As we enter the latter half of snow season, those of us whose work or whose livelihoods depend on our healthy waterways are closely tracking snowpack, as well as how much runoff we can expect this spring.
Most of the Mountain West is enduring a 19-year drought, and as a result, our snowfall is at risk. Snow and rain provide much of the water we rely on for the health of our communities, businesses and landscapes. Beautiful vistas and access to world-class outdoor spots are a huge part of what makes Colorado a great place to call home.
Flowing western rivers and healthy water supplies are essential for the activities and traditions we love and for our economy: the Colorado River system supports 16 million jobs and generates $1.4 trillion in annual economic benefits, including a $26 billion recreational economy. It also supplies 4 million acres of irrigated farm and ranch land across seven states and Mexico and provides drinking water to 40 million people.
Westerners recognize the critical role of the Colorado River in our region and support conservation efforts. Colorado College’s 2019 State of the Rockies poll found that two-thirds of Western voters say water supplies in the West are becoming more unpredictable. In Colorado, 73 percent of respondents say they consider themselves “outdoor recreation enthusiasts,” 69 percent consider themselves conservationists and 83 percent believe “it is important for states to use funds to protect and restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams.”
Coloradans not only enjoy our great outdoors, we also want to take steps to protect them. Local companies – especially among the outdoor recreation industry – have a critical role to play, whether that’s supporting river clean-up efforts or partnering with nonprofit organizations that drive conservation. Regional groups such as Western Resource Advocates are offering ambitious but achievable solutions and working with businesses, local governments, ranchers and others to promote smart water policies and increased protections for rivers and streams.
To protect ourselves from the risks posed by a stressed water supply, it’s imperative that we take smart steps to conserve water and dedicate sufficient funds to safeguard this vital resource.
The good news is that solutions are possible. It’s encouraging to see leaders in our state advocating for positive changes. In his inaugural State of the State speech in January, Gov. Jared Polis affirmed his administration’s support for funding and implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan lays out critical provisions for protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams and ensuring that we’re investing in policies and programs that are good for Coloradans and for our environment. Polis followed through on this commitment with his first budget proposal by including $30 million to implement key parts of the plan that have gone under-funded.
This is promising, but it’s just the beginning. With urgent and continued action and collaboration among elected, business and community leaders across the state and the Colorado River basin, we can all protect our rivers, our water supply and Colorado’s way of life.
Phil Walczynski started his river career as a guide in Gunnison/Crested Butte and has been with Down River Equipment in Wheat Ridge, since 1999. Jon Goldin-Dubois is president of Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, a Colorado-based organization working to protect the West’s land, air and water.