Tribal inclusion in public lands management means more than a lands acknowledgement. Read highlights from a panel discussion with Ernest House Jr. and Anna Cordova.

When it comes to the Colorado Water Plan, we all have a lot of questions. Here are the answers you need to know about our state’s water plan: what’s in it, what it will cost, and why you should care.

If you love our public lands like I do, I hope you will tell the Trump Administration they don’t own these lands, we have entrusted them with the management of OUR lands.

Our state and national parks are a shared playground where our communities can recreate and connect with nature — and with each another.

Written by Jenny Gaeng

Saturday, May 18 is Colorado Public Lands Day. Like the best holidays, it’s not just a day; it’s a mission.

Eight years ago, I lay in a meadow under the stars, sea-level lungs aching after the climb, and gazed at the unimpeded Milky Way. At the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, the galaxy smeared across the sky as if someone dipped their finger in chalk and trailed the color through space and time. For the first time, I saw myself in the context of everything, thanks to our public lands.

Koda, Organizer Jenny Gaeng’s dog, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

Year after year, I returned to the Sangre de Cristos. I canoed to a waterfall in a glacial lake, learned to spot wild raspberries, climbed a fourteener and tearfully spat that I would never do it again (then I did it again). I brought guest after guest to the meadow of my metaphysical baptism: my mom, my friends, a once-true love, a random Tinder date. I presented the land and the lake as if I owned them, chatting proudly about weather and geology. Yes, the Sangre de Cristos were mine; they belonged to all of us, as public lands do. It seemed uncomplicated.

My story isn’t unique, nor is the fact that it’s one colored by privilege.

I started to research the history of the area. I learned that the Southern Ute camped and traveled in the Sangres, hunting elk and gathering roots and seeds for medicine. I read the dramatic crest of the mountains served as a fortress against invasions — before the Spanish found their way in from the south. I found out that “Blanca Peak” is another name for Sisnaajiní, the sacred eastern boundary of the Navajo homeland; today, the tribe still fights to protect this area from oil and gas drilling operations.

Front Range Field Organizer Jenny Gaeng.

Millions of people visit Colorado’s public lands every year to hike, climb, ski, hunt, fish, and maybe have a life-changing experience as I did. And like me, the vast majority of visitors are white — nearly 95% of visitors to Forest Service lands self-identified that way during monitoring from 2010-2014. The disparity between racial demographics and National Forest visitors in Colorado ranges from 30-70%.

The roots of this fact are not a mystery. The United States has an established history of white supremacy that is set up, protected, and perpetuated by racist policies across our economy, government, and the systems these institutions create.

“Public lands for all,” we say. But you can’t just tell someone they own a locked building and expect them to find a way inside; everyone needs a key. I was lucky enough to be handed one.

On the ridge to Sisnaajiní , renamed and known now as Blanca Peak, in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. The colonial practice of “discovering” and renaming landscapes erases the indigenous history of our lands and continues throughout the modern era.

Representation, marketing, and centers of outdoor recreation help cultivate a homogenous outdoor culture. It’s personified by being thin, fit, and clad in expensive gear; it’s predominantly male, cis, heterosexual, and hinges on the knowledge to survive and thrive in the wilderness. It’s what we see on the cover of Outside Magazine and it’s what we see on trails throughout Colorado. Coloradans that identify as nonwhite can hike for days in the Colorado backcountry without seeing a face that looks like theirs.

And that brings me to my mission — to our mission.

Gazing down at the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

Outdoor adventurers and activists of all races, genders, and backgrounds are upping the representation game and inspiring new generations. You should pay more attention to their words and ideas than mine, and Conservation Colorado will be featuring their voices in the lead-up to Public Lands Day. Let’s talk about it. Let’s raise their stories as high as Mt. Elbert!

We love our public lands in Colorado. We love them enough to fight for them, which is the reason Colorado Public Lands Day exists. We love them enough that we’ll never stop trying to make them the best they can be — which means looking critically at our history, and shaping our future to be more inclusive and representative of all Coloradans.

