Media Statement: Northern Water brags about “tallest dam built in Colorado in 50 years”

In yesterday’s Loveland Reporter Herald, Northern Water is bragging about how their proposed new dam at the proposed Chimney Rock Reservoir would be the “tallest dam built in 50 years in Colorado.”

Save The Colorado’s response:

“If the Army Corps permits this project, we will do an intense analysis of the permit and address it accordingly,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “Destroying rivers with dams and diversions is exactly a 50 year old technology and that’s why we shouldn’t do it anymore. Bragging about the height of a dam is like bragging about the height of a smokestack from a coal-fired powerplant. We are smarter than that now — conservation, efficiency, recycling and working with farmers is the future for water supply in Colorado.”

Save The Colorado’s policy is “no new dams and diversion.” The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes to divert a new 30,000 acre feet (~9 billion gallons) out of the Colorado River. The result would mean that over 75% of the water in the Colorado River would be diverted out before the river reaches the town of Hot Sulphur Springs.


PRESS RELEASE: Colorado Water Plan Survey is Greenwashing Gibberish

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2016
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado, 970-218-8310

Colorado Water Plan Survey is Greenwashing Gibberish

Fort Collins: On Wednesday, August 24, 2016, the Colorado State legislature’s “Interim Water Resources Review Committee” met to consider bills for the 2017 legislative session. Screenshot (409)One of the presentations at the meeting was from a pollster who displayed results of a survey about the Colorado Water Plan and water supply issues in Colorado.

This survey (link here) is bogus because it completely fails to provide details to poll respondents about any of the negative impacts of new dams and diversions. For example:

Question 3 (slide 3) asks if there should be “more water storage capacity.” This question uses the Orwellian euphemism “storage” instead of saying the reality of “dams, diversions, and pipelines.” The water buffaloes in Colorado began using the word “storage” in 2015 when they realized it was a method to greenwash new dams and river destruction.

Question 6 (slide 6) asks a similar question, again using “storage,” again failing to say “dams, diversions, and pipelines,” and again completely failing to discuss any of the environmental problems caused by dams.

Slide 10 offers a series of questions that are hopelessly lopsided:

10a. Should Colorado store its legal share of water? This question completely fails to note that the entire Colorado River basin is in an extended drought, that climate change predicts even lower river flows, and that by storing its “legal share of water,” Colorado could force the entire basin into a geo-political legal war by causing a “call on the river” which would likely cause a dramatic cutback in junior water rights across the state. In fact, the State is studying the likelihood of exactly that happening should more diversions occur.

10b. “Permitting should be expedited to get projects built.” This question again completely avoids discussing how the permitting process was created to protect the public’s health and environment by Acts of Congress; and fails to discuss that “projects” are dams, diversions, and pipelines that drain and destroy rivers. Further, the question completely fails to say that the “projects” are extremely controversial — as one example, the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County (called the “Moffat Collection System Project”) is opposed by local residents and environmental groups because it would have dramatic negative impacts on public health and safety, on the environment in Boulder and Grand Counties, and further drain and destroy the Colorado River and its tributaries (see document here). Other projects, including the Northern Integrated Supply Project near Fort Collins, have created an all-out environmental war because it would further drain and destroy the Cache la Poudre River.

10d. This question finally uses the word “dam,” but then suggests that dams “don’t harm the environment.” This statement is ridiculous — there is no such dam on planet earth, or in the state of Colorado. All dams harm rivers.

10e. This question gets to the heart of why the State is doing the poll, where it proposes to “in 2018 ask voters for funds…”

“Much of this poll is anti-environmental greenwashing gibberish, said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “This poll would be like telling people that nuclear energy provides cheap electricity but failing to say that radioactivity causes cancer. If they try to push through a 2018 ballot initiative to further dam and drain the state’s rivers, I predict there will be an aggressive “no” campaign to stop it.”

Save The Colorado has proposed alternatives to new dams and diversions, including water conservation, reuse and recycling, better growth management, and working with farmers (see widely published column here about the Colorado Water Plan) to address the state’s future water needs.

Gary Wockner, E.D., Save The Colorado


Colorado River Update: “We need to save the river, not further drain it!”

