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Future of Colorado's Rivers Up For Debate

Posted: 12/19/2006
by Kevin Colburn

Water allocation has always been - and always will be - a major issue in the arid West. Colorado has long struggled with how to best use and share the wealth of water its mountains provide. Recent and ongoing efforts will chart the future of water diversions and could radically impact whitewater paddling as we know it in the state - unless whitewater paddlers step up and represent their interests. Perhaps the most crucial effort for paddlers to be involved with is the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI).

The 2003 Big Straw Referendum A would have given the Colorado legislature $2 billion to build dams and divert more water to the Front Range. After it lost handily, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) created SWSI. SWSI Phase I determined that Colorado will have 20% less water than the amount needed (the 20% Gap) based on projected population growth.

“SWSI’s findings so far have bolstered Western Slope concerns about possible new attempts at water grabs by the Front Range. It is projecting that Colorado’s cities and industrial users will need an additional 708,000 acre-feet of water by 2030, as the state population grows from 4.3 million in 2000 to an estimated 7.1 million people.” Aspen Times, August 27, 2004

SWSI Phase II created the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) was created. The IBCC organizes nine additional roundtables to meet and negotiate diverting water between basins. Critical decisions will be made within these roundtables that will determine whether many rivers and streams in Colorado have sufficient flows for paddling and other river recreation, fish, wildlife, local economic benefits, and municipal needs. Currently the paddling community is unrepresented or underrepresented on these roundtables. American Whitewater is seeking paddlers willing to thoughtfully represent the paddling community and AW on these roudtables.

Watershed Contact Phone Location Details
Colorado Dave Merritt 970-945-8522 Glenwood Springs Colorado
Yampa-White Tom Sharp 970-879-1482 Yampa
Gunnison Michelle Pierce 970-944-2333 Montrose Gunnison
Dolores-San Juan Steven Harris 970-259-5322 Cortez Delores
North Platte Kent Crowder 970-723-4660 Walden North Platte
Arkansas Alan Hamel 719-584-0221 Pueblo Arkansas
Denver Metro Doug Scott 303-789-2541 Denver Area Denver
Rio Grande Mike Gibson 719-589-2230 Alamosa Rio Grande
South Platte Bille Jerke 970-336-7204 Longmont South Platte

Please attend these meetings and contact AW if you are interested in formally participating as a representative for the paddling community.   If you are a paddler already attending these meetings we would appreciate you letting us know.

For details on the meeting locations, dates, and times, please call the contact person listed above. We encourage paddlers to attend these meetings whenever possible, and if you are willing to be involved in a more formal capacity please contact Kevin Colburn (kevin@amwhitewater.org) immediately. Senate Bill 06-179 allocates $10/million year from 2006 and 2010 for water projects and to do needs assessments in the basins. The IBCC Roundtables are now determining how that money should be spent. This is a one-time opportunity for boaters to obtain money to study and protect recreational river flows. If we do not clearly define the rivers that are important to us, and the flows we need, then our interests and the higher flows critical to recreation and to the rivers’ ecological health will be lost.

For more information, please visit the State of Colorado’s website on these issues at: http://dnr.state.co.us/Home/ColoradoWaterforthe21stCentury/IbccHome.htm

American Whitewater will soon have a Colorado Stewardship Director to help coordinate these efforts, but for now we feel it is critical to get paddlers attending these meetings and to build a network of volunteers. 

Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC


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Colorado's Statewide Water Supply Initiative may very well determine the fate of Colorado's whitewater rivers by dictating how much water can be removed from rivers to serve a growing population.