We have to work together. I’m never sure of the way forward, and I’m bound to say the wrong thing or screw up at some point — we all are.

As Teresa Baker said in a recent episode of the Safety Third podcast, “Rebranding the Outdoors: “This is going to feel inauthentic as hell — because it hasn’t been done…push your fears aside about it not feeling authentic because that’s just where we are.”

If I can climb Crestone Needle and cross the Conejos River in the spring snowmelt, I think I can learn more about what it takes to make public lands truly representative and open to all people. I think you can, too.

Last November, Colorado voters sent a clear message by sweeping pro-conservation champions into office up and down the ballot: Coloradans value conservation.

In the face of a federal administration actively working to reverse protections for clean air, clean water, and a healthy climate, Coloradans called on our state leaders to fight back. Our calls were heard. Of the 598 bills state lawmakers introduced this legislative session, overhauls of Colorado’s energy policies and oil and gas regulations were among the General Assembly’s top priorities.

After years of the same story at Colorado’s legislature of big, bold policies to protect our future being shut down by anti-conservation legislators, 2019 held a lot of promise for Colorado. We were excited to work with our elected leaders to deliver on that promise by taking on some of our biggest campaigns ever.

Thanks to you, our lawmakers passed legislation to make Colorado a leader on climate action, prioritize the health and welfare of Colorado’s communities, and protect the lands and waterways that define our state.

Tackling Climate Change


Dramatically reducing carbon pollution is key to Colorado swiftly acting on climate change—and the need for doing so has never been more clear. We put Colorado on a path towards a zero-carbon future by setting science-based carbon pollution reduction targetsdecarbonizing our energy sector, and making it easier to buy and drive electric vehicles.

Numerous studies show we have a small window within which to prevent the most damaging impacts of climate change. The “Climate Action Plan” (House Bill 1261) will help us do our part to leave a healthy environment for future generations by creating a framework to reduce Colorado’s carbon pollution at least 90 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. A bill to better collect climate change data (Senate Bill 96) will keep Colorado on track to meet this goal by requiring state regulators to collect data on carbon emissions and propose reduction strategies based on their findings.

Currently, electricity generation accounts for most of the carbon pollution produced in Colorado. A bill to reform the Public Utilities Commission (Senate Bill 236) will drastically reduce these emissions by directing all utilities in the state to generate more carbon-free electricity and consider the “social cost” of carbon when planning future energy projects. This cost—used to measure the dollar value of long-term damage caused by carbon pollution—will allow utilities to evaluate the significant monetary benefits of continuing to invest in clean energy projects. Another utilities-focused bill (House Bill 1313) will help Colorado continue to play a national leadership role on clean energy by setting a template for Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, as well as other utilities, to achieve their bold carbon reductions targets.

And lastly, by 2030, our transportation sector is expected to surpass electricity generation as the top carbon emitter in the state. That’s why transforming transportation is critical to combating climate change. We took a big step toward electrifying Colorado’s transportation fleet by passing bills to extend electric vehicle tax credits to 2025 (House Bill 1159) and expand electric vehicle infrastructure (Senate Bill 77) while defeating a bill to prohibit the adoption of Zero Emission Vehicle Standards (Senate Bill 53). These bills will keep Colorado the “best place in the country” to buy an electric vehicle as well as make low- and zero-emissions vehicles more affordable and more accessible to Coloradans.

Prioritizing the Health and Well-being of Coloradans


For too long, Colorado’s oil and gas laws and regulations had not kept pace with development, leaving our communities and environment to bear the consequences. This year we made significant gains in ensuring that when it comes to oil and gas drilling, health and safety come first. The oil and gas reform bill (Senate Bill 181) outlines a number of common-sense reforms to put Coloradans’ well being ahead of industry profits. The bill not only safeguards our communities by prioritizing public health and welfare, it will help combat carbon pollution by minimizing methane emissions. As a result, this bill will protect the health of our communities as Colorado moves beyond dirty fuels.

Progressing towards a clean energy future is critical to our way of life—but we must ensure a just and equitable transition along the way. Moving toward an inclusive economy built on clean energy will require more than just technological solutions, it will mean supporting workers and communities whose livelihoods are impacted by this shift.