Hello Amazing Friends of the Colorado River!

Summer is winding down, and the rivers in the Colorado River basin are slowing Screenshot (401)down with it. And that makes time for us to RAMP IT UP!

This past week saw a big flurry of news about the Colorado River. The U.S. govt decided that they were NOT going to declare the first official “shortage” on the Colorado River that would have cut back water delivery to AZ, CA, and NV. We were all over the story, providing outreach to the media about the govt’s declaration as well as the numerous problems with the river. The Associated Press wrote a long piece in which we again pointed out that, while the whole river system hovers on the verge of collapse, cities and states in CO, WY, and UT are STILL proposing more dams and diversions. AP quoted me saying, “We need to save the river, not further drain it.” Read the story  from the Associated Press here. The combined storage in Lakes Mead and Powell continues to hover near the lowest level in history — taking more water out of the river is ridiculous.

Along with that story and the govt’s declaration, a lot of attention was focused on how AZ, CA, and NV are conserving more water to avert the looming shortage. That’s great sor-capitol-smallnews — in fact, the lower basin states (AZ, NV, and CA) are leading the path forward with water conservation agreements to help address the water supply problem. What the media missed though was the amazing work of grassroots environmental groups, like Save The Colorado, that also helped avert the shortage by slowing or stopping new proposed dam and diversion projects. To that end, I wrote this blog pointing out our work and why it matters — click here to take a look: “Environmental Law Enforcement Helps Avert Shortage On The Colorado River.” Along with many of our colleagues, we have helped slow or stop seven dam projects that would have diverted up to 500,000 acre feet of water out of the river every single year! With your great support, we will continue this important work of addressing the threat of more dams and diversions, and enforcing the amazing environmental laws that America has on the books!

As Lake Mead falls, Lake Powell is also under threat — most of these proposed dams would have diverted water out of CO, WY, and UT, which would have further Screenshot (402)drained Lake Powell. In addition, the State of Colorado is doing a study right now to find out how threatened Lake Powell is, and the initial results of the study suggest that Lake Powell is likely doomed by the ongoing drought, any future drought, and increasing climate change. I wrote a blog post for EcoWatch titled, “Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone?“, that was picked up by Yahoo News and virally spread across the U.S. to be read by over a hundred thousand people. In the post, I point out that climate change is real and is likely to drain Lake Powell in the next few decades no matter what we do. If we’re smart, we will come up with a plan to drain the Lake so that various users and stakeholders can get their needs addressed over time rather than letting climate change drain it haphazardly putting all of us in a reactionary mode.  Trying to keep Lake Powell alive will cost dramatic amounts of money — draining the lake will save money, water and farms in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming as well as better secure water supplies for the whole Southwest U.S. by keeping the Colorado River flowing from top to bottom.

Finally, we had our AMAZING Cataract Canyon raft trip 3 weeks ago. Another HUGE thank you to OARS Whitewater Rafting for offering us this trip. On behalf of myself, our board, and our shipmates, we say again — thank you for your support, and stay tuned for all the action this Fall!



FERC Terminates Colorado Dam Proposal for Peabody Coal Mining

For Immediate Release
August 23, 2016
Contact: Gary  Wockner, Save The Colorado, 970-281-8310

FERC Terminates Colorado Dam Proposal that would have supported Peabody Coal Mining

Colorado River, USA: Today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) informed the Trout Creek Reservoir Project that their application for a new dam, reservoir, and hydropower project was being terminated due to “missed deadlines.” (see this termination letter) The proposal would have diverted water out of Trout Creek (a tributary to the Yampa River in Colorado, in the Colorado River basin), created a 100-foot high dam across Trout Creek, and used the water for generating hydropower and for Peabody coal mining near Steamboat Springs, CO (see project description here). The project was in the permitting process with FERC because part of the proposal was to generate hydropower.

“This is good news for Trout Creek, the Yampa River, and the entire Colorado River basin,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “The last thing we need is to be further damming and draining rivers to support coal mining. The future of water supply and energy production is in conservation, wind, and solar.”



