Colorado's Green, Crystal rivers listed as top 10 most endangered in nation

By Troy Hooper
The Colorado IndependentMay 18, 2012
Water withdrawals are threatening the Green River as potential dams and diversions are putting fish, wildlife and recreation at risk on the Crystal River, according to a new report.

Both rivers made the annual “America's Most Endangered Rivers” report released this week. The Green River, the largest feeder to the Colorado River, ranked second on the list while the Crystal River ranked eighth. The Potomac River — dubbed “the nation's river” as it provides drinking water to more than five million people around Washington, D.C. — was deemed the most endangered.

The report, compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group American Rivers, cites Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million's proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, as well as a competing diversion proposal by Parker Water & Sanitation District manager Frank Jaeger, as major threats to the world-class recreation, rural economies, critical fish habitats, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin.

A new report lists the Green as the second most endangered river in America. (Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism)

“Aaron Million and Frank Jaeger remain committed to build that pipeline,” Matt Rice, Colorado conservation director for American Rivers, said Monday. “There are a hundred reasons why it doesn't make sense, why it's a bad idea and why it's not a responsible use of taxpayer money. We're calling on Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to publicly oppose it.”

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has already stated the proposed pipeline project that would span 578 miles across his state to Colorado's Front Range would be misguided and overly expensive.

Rice noted that the Green River “faces an unprecedented number of threats” that include other less publicized water diversion proposals and the pressures from water-intensive energy exploration.

The threats facing the Crystal River include a dam and a 4,000-acre reservoir between Redstone and Marble; a water diversion from its largest tributary, Avalanche Creek; and a hydropower dam and 5,000 acre-foot reservoir on another tributary, Yank Creek.

“Our rivers and streams continue to be under assault from competing interests that too often do not consider the value intrinsic in the ecosystems that rivers and streams create, nurture, and sustain,” said Pitkin County attorney John Ely. “If we are to preserve our rivers, public awareness of the threats and impending changes facing these ecosystems is essential.”

Creating public awareness is the focus of the “America's Most Endangered Rivers” report, which is sometimes criticized as elevating the problems of certain rivers above those of other equally endangered ones. But the timing of key decisions that determine the rivers' fates is a big part of how the America's Most Endangered Rivers report, now in its 27th edition, is compiled each year.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, for example, is expected to soon defend its remaining rights to potentially dam the free-flowing Crystal that feeds the Roaring Fork in Carbondale. The district abandoned a plan for one large reservoir last year and it has downsized plans for another.

Rice said the report is not meant to “hammer” the river districts but rather to convince them they have an opportunity to foster goodwill with the public by preserving and protecting healthy rivers.

“We'd like to build support for a 'wild and scenic river' designation,” Rice said.

The American Rivers report does hammer Congress for its "relentless" attacks on the Clean Water Act. It asks lawmakers to shelve legislation that would roll back longstanding clean water regulations.

Other rivers listed in the report include the Chattahooche in Georgia, the Missouri, the Hoback in Idaho, the Grand in Ohio, the Skykomish in the Northwest, the Coal in West Virginia and the Kansas.

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