We helped to address the needs of workers, residents, and communities transitioning to a cleaner economy in a number of policies we worked to pass this session. The “Climate Action Plan” will help empower regulators to take bigger steps toward regulating air pollution in disproportionately impacted communities by specifically directing air quality experts to collaborate with a variety of different stakeholders, including frontline communities as they work to craft regulations. The “just transition” bill (House Bill 1314) will accelerate Colorado’s switch to cleaner electricity generation while benefiting local economies by providing grants, workforce training, and other re-employment programs to communities currently dependent on the coal industry. The Public Utilities Commission Reform bill will also help support communities making this switch by requiring energy companies to create a workforce transition plan when closing a coal-fired plant.

Protecting Our Lands and Waters


Climate change, pollution, and rapid population growth are putting significant strains on the lands and waterways that Coloradans depend on. This legislative session we made big moves to preserve Colorado’s wild places and cascading waters.

From mountain peaks to open grasslands, Colorado’s lands are central to our outdoor heritage and recreation economy. That’s why we supported a bill to update conservation easements (House Bill 1264). This measure will allow more Coloradans to protect the lands they love by extending and improving upon Colorado’s conservation easement program which already protects about 2.5 million acres across Colorado. It’s also why we worked to defeat a misguided wildfire mitigation bill (Senate Bill 37) which would have undone long-established, collaborative relationships between local governments and land managers to successfully address the threat of wildfires and maintain forest resiliency.

The water we use to drink, irrigate our crops, and sustain our communities is water that we share with our rivers, streams, and lakes. But severe drought and increasing water demands threaten to diminish both the quantity and quality of our water supply.

We passed two policies to help sustain healthy, flowing rivers: a mining reform bill (House Bill 1113) and a bill to fund Colorado’s Water Plan (House Bill 1327)The mining reform bill will preserve the quality of Colorado’s waterways by necessitating hard-rock mining companies to prove they can pay to treat polluted water prior to operating a new mine. This will ensure that Colorado’s water and communities are protected from the devastating environmental and economic impacts of hard-rock mining.

The Colorado Water Plan funding bill will maintain adequate flows in Colorado’s rivers and streams by creating a revenue source—through the legalization of sports betting—to fund the Colorado Water Plan, a roadmap to prevent statewide water shortfalls. If approved by voters, the bill will allocate 10 percent of proceeds—an estimated $10 million annually—towards water conservation as well as provide money to combat gambling addiction.


These victories would not have been possible without you! Thousands of Conservation Colorado members across the state took action this legislative session to ensure a healthy Colorado for years to come.

Thank you—our members, donors, and supporters—for everything you did to make the environment a priority for legislators this year. By joining us and raising your voice on conservation issues, you have been a crucial part of this success.

This year was a year of tremendous progress. Now, we have a stronger-than-ever foundation upon which to build a better future for Colorado.

With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and be a national conservation leader.

How Colorado is ready to lead on the Environment

Drove 1,800 megawatts of clean energy. Cut pollution from cars. Organized thousands of Coloradans to stand up to the Trump administration. Won 53 elections, electing more women and people of color than ever before in Colorado. When we pause and take a look back, it’s clear that our 2018 was pretty eventful.

Building a movement requires many small successes. And this year — with the support of our many dedicated volunteers, donors, and activists — we accomplished a lot to protect Colorado’s environment.

First, we put more time, money, and effort into electing pro-conservation leaders than ever before — and it paid off! We played a part in getting Jared Polis elected as governor and in electing pro-conservation majorities in the Colorado legislature!

But election victories aren’t the only thing we accomplished this year.

Energy and Climate


  • We helped bring more clean, renewable energy to Colorado through Xcel Energy’s Colorado Energy Plan. This will save an estimated $213 million for energy consumers, replacing two coal-fired power plants using renewable energy, existing (but no new) natural gas resources, and doubling the amount of battery storage that is currently under contract in the entire country. We sent nearly 10,000 public comments (a new record) to the Public Utilities Commission to make this plan a reality.
  • We worked to pass a bill that supports rural communities impacted by economic downturn, like a big industry leaving. The “REACT” bill provides much-needed coordination and resources for state agencies to assist rural communities. It does this by designating a specific state agency, the Department of Local Affairs, to coordinate economic assistance.