Gary Wockner, PhD, Executive Director
Save the Colorado
PO Box 1066, Fort Collins, CO 80522


The mission of Save The Colorado is to protect and restore the Colorado River
and its tributaries from the source to the sea. Save The Colorado focuses on 
fighting irresponsible water projects, supporting alternatives to dams and 
diversions, fighting and adapting to climate change, supporting river and 
fish species restoration, and removing deadbeat dams. Save The Colorado has 
thousands of supporters throughout the Southwest U.S. from Denver to Los 
Angeles and beyond.

Environmental Law Enforcement Helps Avert Shortage on the Colorado River

Gary Wockner, Executive Director, Save The Colorado River Campaign

Gary Wockner, Executive Director, Save The Colorado River Campaign

News reports this week celebrated as the federal government announced that there would not be an official “shortage” on the Colorado River in 2016 or 2017 that would force California, Nevada, and Arizona to divert less water out of the river. Several journalists pointed to “water conservation” as the reason that this shortage was averted, and that is partially true. The lower basin states have made some good progress on their collaborative plan to take less water out of Lake Mead, thus helping to avert the shortage.

But what was completely missed in the news coverage was the role of good old-fashioned law enforcement by environmental groups to also help avert the shortage. Over the past five years, Save The Colorado has led or supported multiple law enforcement activities that helped keep dramatic amounts of water in the Colorado River. For example.

1. Flaming Gorge Pipeline: In 2013 and 2014, we helped lead a coalition of groups that enforced laws that helped stop the permitting process for this project that proposed to take 250,000 acre feet of water out of the Green River before it flows into the Colorado River.

2. Fontenelle Dam Re-Engineering: In 2015 and 2016 Save The Colorado has been bird-dogging this proposal by the State of Wyoming to divert a new 125,000 acre feet of water out of the Green River. Members of Congress are trying to move a bill that would allow WY to divert more water; Save The Colorado will be working to stop the project if it moves into the permitting process.

3. Moffat Collection System Project: Over the last few years, Save The Colorado has helped lead the fight to stop this Denver Water project as it moves through the permitting process with the Army Corps of Engineers. Proposing to take a new 15,000 acre feet out of the Colorado River, the project violates federal laws and would pour tens-of-thousands of tons of cement across South Boulder Creek in Boulder County, Colorado.

4. Windy Gap Firming Project: Over the last few years, Save The Colorado has led the fight to stop this disastrous project that proposes to divert a new 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River to slake the thirst of bluegrass lawns in Northern Colorado.

5. Gila River Diversion: Save The Colorado provided support to the groups in New Mexico that are fighting this proposed diversion of 12,000 acre feet of water out of the Gila River before it flows into Arizona and meets the Colorado River. As the project moves through the permitting process, we will stand by to support our New Mexico colleagues again.

6. Lake Powell Pipeline: Save The Colorado has supported and joined a broad coalition of groups in Utah to help stop this proposed project that would take a new 86,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River. As the project moves through the permitting process, we will be joining our Utah colleagues, locking arms to protect the river and stop this project.

7. Green River Nuclear Power Plant: Save The Colorado has provided support to HEAL UTAH and other groups in Utah that are fighting this project that proposes to divert a new 53,000 acre feet of water out of the Green River.

8. Colorado Water Plan: We’ve also bird-dogged several additional proposals including large new diversions that are being discussed in the Colorado Water Plan process.

Americans are very lucky. In the 1960s and 1970s our forefathers and foremothers in Congress had the extraordinary vision to create and pass exceptional environmental laws to protect the public’s health and environment. Those laws — including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act — gave the public not just the right, but the responsibility, to enforce the law as these types of water projects move through the permitting process. Further, if we the public believe that the federal government has broken the law, Congress gave us the right and responsibility to enforce the law in federal court.

By bird-dogging every one of these projects through the permitting process, Save The Colorado is proud to be a law-enforcement organization as our forefathers and foremothers envisioned. We intend to continue our law enforcement activities as long as the laws continue to be threatened or broken.

Yes, a shortage on the Colorado River was averted in 2016 and 2017. But, let’s tell the whole story — if every project above would have been permitted and built, at least another 500,000 acre feet of water (that’s 162 billion gallons, equaling 5 feet of water in Lake Mead, every year) would have been diverted out of the river and not flowed into Lake Powell and potentially Lake Mead. The facts are clear: Environmental law enforcement helps avert a shortage on the Colorado River.

