: http://www.colorado.gov/apps/oit/governor/citizen/assistanceUtility/shareOpinionGovOffice.jsf>


John W Hickenlooper, Governor
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792

Want to learn more or get more involved?  Want to publically express support for keeping to Colorado River alive? Email [email protected] and we’ll get you on the Defend the Colorado website with a link to your business.


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