Transportation


  • We made big moves for cleaning up pollution from cars in Colorado. In November, Colorado became the first interior state to pass Low Emission Vehicle standards for cars and trucks, which will reduce pollution from tailpipes, help Coloradans breathe easier, and save money for families at the pump. We lauded Governor Hickenlooper when he kicked off the process with an executive order in June, and we brought input from more than 7,600 Coloradans to the agency in charge.
  • We played a part in passing a bill to increase funding for transportation, a need that has grown as Colorado’s population has boomed. A true compromise, this transportation funding bill includes flexible, statewide funding that invests in transit, bike, and pedestrian options as well as highways and roads. SB 001 provides funding for all parts of the state to decrease congestion, promote equity, and reduce air pollution.

Wilderness and Public Lands


  • We partnered with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis to introduce a bill in both chambers of Congress to permanently protect 96,000 acres in the White River National Forest, including Camp Hale as the first-ever National Historic Landscape. The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Act will protect the natural beauty, outdoor recreation, historic resources, and wildlife habitat in the nation’s busiest national forest.
  • We supported a bill to reauthorize Colorado’s lottery to continue funding outdoor recreation and land conservation. Through this program, Great Outdoors Colorado has returned more than $1.1 billion to the people of Colorado through projects like community parks and trails in all 64 of Colorado’s counties.
  • We mobilized thousands of Coloradans to speak up to the Trump administration, sending in comments on proposed changes to sage grouse plans, getting local elected officials on board to stop drilling near the Great Sand Dunes, and recruiting 103 businesses to send a letter to Congress to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Water


  • We worked with our legislative champions to pass three bills that allow reused water to be used for flushing toilets, growing hemp and marijuana, and cultivating edible crops. Reused water is recycled water that has been treated so it is clean enough to use again. These bills will save water for Colorado.
  • We won a lawsuit to keep the Dolores River flowing. There is now water that is legally allotted to restore stream flows for the fish and wildlife that depend on it.

 

Communities


  • Conservation Colorado Education Fund and Protégete registered 10,360 new voters in Denver and Pueblo counties—75 percent of whom identify as people of color—to help increase voter participation in Colorado.
  • We graduated 44 Promotores, or individuals from Latino communities who committed to learning how to organize and lead their community toward local and statewide solutions through civic engagement. This included our first-ever youth Promotores, who are local high school and college students going through our program.
  • We helped defeat Amendment 74, a ballot measure supported by out-of-state corporate interests who wanted to change the character of Colorado neighborhoods and our rural landscapes by giving developers loopholes to build anything they like, anywhere they like.

 

The Fight Continues


Our country is seeing a rare convergence of political climate, public concern, and capacity to make meaningful changes in the next few years — and those changes will be led by the states. We’re taking on some of our biggest campaigns ever to pass bold policies that will make Colorado a leader for the nation.

We’ve come up with a vision for the future that serves as a clear call for our leaders to make meaningful policies in 2019 and beyond to protect Colorado’s environment. It includes:

  • Putting a limit on carbon pollution and advancing clean energy innovation
  • Electrifying and cleaning up our transportation sector
  • Safeguarding communities from oil and gas development
  • Keeping water in our rivers and ensuring our drinking water healthy
  • Protecting public lands and wilderness for all Coloradans

With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and make Colorado’s future one that we’re proud to leave as our legacy. Donate before the end of the year to support our vision for the future and become a part of the fight!

 

On Election Day 2018, nationwide voter turnout for the midterm elections was the highest its been in more than 50 years. In Colorado, an astounding 2.5 million ballots were returned, earning our state one of the top five highest-midterm-turnout rates in the country.