Gary Wockner, PhD is Executive Director of the Save The Colorado River Campaign. Contact:

Colorado River Update! “Decoupling” is the hot new thing in the Southwest U.S.

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

Have you heard of “decoupling?” No, it doesn’t mean that Brad Pitt has broken up with Angelina Jolie. Decoupling is the trend in cities across the Southwest U.S. whereby as Denver-Water-smallpopulation increases, total water use goes down. In fact, in almost every growing city from Denver to L.A., total water use has decreased even though populations have increased over the last 20 years. The cause of the trend is that people are conserving much more water — indoors and outdoors — and are living on smaller lots or in multi-family housing like apartments and condos. Denver exemplifies this trend perfectly — over the last 30 years, it’s population has grown by 40%, but it’s water use has gone down by 10%. That’s one of the many reasons why we have dug in our heels to fight to stop Denver Water’s proposed new dam and diversion of water out of the Colorado River. Simply put, Denver Doesn’t Need The Water. If you want to learn more, the journalist/author/academican John Fleck has a new book coming out discussing “decoupling” — there’s a sneak peak on The Breakthrough Institute’s website here.

Our efforts to stop Denver Water’s river-destruction scheme, as well as others, are ramping up across the Southwest! In Colorado, the Denver Post has recently Screenshot (348)highlighted our work through two columns and an article about Denver Water’s project. One story quoted me“The Gross Dam project is reckless and will further drain and destroy the Fraser and Upper Colorado River as well as cause irrevocable damage to the environment and citizens of Boulder County.” In another column titled “A River of Falsehoods,” I outlined the massive negative impacts of the project, and in another story, I said the proposal would lead to the “complete annihilation of a river system.” A colleague of ours, Jen Pelz from Wildearth Guardians, also wrote a column in the Denver Post opposing the new dam/diversion projects and argued that “Colorado’s Rivers Need A Pardon, Not A Death Sentence.”

And, we’re fighting to protect the Colorado River in Utah, too. Two weeks ago we sent our “Intervention” letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in our fight against the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, a scheme to take a massive amount of water out of the Colorado River to slake growth in the Utah desert. In our lengthy legal letter, we argue that FERC should “Deny” the permit for the project, and that the supporters of the project should focus on alternatives including conservation, water recycling, and water agreements with farmers.

Check out our new boardmember, Mark Dubois! We’re excited to announce that the renowned Mark Dubois has joined out board of directors. Mark has a long history of Screenshot (349)river protection and environmental advocacy in the U.S. and internationally.

In 1979, Mark became famous when he chained himself to a rock as the Army Corps of Engineers was flooding California’s Stanislaus River behind a huge new dam. In the years after, Mark co-founded California’s river protection organization, Friends of the River, and co-founded the international river advocacy organization, International Rivers. Mark was the international coordinator for Earth Day in 1990 and 2000, and has continued to press for environmental protection in various professional roles since then. Mark joined us on our Green River trip last year, and now, as a member of our board, he will help us paddle into the future. And yes, he almost always has a smile like that on his face! Check out this story and video about Mark and the Stanislaus River. Welcome Mark!

Thank you for all of your support, friends! Stay tuned for more action! Happy July!



SUCCESS! Redford Center Raises $10 Million for Colorado River Delta!

Hi Friends of the Colorado River!

SUCCESS! Four years ago, in 2012, we were excited to help fund and support the Redford Center to launch their new film, “Watershed.” Narrated by Robert Redford and Screenshot (328)co-produced by his son, Jamie, the film offers a positive spin on the challenges facing the Colorado River. Due to the film’s early success, the Redford team created the “Raise The River” campaign, the goal of which was to raise $10 million to buy water to restore a small flow to the bone dry Colorado River Delta where it not longer meets the Gulf of California.

Just last week, Jamie Redford announced on his youtube channel (click here to see it) that Raise the River met its fundraising goal of $10 million! That’s great news, and it’s coupled with the fact that the United States and Mexico are continuing to have positive negotiations about putting more water back in the Delta. We are so happy to have helped launch this great film and initiative — Great work and congratulations goes to Team Redford!

