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Colorado River – the country’s most endangered
Near the source of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. (Photo courtesy: Billy Hathorn)

By James Mejia

According to the national non-profit, American Rivers, parts of the Colorado River are the most endangered in the country. Besieged by tourism, toxic dumping and a proposed groundwater pumping project, the river with headwaters at Poudre Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park tops American Rivers’ list of the ten most endangered waterways across the United States. The Colorado River has flowed for over 6 million years for nearly 1,500 miles from Colorado to Mexico, providing recreation, transportation, drinking water, and the literal lifeblood for agriculture and wildlife in the Southwestern United States.

According to the 2015 American Rivers report, there are a few criteria which qualify the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon as the country’s most endangered.

A proposed tram project on the rim of the Grand Canyon which would bring 10,000 people to the confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Besides being a sacred site for several Native American tribes, the confluence is remote and has therefore maintained its original character. The tourism project threatens to expose the River to pollution and erosion with the exponential increase in tourism.

Continued uranium mining with associated leaching and dumping threatens the cleanliness of the river. Without additional safeguards and regulations, the river will be exposed to extreme contamination.

The proposed expansion of the town of Tusayan at the south entrance to the Grand Canyon will require a tapping of the Colorado for drinking and cleaning purposes. An increase of 2,200 homes in the area will require substantial water that would come directly from the Colorado.

Colorado River stretched by influx of new residents

Threats to the Colorado River are not a new occurrence. Different parts of the river have also been listed as endangered in 2013 and 2014. The 2013 report highlighted the influx of residents to the state of Colorado and outdated water management plans for the Colorado River basin. With all the Front Range drinking, cleaning, and recreation reliant on the Colorado River, as well as agricultural production throughout the region, one of the state’s most precious resources has been in trouble for years. In response, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has produced our state’s first-ever water management plan. The plan hopes to help spread the word about the importance of stopping new water diversion projects, increasing water efficiency, and protecting the river from environmental damage. Currently in draft stage, comments are due by May 1 and the public is encouraged to respond to the document.

Latinos and the Colorado River

Bringing light to the history of Latinos in the Southwestern United States and the Colorado River, the Nuestro Rio initiative was established just a few years ago to highlight the importance of the river to Latino and Indigenous communities. The Nuestro Rio web site tells the story of Spanish settlers and Mexican farmworkers - all reliant on the Colorado River for agricultural production, ranching and wildlife.

The initiative aims to involve the Latino community in the protection of the Colorado River throughout the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Prominent efforts have been established throughout the western and southwestern United States including Denver.

Nuestro Rio is teaming up with Metropolitan State University of Denver’s One World One Water Center, The Colorado Latino Forum and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to bring the conversation about the importance of the Colorado River, and the role of Latinos, closer to home. On Thursday, April 23rd, MSU Denver will host a conversation regarding the Colorado Water Plan. The conversation will feature a presentation by James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, along with City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, and State lawmakers, Joe Salazar and Lucia Guzman.

How to Help Save the Colorado River

• Contact American Rivers: or view updated information at

• Participate in the Nuestro Rio project:

• Comment on the draft of Colorado’s Water Plan:





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