Action Alert: Submit Comments on the Colorado River Supply and Demand Study

Posted: 03/05/2013
By: Chris Menges

As the Southwest heats up, the challenge of protecting aquatic ecosystems and recreational flows while meeting traditional water needs is intensifying. Competing resource demands include water for municipalities, agriculture, industry and hydropower.  With winter snowpack declining, and regional population increasing, powerful stakeholders are positioning themselves to ensure that their current and future water needs are met. AW is no different. We have and will continue working to ensure that paddler interests and instream flows are protected throughout the Colorado River Basin now and in the future.

The BOR’s new Colorado River Supply and Demand Study (Study) uses a variety of scientific methods to determine the amount of water that will be available throughout the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years. This is the ‘water supply’ aspect of the Study. The ‘demand’ aspect anticipates future water use under a variety of plausible scenarios ranging from slow to rapid population growth.

Already, water supply falls short of demand, creating what water managers refer to as a system imbalance. With Colorado River flows likely to decline by as much as 20% over the next 50 years, and regional population expected to increase from 40 million to up to 76 million, these imbalances will become much more pronounced (Figure 1).  With so many people and interests competing for an increasingly scarce resource, it is clear that recreational and ecological flows throughout the basin must be clearly defined and collaboratively protected. When we consider the fact that 60% of the Upper Colorado is already diverted, the complexity of this situation becomes clearer.

The Study also describes risks to Basin resources like water delivery, electrical power resources, water quality, recreation resources and ecological resources.  The inclusion of recreation as a resource category increases the chance of preserving paddleable flows.  AW played a key role by providing Reclamation with data assigning ‘acceptable’ or ‘optimal’ flows for a specific sub-set of river segments that are important to the paddling community. This was made possible thanks to information compiled following our summer 2011 flow survey, and underscores the importance of participation in AW-orchestrated flow studies. Because AW was able to provide defensible, quantitative data, the BOR included flow ranges for some boatable segments, and evaluated trade-offs between recreation opportunities and other resources. Without this data, it would be easier for water managers to advance long term strategies that overlook our members’ interests.

This year, AW will continue leading the effort to define recreational flow needs in the Upper Colorado Basin, by administering flow surveys throughout the Gunnison Basin (a significant Colorado tributary) in 2013. We encourage paddlers who have been fortunate enough to enjoy Gunnison Basin runs to participate in the upcoming surveys, which will enable AW to produce a more robust analysis and credibly protect the whitewater boating resource. Solid, inclusive data will strengthen our ability to preserve recreational flows, even as resource constraints continue to grow.

The BOR is accepting comments on the Study until March 14. AW encourages our members to email written comments to the BOR, emphasizing the importance of preserving recreational flows throughout the Colorado Basin and supporting the inclusion of recreational metrics in the Study itself. We have included recommended talking points for your comments below. Please email your comment to Ms. Pam Adams at  by March 14.



ATTN: Ms. Pam Adams, LC-2721

RE: Colorado River Basin Study, Technical Report D – System Reliability Metrics

  • As a whitewater boater, I am concerned with projected water supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado Basin and ask that flows to support boating are protected.
  • I support the quantification of recreational flow needs and the inclusion whitewater boating as a resource category in the Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study (Study).
  • Whitewater boating is not only an invaluable resource to its many participants, but is also a critical economic asset to many communities throughout the Basin.
  • The instream flows required for whitewater boating frequently coincide with natural flow regimes and support the health of aquatic resources, biodiversity and sediment distribution.
  • The ‘acceptable’ and ‘optimal’ river flows that AW provided to BOR for the whitewater boating sections listed in Table D2-1 of Appendix D2 accurately correspond with the whitewater community’s needs and preferences.
  • Accordingly, the Boating Flow Days metrics should be integrated into future planning efforts and stakeholder processes.
  • Thank you for your efforts in working to ensure that whitewater boating needs are considered as Reclamation assesses supply and demand in the Basin over the next 50 years, and for considering my comments.

Respectfully submitted,




Abstract Photo: Alan Cammack and crew on the San Juan River. Photo: Alan Cammack,

Figure 1: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Over the years, water supply has decreased as demand has increased. This trend is expected to continue, with imbalances intensifying throughout the 2000’s.

Associated Rivers

Associated Projects

Colorado River Basin Supply Study

American Whitewater's staff and contractors are working to develop quantitative metrics that help the US Bureau of Reclamation evaluate impacts to recreational stream-flows across the Colorado basin.

Gunnison Basin (Colorado) Stewardship Program

Our new Gunnison River Basin program will define and protect recreational flow needs as part of regional and broader Upper Colorado River Basin stewardship strategies. By quantifying flow needs in the


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