It’s time to go rafting this summer! Can you fit a trip in? We still have a few seats available in our Cataract Canyon raft trip, courtesy of OARS. It’s going to be a GREAT oars-cataracttrip in the Canyonlands of legendary Southeast Utah. July 31st – Aug. 5th. See details by clicking here.

A BIG THANK YOU! to everyone who donated to Save The Colorado during our Spring 2016 fundraising campaign. If you haven’t yet donated, of course there’s still time! :-) (Click here to donate.) Our Spring fundraising drive focused on raising funds to support our campaign to fight the Moffat Collection System Project, a disastrous proposed dam/diversion scheme by Denver Water to suck even more water out of the Colorado River and pour tens-of-thousands of tons of cement across South Boulder Creek in Boulder County, Colorado, to enlarge an already large dam on that creek. We oppose this river-destroying dam-building project, and we have dug in our heels to stop it. Why? And what can you do to help stop it? Click here to read about the project and our outreach campaign to the Boulder County Commissioners. And yes, again, you can donate here to help us fight the project!

Summer is warming up and feeling great! And we at Save The Colorado are feeling great too! So much so that we are now planning for our Fall 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Here’s a teaser: Get Ready For A BIG, FUN Water Fight!

Stay tuned for all the ACTION and THANK YOU for your support!



PRESS RELEASE: Gary Wockner Joins International Waterkeeper Alliance Board of Directors

For Immediate Release
June 8, 2016
Gary Wockner, Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, 970-218-8310
Maia Raposo, Communications Director, Waterkeeper Alliance, 212.747.0622 ext. 116

Gary Wockner Joins International Waterkeeper Alliance Board of Directors

New York, NY: At its June 2016 meeting, the international Waterkeeper Alliance appointed Gary Wockner, Director of Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper in Fort Collins, to its 13-member board of directors. Waterkeeper Alliance is the fastest growing water protection organization in the world – the President of the Board is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Wockner got his start in river protection by co-founding Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper in 2004 in Fort Collins, and has since escalated the fight to protect rivers and waterways across the Southwest U.S. and the globe.

Wockner also directs the Save The Colorado River campaign whose missions is to protect and restore the Colorado River from the source to the sea, a project he co-founded with New Belgium Brewing in 2010 that also partners with Waterkeeper Alliance. Further, in 2015, Wockner began advocating for protecting waterways across the planet, traveling to and writing about dam and water threats in Costa Rica, Columbia, Mexico, Belize, Spain, and Thailand. Next week, Wockner will join the new Maranon River Waterkeeper on a raft trip in the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru, a river which is facing a massive threat of 20 hydroelectric dams. Wockner has trips planned to visit local Waterkeeper organizations and dam fighters in Nepal and Ecuador later in 2016. He also volunteers and consults for International Rivers and Global Greengrants Fund, both of which fund and support river protection advocacy worldwide.

“We are thrilled to have Gary Wockner join Waterkeeper Alliance’s Board of Directors,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Gary has been an inspirational force as the Poudre Waterkeeper for many years, and is leading the fight to protect the Colorado River Basin. His commitment to the protection of our precious water resources will be invaluable to our leadership.”

“The Waterkeeper Alliance is the strongest advocate for river and water protection in the world and so it’s a perfect fit for me,” said Gary Wockner. “I’m super excited to jump on board and start paddling with this amazing group of worldwide advocates. Thousands of massive dams are being proposed that would create an apocalypse for rivers across the planet – my work to fight dams on the Poudre River has turned into an international river-protection passion that is escalating every day.”


Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting more than 290 Waterkeeper organizations around the world and focusing citizen advocacy on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. Waterkeepers patrol and protect more than 2.3 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Learn more at

Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the Cache la Poudre River of northern Colorado through education, research, and advocacy. The Poudre River has been named one of the most endangered rivers in America due to the threat of new dams and diversions. Poudre Waterkeeper focuses on fighting proposed dams, enhancing river restoration, and galvanizing public support for the Poudre. More at

Photo: Gary Wockner and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Colorado River Update: What Would Edward Abbey Say?

