Washington, D.C.-based American Rivers released its annual list of the nation’s 10 most threatened rivers on Wednesday, April 17.
“The Colorado River is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea,” the organization said in a news release. “The river is a lifeline in the desert, its water sustaining tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as endangered fish and wildlife.
“Demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply. A century of water management policies and practices that have promoted wasteful water use have put the river at a critical crossroads.”
Approximately 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water, according to American Rivers. The river irrigates nearly 4 million acres of land, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops, the group’s news release said.
Zach Frankel of Utah Rivers Council said Utah is America’s biggest waster of water.
“Utah is proposing several pork-barrel water projects simply to prevent other states and ecosystems from using the water,” he said. “It’s childish, destructive and a waste of money.”
Frankel said during a telephone interview that the $1.5 billion Lake Powell Pipeline, which would divert 90,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water to St. George, is a prime example.
“The water development industry gets paid to build water projects and it has an inherent interest in making claims that their constituent population is running out of water,” Frankel said. “They claim that St. George is on the road to running out of water. In truth, St. George is the most wasteful city in the nation.”
He cites statistics showing St. George residents use 328 gallons of water per day. That’s more than twice the national average of 155 gallons, Frankel said, which makes the proposed pipeline diversion unnecessary.
“Look at the water use of other cities in the Colorado Basin – San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Albuquerque. All their water use is much lower than St. George,” he said.
The proposed nuclear power plant near Green River is another threat to the Colorado River’s health, according to Frankel. If built, the $18 billion plant would divert 53,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River, the largest contributor to the Colorado.
“That amount of water is enough for a city of 300,000 people for a year,” Frankel said.
The state of Utah has approved the water diversion, he said, but the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency has not given the go-ahead for the nuclear plant itself.
“We as Utahns can be provincial in our thinking,” Frankel said. “We don’t really think about our impacts on the rest of the West.”
He emphasized that Utah isn’t alone is taking more water than it needs from the Colorado. However, he said the cumulative effects of several states doing that, along with climate change, could mean trouble ahead.
“It is unlikely that we will be able to keep the Colorado flowing along its entire length,” Frankel said. “There are going to be big problems in the future because it is such a harnessed river.”
Moab resident John Weisheit of Colorado Riverkeeper and Living Rivers, takes a skeptical view of American Rivers’ list. He said it is a public relations campaign to boost fundraising.
“They have no intention of getting involved and helping these rivers,” Weisheit, the conservation director for Living Rivers, said. “As far as the Colorado River, they are completely absent and nowhere to be seen. They file no lawsuits. They don’t write letters. They do absolutely nothing.”
Top 10 endangered rivers
The conservation group American Rivers lists the Colorado River as the nation’s most endangered. Others on the top 10 list and the sources of threats are:
No. 2 – Flint River, Georgia, outdated water management.
No. 3 – San Saba River, Texas, outdated water management.
No. 4 – Little Plover River, Wisconsin, outdated water management.
No. 5 – Catawba River, North Carolina and South Carolina, coal ash pollution.
No. 6 – Boundary Waters, Minnesota, copper and nickel mining.
No. 7 – Black Warrior River, Alabama, coal mining.
No. 8 – Rough and Ready and Baldface creeks, Oregon, nickel mining.
No. 9 – Kootenai River, British Columbia, Montana and Idaho, open-pit coal mining.
No. 10 – Niobrara River, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, sediment build-up and flooding.