Anglers have role in protecting Colorado River

guest post by Scott Yates, director, TU’s Western Water Project

As anglers, we often take for granted some of the incredible fishing we have in the West. Think about it:

Trout fisherman flock to fish for wild trout during the cicada hatch on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam, or try to time the massive but sometimes elusive salmon fly emergence in the Gunnison River’s Black Canyon downstream of Blue Mesa Reservoir.  I’ve had some amazing days fishing on the still undammed stretches of the Upper Colorado such as the Yampa River.

It’s easy to overlook how closely these fishing opportunities are tied to water management decisions in the vast Colorado River basin system, which is a vital water source for the entire region.  It’s also easy to overlook how those water decisions can hurt local communities, rural economies, and the special places that TU does some of its best collaborative work to protect, reconnect, restore, and sustain trout fisheries.

Today the Bureau of Reclamation released a major study that could potentially impact all of these hallowed waters.  The study looks at a variety of water supply and demand scenarios, and assesses potential impacts on the overall reliability of the Colorado River Supply System. 

The bad news: The Colorado River basin is pressured more than ever before by changing climate and growing populations and needs. The report delivered a powerful punch of reality on that front.  There’s likely not going to be as much water in the system in years to come.

The good news:  more than ever before, the agency is looking at water solutions that include the goal of protecting and enhancing healthy rivers and habitat.

And there’s more good news. The real work and opportunity lie ahead.  TU will be working with other stakeholders to explore a variety of ways to better manage water in the basin and protect river habitat. Water conservation and efficiency will be keys to preserving our cherished trout rivers and streams.

TU is also committed to working closely with ranchers and farmers to design, fund, and construct creative projects that modernize irrigation systems while restoring stream flows and fish passage.

Working together, we can keep our rivers flowing and healthy. That’s the theme of TU’s restoration work in the West—and that message of collaboration is getting more relevant and urgent as water supplies tighten.

At the same time, fisherman and sportsmen will need to remain vigilant about some big, bad ideas out there that could damage our rivers. For instance, state involvement in the study goaded the BOR into some pretty far-fetched ideas regarding storage, including big transbasin pipeline alternatives.  

Grandiose, costly, and destructive pipeline projects aren’t the answer.

There’s so much that can be done with water conservation, thoughtful but smaller scale storage alternatives, and partnerships with the agricultural community that make our water go further to meet multiple needs. 

As the study makes clear, it’s a new era of water scarcity, demanding new ideas and approaches. Instead of fighting over water, we’ve got to find creative ways to partner and work together with other stakeholders to protect these magnificent rivers and make sure they’re intact for future generations.

Someday, I want my kids to be able to catch the salmon fly hatch on the Gunnison. 


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