Colorado Water Projects Prompt Calls for River Protection

Kirk Siegler

HOT SULPHER SPRINGS, CO (KUNC) - About thirty million westerners depend on the Colorado River and its tributaries for survival. In Colorado, much of the famed river's water is diverted and then channeled up and over the mountains to the dry, eastern plains of the Front Range where most Coloradans live. Now, two powerful water agencies along the Front Range are proposing to take even more water that they are legally entitled to - but not currently able to use. As KUNC's Kirk Siegler reports below, it's setting the stage for another battle. A 'Train Wreck'

A few miles away from the headwaters of one of the most altered waterways in the world, the Colorado River looks more like a stream as it runs through the sleepy little town of Hot Sulpher Springs.

Over time, water projects have reduced flows on this river so much that the big, iconic cottonwoods aren't growing back as quickly because most of the water that used to come in the spring floods doesn't get here anymore. It's captured upstream and sent over the Continental Divide to Denver and the Front Range. Less water in the summer also means warmer temperatures and algae.

It's hard to notice all of this, now in frigid December, as Kirk Klanke walks over crusty snow on his way down to the river's banks.

"There's a tremendous amount of algae that we're not seeing because of the ice buildup," he says. "But if we tried walking across there, we'd understand how much rock snot' is growing on those rocks."

Klanke, president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, says lower flows are good for algae but bad news for fish, and the local recreation-based economy.

"Colorado's in a train wreck, if we don't wake up to the fact that this natural environment is threatened," Klanke says.