America’s Most Endangered River

One of my favorite places on the Colorado, looking east from Dogland -- aka River Park, south of Silt. I love this river ...

One of my favorite places on the Colorado, looking east from Dogland — aka River Park– south of Silt. I love this river …

The Colorado River made big news this week. American Rivers puts the Colorado at No. 1 on America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013, describing it as “a river that is so dammed, diverted, and drained that it dries to a trickle before reaching the sea. Flowing for more than 1,400 miles across seven states, the Colorado River is truly a lifeline in the desert. But over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies, river health, and fish and wildlife. To underscore the immediacy of the problem, the basin is facing another drought this summer.”

Troubled Waters
Colorado River at the top of 2013 ‘most endangered’ list

To some it is a dubious distinction. I say it’s about damn time.

colorado river basinsThe Colorado River is a source of drinking water for 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles. The waters of the Colorado and its tributaries provide irrigation for 4 million acres of agricultural lands that grow 15 percent of the nation’s crops. A $26 billion recreation economy depends on it.

To my dismay, the American Rivers report does not address the pollution that threatens the river from mining and oil & gas production in the river basin. If the Colorado is the most endangered river, then Garfield County is the king of troubled tributaries. Benzene and methane seeping into West Divide Creek since 2004. Methane in water wells near Mamm Creek and Divide Creek. Now benzene and other hydrocarbons in Parachute Creek and the surrounding groundwater. And these are the big pollution events in local tributaries that we know about.

Drilling in Garfield County, CO brackets the Colorado River. Photo courtesy: Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Drilling in Garfield County, CO brackets the Colorado River.
[Photo courtesy: Endocrine Disruption Exchange]

According to Matt Rice, Colorado River program director at American Rivers, the danger of pollution is magnified by the already precarious condition of the river. “If you have a river on the margins, on the tipping point because it’s been tapped and diverted to its max, it’s not going to be able to respond to pollution events like the Parachute Creek event.” he said, referring to the Parachute Creek spill.

Mining and oil & gas operators as well as government agencies have long maintained that runoff is a major factor in the dilution of any pollutants that find their way into the groundwater and tributaries along the Colorado River. However drought, diversion, and year-after-year of less-than-average snowpack have resulted in lower spring runoffs. Yet oil & gas production along the tributaries and river has increased during the same time period. It doesn’t take a hydro-geologist to figure out that as runoff decreases – and thus the dilution factor – the varieties and concentrations of pollutants increase.

I know there are some who believe the Parachute Creek spill just proves the oil & gas industry has turned the creek into a toxic waste dump. But this is why we can’t look away at such a critical time. This is why we can’t write off Parachute Creek as a lost cause. The Colorado River. This is why the Parachute Creek spill matters.

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One Comment on “America’s Most Endangered River”

  1. pepi langegger Says:

    only the people who leave in the in the area can tell the true story, and without political

    and ideological hype .

    In order to judge you need to listen to bot sides.

    I am a rancher in the affected area and your
    comments do not help ,but only worsen the situation

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