Coloradans were energized and engaged on environmental issues in the 2018 election by the threat that the Trump administration poses to our Colorado way of life and by our determination to make Colorado a national leader. That’s why this election cycle, Conservation Colorado spent more money, knocked on more doors, and engaged more voters than ever before.

With the help of our members, donors, and volunteers, we:

  • Spent $4.6 million on direct contributions to candidates, expansive digital ad programs, direct mail, canvasses, and TV and radio ads
  • Knocked on 585,375 doors in targeted areas across the state and made 2,735 calls
  • Registered 10,360 Coloradans with the goal of registering younger, less affluent and more racially and ethnically diverse voters
  • Mobilized more than 300 members and volunteers to knock doors, make phone calls, and take action to support pro-conservation candidates

Thanks to all of you, our hard work in the 2018 election paid off! We helped elect environmental champions to all of our state executive offices and establish a pro-conservation trifecta.

Governor



In the governor’s race, conservation was a key part of Jared Polis’ bold vision for Colorado’s future, and he has a long record of fighting to protect our clean air, public lands, and climate. “I look forward to working with [Conservation Colorado’s] 40,000 members to defend our public lands, grow our outdoor recreation economy, create good-paying renewable energy jobs that can never be outsourced, and make sure we can continue to enjoy our Colorado way of life,” Polis said. We’re proud to have knocked more than 500,000 doors to help elect a true conservation champion!

Attorney General



In the race for attorney general, the health of Colorado’s environment and communities was at the forefront of Phil Weiser’s platform, propelling him to victory over an opponent with a history of favoring special interests like the oil and gas industry. “As attorney general, I will lead the fight to address the reality of climate change, not deny it. I will protect our public lands and ensure we have clean air and water, standing up to the Trump agenda and suing our federal government when necessary to protect Colorado. I am proud to join Conservation Colorado…to protect Colorado’s land, air, and water, to fight for our children and future generations,” said Weiser. We’re thrilled to have an attorney general who will stand with us in fighting back on behalf of all Coloradans.

Legislature


In state legislative races this year, we fought hard in key districts to uphold the pro-conservation majority in the state House and to take back the state Senate. This work paid off on election night when we saw victory after victory for pro-conservation candidates! In each of our toughest races, candidates who prioritized the protection of our clean air, clean water, and public lands won by more than 10 percentage points over their opponents. Such massive margins make it clear that Colorado voters value our conservation and vote with it in mind.

Dylan Roberts, representing Eagle and Routt counties in House District 26 added: “Up here in the mountains, this is what voters really care about: protecting our environment, protecting our water. I look forward to working on those issues.”

Ballot Measures


In addition to our efforts to get pro-conservation leaders elected, we worked on several ballot measures — and had mixed results. We fought with all of our strength to defeat Amendment 74, one of the scariest measures we’ve seen on Colorado’s ballot in years. Even though the oil and gas industry spent more than $10 million to support 74, our side helped voters see through the deception and vote for local communities to have power over big industries. We’re grateful voters rejected this disaster!

Unfortunately, Proposition 112 failed on the ballot. We endorsed this measure to increase the setback for new oil and gas development to 2,500 feet from buildings. We supported 112 because the health and safety of our communities should come above all else, but a $30 million campaign bankrolled by the oil and gas defeated this community-led initiative. Though 112 did not pass, more than 800,000 people voted for it because they’re fed up with the oil and gas industry. We need our legislators to listen to these voters and make sure Colorado has the strongest safeguards in the West for the oil and gas industry.

A Winning Percentage

In all, 53 out of our 55 endorsed candidates in the 2018 election won their races, resulting in a 96 percent win rate and a continued track record of electing environmental champions who will protect our air, lands, water, and people.

Thanks to your help, we are excited to work closely with all of our elected officials to enact bold policies that prioritize our conservation values during the the 2019 legislative session and beyond.

Written by Jenny Gaeng

I was twenty-six years old and standing – just barely – in New Mexico. My backpack was already digging into my shoulders. My feet, wrapped in shiny new trail runners, scratched nervously at the desert sand.

The hot air rippled like a curtain. Brown mountains rose in enormous triangles from the flat expanse; they could have been painted, like the backdrop of a play. Behind me stood a small barbed-wire fence: Mexico.