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

The famous environmentalist, Edward Abbey, once said, “Sentiment without action is abbey-sentimentthe ruin of the soul.” We agree!

And that’s why we are doing our best to push both — sentiment and action — into the public debate about managing the Colorado River.

FIRST, HERE’S OUR SENTIMENT: Last week, Lake Mead fell to its lowest water level in history. That very same day, the main reporter who covers this story for the Las Vegas Review Journal, Henry Brean, called me to talk about it. I told him that the entire Screenshot (307)river is being managed very poorly — both for water supply and for river protection — and so this continued falling of Lake Mead is no surprise. In addition, while the agencies in Arizona, California, and Nevada are proposing to try and keep more water in the Lake, the agencies in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming are trying to further drain it!

He quotes me in his article: “At the same time the agencies in the lower basin are discussing cuts, the agencies in the upper basin are working to suck more water out of the river,” Wockner said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

A few days later, the renowned environmental journalist, Abrahm Lustgarten, published a piece in the New York Times about the continued demise of both Lakes Mead and Screenshot (306)Powell in which he suggested it was time to consider draining Lake Powell and tearing down Glen Canyon Dam.

Abrahm reached out to me as well as our boardmember and former Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Dan Beard, who said:  ”‘The Colorado River system is changing rapidly. We have a responsibility to reassess the fundamental precepts of how we have managed the river.’ That reassessment, Mr. Beard and others said, demands that even as new projects are debated, it is time to decommission one of the grandest dams of them all, Glen Canyon.”

Around the same time, another of our boardmembers, the famous nature photographer John Fielder, has been giving presentations about protecting the Yampa River and other rivers in the state of Colorado. During his presentations, John makes it point-blank and 20160506_201324-fielder1loud and clear that new dams and diversions are not needed to meet future water needs, but rather that conservation and water-sharing with farmers is the best path forward.

In short, Save The Colorado is OUT THERE in the media and in the public making our sentiment known far and wide. We are THE leading voice in the media and in events speaking out for the protection and restoration of the river.

SECOND, HERE’S OUR ACTION: At the same crazy time that the river and reservoirs are being drained, four new dams and diversions are being proposed in the Colorado River system. We are deep in the fight to stop every project! We agree with the President of the Waterkeeper Alliance, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., when he told the Denver Post, “The idea of taking any more water out of the Colorado River or its

Screenshot (308)tributaries seems like a kind of insanity right now.”

In Colorado, we are facing off against the Moffat Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project; in Utah, we are helping to fight the Lake Powell Pipeline; in Wyoming, we are leading the charge against the proposed Fontenelle Dam re-engineering project. We’re leading, or joining, coalitions of groups fighting these projects, we’ve injected scientific comments into the permitting process, and we’ve argued that conservation and water-sharing are faster, easier, cheaper paths forward.

In addition, we’ve also set our eyes on Glen Canyon Dam. The National Park Service is currently re-examining how it manages the dam, and we’ve inserted intense comments into the EIS process to argue that NPS has not taken climate change seriously, and has failed to fully analyze alternatives to protect and restore the Grand Canyon including draining Lake Powell and decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. In fact, so far NPS has failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. They have another chance to right this wrong during the permitting process before groups like ours spring into action.

In short, we are taking action on every possible front to protect and restore the Colorado River and its tributaries!

SENTIMENT PLUS ACTION! That’s what you get when you support Save The Colorado! Twice per year, we reach out to you to ask for support for our work. We cannot do this work without your support! Please donate to Save The Colorado to keep the SENTIMENT and the ACTION moving forward.

Please Click Through Here To Our Website To Donate!

Thank you for your support — Let’s Save The Colorado River!

The Upper Basin is Not Meeting the Demands on the Colorado River

The Upper Basin is Not Meeting the Demands on the Colorado River

On May 15th, 2016, the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, penned a column in the Grand Junction Sentinel that contains some false, misleading, and missing information regarding management of the Colorado River.

The Colorado River is being very poorly managed, resulting in massively depleted reservoirs as well as the ecological deterioration of the river’s fish species and habitat. 56f1f7b8091fa.imageFurther, what’s been called a “16-year drought” has set in over the Southwest U.S. and has co-mingled with this bad management to drain the river even more. Further yet, every scientific study of climate change paints a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River system – all of the predictions indicate less flow in the river, and some of the predictions indicate much larger decreases in flow as climate change intensifies.

