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Colorado River Tops List of America's "Most Endangered"

PHOTO: On the 2013 list of America's Most Endangered Rivers, the Colorado River is at the top. The report cites climate change, drought and increasing water demands. CREDIT: MoabAdventurer.
PHOTO: On the 2013 list of America's Most Endangered Rivers, the Colorado River is at the top. The report cites climate change, drought and increasing water demands. CREDIT: MoabAdventurer.
April 17, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - The Colorado River has been named America's Most Endangered River for this year by the group American Rivers.

The Colorado is being threatened by outdated water management policies and climate change, said Matt Niemerski, the group's director of western water policy.

"We're in our 12th or 13th year of prolonged drought in the basin," he said. "We've had below-average precipitation most years, and that is compounded upon itself, year to year. Reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at about 50 percent or slightly less capacity."

The Colorado River provides drinking water for 36 million people and irrigates more than 4 million acres of land in seven states, including Utah.

The river flow is expected to shrink even more in the decades to come, according to Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates' water program director. At the same time, he said, water demands will continue to grow.

"We have people still moving to the area and a lot of uses being placed on the river, and the river itself is suffering," Miller said. "There are fish species and recreation uses that are hammered by drought just as cities and farms are."

The good news, says Miller, is that there are ways to deal with the building pressures on the Colorado. The latest study from the Bureau of Reclamation spells them out, including a focus on efficient use and reuse of the water.

"The Basin Study actually articulates that there's a million acre-feet of water," he said. "That's a big part of the gap between the supply and demand that might be made available through urban conservation. And there's another million acre-feet that could be made available through agricultural conservation."

Also on this year's most-endangered list are the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and the San Saba River in Texas.

The report is online at americanrivers.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - UT