3,100 miles ahead shone a luminous bullseye: Canada.

There was a monument at the trailhead, a sturdy stone obelisk reading: Southernmost Point, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. The route was engraved on the side: New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana. It took seconds to run my fingers from beginning to end; I figured it would take five or six months by foot.

The shuttle to the trailhead had gone, and I was all alone. I was afraid to start hiking, afraid that I was really here and had no one to blame but myself. The path forward was littered with cholla cacti and wiry ocatilla, their tips like red arrowheads pointing at the sky.

I tried to imagine what I could not see: the promise of rivers and peaks, of strength and redemption. I pointed my body north and began to walk.

The Continental Divide Trail was created in 1978 under the National Scenic Trails Act, joining other long-distance hikes such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. While those trails attract thousands of “thru-hikers” each year, the Continental Divide Trail only sees a few hundred. This is due in part to the challenges of the trail: remoteness, route-finding, weather, and everyone’s favorite fear, grizzly bears. The trail is also incomplete. Today, 20 percent of the trail is on roads, from bumpy dirt roads to actual highways, where hikers’ feet throb on the scorching pavement as cars whiz by. About a thousand miles in, I started sticking out my thumb.

Future hikers may not have to, thanks to the amazing work of land management agencies, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, and other partners working to complete the trail. This means fun work like mapping and trail-building, but land acquisition comes first.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created in 1964 to repurpose taxes from offshore oil and gas drilling to fund something that virtually every American benefits from: public land. Money from LWCF is used to purchase private land and give it back to the people – and it’s not just trails and forests; every state in the country has used LWCF to pay for parks, bike paths, and more. In this case, purchasing those last remaining parcels along the Continental Divide is instrumental in completing the trail from Mexico to Canada.

But these days, there’s not much that we don’t have to fight for. On September 30, LWCF is set to expire, and it will take an act of Congress to keep it afloat. If Congress doesn’t vote to save it, we could lose our most precious resources to the backlog of defunded yet essential conservation efforts. The Continental Divide Trail could forever remain a trail of broken links along the nation’s spine.

Hiking near Knapsack Col, Wind River Range, Wyoming

September 22 was the first day of fall. It was already bone-cold in Montana, ten miles from the border in Glacier National Park.

I woke up to water dripping through the seams of my tentEverything was soaked: my clothes, my pad, my sleeping bag. I didn’t care. “Squirrel!” I yelled to my buddy, who had joined me for the last few days. “Wake up. Let’s get the heck to Canada!”

The trail had turned into a river of mud, two steps forward and big slides back. The rain made it worse. We followed a creek up, up, over a hill, gritting our teeth until finally-

Squirrel was ahead, and I heard him start to whoop. “Oh my god,” I whispered. I opened my throat to join in, but only air came out. I braced myself to feel – what was I supposed to feel?

A bleary parking lot emerged from the fog: a pit toilet, two flags, and a few lonely cars. Squirrel was staring up at the sign and shielding his face from the rain.

“This is anticlimactic,” he said.

“No!” I cried. This was the punctuation mark at the end of a very long sentence. It had started five months and two days ago at the barbed-wire fence, or maybe earlier – the first time I scaled a mountain, or saw the Milky Way, or sat in the city listening to sirens howl and thinking, I wish I was far away.

Wherever it began, it snaked here over five million footsteps. Ten for the sirens, one hundred for an illness, one thousand for a broken heart – and all the rest for the people who told me I wouldn’t make it. The Continental Divide Trail was every oozing blister, every misstep that sent me face-first into the dirt. It was every time someone asked, Are you alone? and their tone said, You shouldn’t be here. It was every basin that drained my breath, all the mountains that washed over me and carried everything else away.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund isn’t just about land or water. It’s the currency of the human spirit, of challenge and healing. It keeps us alive and free.

“I knew the trail wouldn’t let us down easy,” Squirrel groaned.