Eklund’s column appears to try to reassure the public that the Colorado State government, the state’s water users, and water users throughout the Upper Basin States are grappling with these challenges effectively and have a plan in place to ensure water supply security for the region. However, his column does not reassure readers who are closely engaged with the issue.

First, Eklund says that “…the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming have been working on preparations to ensure the health of the Colorado River system in sustained dry conditions.” However, facts lead us to the opposite conclusion, that all four states are working to drain the river even more:

  • Wyoming is proposing a massive new diversion of 125,000 acre feet from the Green River at Fontanelle Dam,
  • Utah is planning a massive new diversion of 86,000 acre feet from the Colorado River called the Lake Powell Pipeline,
  • Colorado is planning for two new diversions from the Colorado River totaling 45,000 acre feet – the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Collection System Project,
  • And New Mexico is planning a new diversion from the Gila River of 12,000 acre feet.

In addition, WY, UT, and CO all think they have even more water rights and have discussed even more diversions than noted above. What’s really going on in the Upper Basin – and officials in Wyoming and Utah have said so publicly – is that the states want to get the last legally allowed drops of water out of the system before the federal government steps in and forces everyone to cut back diversions.

Second, Eklund says that “…many Upper Basin water users, including Coloradans, have answered the call to voluntarily explore ways in which we would be able to

Jim Creek in Grand County, Colorado, a tributary to the Colorado River that is often drained dry by Denver Water

Jim Creek in Grand County, Colorado, a tributary to the Colorado River that is often drained dry by Denver Water

manage our Colorado River…” Eklund provides no reference for the word “many,” but presentations and articles on the topic I have seen suggest that it’s more like a ‘few dozen water users,’ not “many,” and that these explorations have so far been unsuccessful. In fact, the word “miniscule” has been used to describe how much water has so far been saved by these voluntary explorations.

Third, Eklund says the Upper Basin states have “…focused our efforts on operating our reservoirs as effectively as possible…” He appears to be referring to what is sometimes called “reservoir re-operations” as a strategy to ensure that enough water flows downstream to Lake Powell.  When I contacted the Bureau of Reclamation recently, they said they have not yet re-operated any of the Upper Basin reservoirs – including Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, or Navajo – to try and prop up Lake Powell but may consider doing so in the future. However, it is very questionable if changing the operation of these reservoirs could make much of a difference – they are much smaller than Lake Powell and could only add a tiny amount of water to a problem that requires a very large course correction.

While I appreciate Eklund’s attempts to reach out to the public to try and provide reassurance, I conclude that his column is not accurate and that his plan would not mead12321even work. Management of the Colorado River system needs a major change, one that short-term elected officials and their appointed managers are unable to likely make. The needed change will require painful cuts to plans to divert more water, and cuts to current deliveries, as well as broad-scale agreements by all four Upper Basin states and thousands of individual water users, most of whom are farmers and are not likely to easily enter into discussions or agreements.

Here’s what needs to be done in order to face our future climate-changed world on the Colorado River:

  1. The Upper Basin states absolutely must stop all new proposed dams and diversions – there simply is not enough water in the system right now to support new diversions, and every climate change model indicates there will likely be less water in the future.
  2. A new and dramatic focus on water conservation in cities and farms must begin as soon as possible, and the water that is conserved must stay in the river and flow downstream instead of being diverted by a different user.
  3. The Upper Basin states will have to give up trying to stabilize or refill Lake Powell, and instead should let the Lake drain. With less and less snowpack and water now and in the future, the Lake was simply a mistake. Draining Lake Powell and storing the water in Lake Mead would save water, money, farms, and even electricity.

Each of these three changes will be very difficult to accept and implement – they are exactly the kind of change that our short-term political system won’t be able to implement until the water system nears collapse and no other choice is possible. And they are exactly the kind of change that needs to be pushed forward into the public discussion from the outside by people and groups who have a stake in the management of the Colorado River.

Gary Wockner, E.D., Save The Colorado River
May 16, 2016