The mighty Colorado River flows through my hometown of Hot Sulphur Springs, at the beginning of its 1,450 mile journey to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.4 Although it rarely makes it all the way these days, the once green Mexican Delta now looks no different than the dessert surrounding it.6 This river provides water to over 30 million people in seven US states and Mexico. Over 70 percent of the water is used to irrigate crops throughout the southwest.
Way back in 1892, the Grand Ditch was completed which was the first water project to divert water across basins, and took water that would have gone into the Colorado River across the Continental Divide.3 The Grand Ditch is within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park today and the operation continues to divert water from the Colorado. Over 60% of the natural flows of the Colorado headwaters have been diverted, 12 tunnels run to the Front Range along with countless ditches.2 Governor Hickenlooper recently approved the Windy Gap Firming Project in April, which will divert additional water from the Upper Colorado and create a new reservoir southwest of Loveland called Chimney Hollow to meet increasing demands for water on the burgeoning Front Range.2 This is just the start of all the diversions that happen downstream from Grand County where there are over 100 dams along the way to Mexico.4
In a historical cooperative effort, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Grand County, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance worked to protect the river from rising temperatures during late summer flows, provide needed flushing to mimic natural spring run-off, and continue monitoring during the process of vetting the Windy Gap Firming Project.2 Most groups participated to at least have a chair at the table even though the outcome was inevitable from the beginning. Some concessions were made due to the diligent participation of some water warriors. The “water buffaloes” as they are not so affectionately called by environmentalists got their project approved despite rising concerns about the health of the river. Additional diversion from the Upper Colorado compound issues downstream, while AZ, CA, NV, and Mexico grapple with decreased flows and water rationing. There still remains no significant water restrictions along the Front Range.
Social workers fight for social justice and in this case environmental justice.
Environmental justice calls for us to protect our earth and its resources like water. People are impacted when such a large resource, like the Colorado River, is abused. When we visit Arizona and see the water being used to grow green grass at golf courses in a desert or see crops being grown that are not meant to grow in the region, we need to question if those uses are the best for all people that rely on this water.
- Places throughout the world are affected by shortages of fresh water due to overuse and climate change causing severe droughts.
- Only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh.7
- Africa, South America and Asia are suffering from shortages of fresh water.4
- Australia is experiencing such a bad drought, one town is tryi
ng to take the salt out of ocean water to drink.4
- Researchers predict that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s people will live in a region where fresh water access is a concern.7
- Climate change is expected to reduce the Colorado River’s flows by 5 to 20 percent over the next 40 years.4
If people work together for change, there can be hope. In California, mandatory water restrictions due to the drought have shown 24 percent water savings since June. The government is now working to make those restrictions permanent to make sure people are using the precious resource responsibly. Also, in a historic bi-national effort between the US and Mexico the Colorado River made it to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico in 2014 after the countries provided flushing flows to the Mexican Delta.6 Some children in Mexico were able to walk through the Colorado River for the first time in their lives. The water provided hope to the region’s people.
We must protect the most iconic river in the West by advocating for responsible use, by individuals, communities, industry, and our government. Together we can get the river flowing!