My nose was numb from the rain. I scraped my teeth against the my peeling lower lip and looked out at the fog. I didn’t know how to get home or even where home would be. But I knew that I could keep moving, even if it took another five million steps to get there.

I said, “This is perfect.”

Read more from Jenny Gaeng, Field Organizer at Conservation Colorado, and her outdoor exploits at adventuresofcloud.com. Next week she will begin a traverse of the Sangre de Cristo range, a wild area currently under threat from oil and gas drilling. Her blogs will explore the Sangres’ history, geology, and the intersection of indigenous activism and environmentalism.

From the valleys of the West Slope, Colorado rivers are a cornerstone of our communities, economy, environment, and shared way of life. However, our state’s landlocked status means that the rivers’ water isn’t naturally accessible for a lot of Colorado communities; most often, we have to bring the water to us. Snowpack melts from mountain peaks and irrigates through tunnels and pipes to reach communities throughout the state. Water, as a seasonal and limited resource, is increasingly scarce as snowpack peaks earlier and warm temperatures arrive earlier.

Learn more about how water travels from mountain tops to our taps in our latest edition of “Conservation Chats.”

Despite the fact that Colorado is home to some of the best water recreation opportunities in the West, we’re facing a prolonged drought — and all the environmental issues associated with it.

Consequently, many Colorado rivers aren’t in great shape. The damaging effects of climate change and lingering impacts of overuse, poor management, and energy development continue to devastate our water supplies.

Summer after summer, our rivers seem to be shrinking. However, something about this summer is remarkably different. Currently, abnormally dry conditions are impacting approximately 4,023,000 Coloradans — about 80% of the state’s population.

Let’s look at a few of the rivers across the state to reflect on the past and what our new normal may look like.

Hold On: How Do We Measure Water?


We use the measurement of cubic feet per second (cfs) to measure water in motion. One cfs represents 7.5 gallons of water flowing by a particular point per second.

Imagine one unit of cfs as roughly the size of a basketball. So when we say a river has 449 cubic feet per second, imagine about 449 basketballs bouncing downstream every second!

Colorado River


Image Credit: Don Graham.

Glenwood Canyon:

Flows on July 23, 2018: 2190 cfs

Average flows on July 23 over the last 51 years: 4270 cfs

That’s over 2000 cfs less than the past average; that’s roughly 51 percent less than the average.

Also known as the “American Nile,” the Colorado River supplies more water for Coloradans than any other river in the state through pipelines from the West Slope to the Front Range. As one of the southwest’s most utilized bodies of water, the Colorado River is also one of the most vulnerable to increasing demand and the long-lasting impacts of climate change. Decreasing flows, increased evaporation resulting from higher temperatures, and dwindling snowpack levels continue to increase the gap between supply and demand.

Yampa River


The confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers

Deerlodge Park:

Flows on July 23, 2018: 98.1 cfs

Average flows on July 23 over the last 33 years: 914 cfs

That’s over 800 cfs less than the past average; that’s roughly 10 percent of the average amount of water.

The Yampa River remains as the last major free-flowing tributary to the Colorado River, the backbone of the West’s water supply. As the Colorado River continues to get exhausted from increasing demand, the Yampa is emerging as a source to meet growing water demands. There have been a number of proposals over the years to dam and divert water from the Yampa to send it to thirsty cities east of the Continental Divide, which would be a disaster for one of the West’s last wild rivers.

Dolores River


Image credit: Gabe Kiritz

Near Bedrock, CO:

Flows on July 23, 2018: 6.04 cfs

Average flows on July 23 over the last 34 years: 93 cfs

That’s less than the past average; that’s roughly 6.5 percent of the average amount of water.

The Dolores River has faced numerous challenges over the years, including dams, high water demands, mining pollution, and climate change. This river is severely threatened, recently scoring a D- on our Colorado Rivers Report Card. However, recent local efforts to revitalize the water have helped build a drumbeat to reinvigorate one of the most unknown and underappreciated rivers in the state.

The steps we take now to protect and improve our rivers will determine the viability — and future — of Colorado’s water. More importantly, what we do now will determine if we have healthy rivers and enough drinking water in the future.