| News |

Front Range's growing thirst doesn't have to suck Colorado rivers dry, says enviro report

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Over the next four decades, millions of new residents along the Front Range are expected to boost water demands more than 50 percent above the currently available supply. But that doesn't mean the state needs a slew of costly water diversion projects that will damage the ecology and economy of other river basins, according to a new report by a coalition of conservation groups.

Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition joined forces to produce the report, Filling the Gap -- a thoughtful read for anyone who wonders how the semiarid West can accommodate hordes of newcomers without becoming a dust bowl. Again.

The challenge is daunting. The population of eleven Front Range counties is expected to swell by another 2.5 million people by 2050, pushing municipal water needs to more than a million acre-feet of water a year. That's about 365,000 acre-feet more than the available supply. But Filling the Gap makes the case for pragmatic planning now rather than panic later.

Some additional dams and diversion projects are deemed acceptable by the report's authors. But the Upper Colorado River Basin is already quite stressed by the Moffat, Windy Gap and Colorado-Big Thompson projects, leaving anemic streams and declining water quality. Fully two-thirds of the native waters from the region are drained into the Front Range these days, and city planners have their eyes on much more.

But the new study calculates that much of the increasing demand can be met through common-sense conservation strategies, better cooperation among agricultural and municipal interests, and other measures that don't involve tapping deeper into overextended supplies.

That could mean that future subdivisions aren't all lush green lawns. But this isn't Forest Hills, bub -- and the alternative could be a stampede to costly diversions that aren't as essential as their backers insist. Although it's not spelled out in the new study, the specter of the Two Forks Dam looms over any discussion of Colorado's long-term water needs. The dam was the big-ticket project of the 1980s that was supposed to save the metro area from certain doom -- while wiping out the town of Deckers, a herd of bighorn sheep and some highly prized trout streams.

It never got built, and somehow the city survived.

More from our News archive: "Beaver Lady Sherri Tippie explains how to give a dam, save a river."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.