Water wars: Rally asks John Hickenlooper to fix "river-killing" diversion project

Despite concerns raised by the EPA and alarms sounded in a state report, Colorado officials are moving forward with a plan to divert more water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range -- which is why anglers, rafters, tourism interests and others will be rallying in protest on the west steps of the State Capitol building tomorrow.

As noted in previous posts, the arrival of millions of new residents along the Front Range over the next forty years is expected to boost water demands more than 50 percent above the currently available supply. That's prompted a number of grandiose water diversion proposals, including Aaron Million's plan for a $7-billion, 550-mile pipeline from the Green River in southwest Wyoming.

But the more immediate threat has to do with the dwindling Upper Colorado, which already sees more than half of its flow sucked away to Front Range communities, mostly for landscaping purposes. The Windy Gap Firming Project, an effort to direct more water through a diversion system initially launched in 1985, could reduce the river's flow even further, down to about 20 percent of its pre-dammed volume.

Governor John Hickenlooper has declared that the plan adequately addresses potential environmental issues. Backers point to the $10 million spent on an environmental impact study, indicating the project can proceed.

But environmentalists say the further depletion of the river will alter the temperature, kill fish and insects that a healthy river needs, increase sediment -- and generally trash the tourism business for folks in places like Fraser and Granby. A state study found a dramatic drop-off in aquatic insect species over the past two decades from previous diversions, and a recent EPA report is calling for more study and better monitoring of the project.

Opponents say the Upper Colorado can survive additional Front Range incursions, but only by developing further mitigation measures, including periodic water releases to flush out sediment gathering in the depleted riverway. Hoping to bend Hickenlooper's ear a bit, speakers at tomorrow's rally, which starts at 11 a.m., include Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited and Field and Stream columnist Kirk Deeter.

Get additional information about the issue at the Defend the Colorado website.

More from our Environment archive: "Doug Lamborn's oil-shale move: Is he a cheap date for the energy industry?"

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