Colorado River's health vitally important to the western U.S.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. -- Sometimes referred to as the American Nile, the Colorado River is the lifeline for the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. That means the health of the river is vitally important.

Colorado River: Lifeline of the West airs Saturday, August 5 at 6:30pm on Denver 7 with an encore presentation on Sunday, August 6 at 2pm.

“The biggest concern with the Colorado River is just how many people are depending on the water,” Conservation Colorado’s Scott Braden told Lisa Hidalgo on recent raft trip on the river through Glenwood Springs.

Braden said that while the Colorado River only flows on the western side of the continental divide in Colorado, about half of the water used on the east side, specifically the metro area, comes from the river.

“With Colorado’s population projected to really grow and really double over the next generation, and with the accumulating impacts of climate change that makes our snowpacks a little more iffy and makes our runoff earlier each year, this river is really in danger of being over allocated,” he said.

Braden says it’s sometimes hard to see those stresses here in Colorado because we’re at the headwaters of the river. But he says the further you travel downstream, the more you see people trying to find ways to make less water go further.

“If this sort of trend continues as they are we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where there is not enough water to go around,” he added.

In addition to over-allocating the river’s water, climate change is also playing a big role in how much water there is to divide up to begin with. Over the next three decades, scientists believe temperatures in Colorado will rise somewhere between two and a half and five degrees. That could mean less snow fall, more evaporation and less water.

“Whatever your views on climate change are, the reduction on flows and some of the snowpack in the mountains we’ve seen the last few years is very real,” Braden said, adding that being aware of the issue is the best way to take action.

“Then people can work toward water conservation in their own lives they can look for ways to reduce water consumption, choose appliances for their homes that consume less water.”

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