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Posted: July 05, 2013

State of the state: Environment

Advocates rally around Colorado River

Maria Martin

It doesn’t have the distinction of being the longest river in the United States. Nor is it the deepest or most navigable.

Instead, the Colorado River has the regrettable designation as the nation’s most endangered river, according to the advocacy group American Rivers. By 2050, scientists predict the flow of the river – which runs through seven states – will decrease by 10 percent to 30 percent.

But there’s good news, said Gary Wockner, of the Save the Colorado River campaign, and Molly Mugglestone of Protect the Flows. Wockner said a polluted river has the ability to spur communities and businesses into action, regardless of conflicting politics or social beliefs.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the natural ecosystem of the Southwest U.S.,” said Wockner, director of the campaign, a philanthropic partnership that works to raise awareness of the river’s plight and provide funding for environmental groups.

The implications are illustrated clearly and tough to dispute.

»          Roughly 40 million rely on the river for their drinking water across the states through which the river flows.

»          More than 200 Colorado businesses rely on the river.

»          A $26 billion recreation industry across six states relies on the Colorado River.

»          Around 850 businesses belong to Protect the Flows, a group that brings voice to businesses that depend on the river.

Moreover, agriculture and tourism are dependent on that water.

Mugglestone, director of Protect the Flows, says millions flock to the river banks for fishing, hiking, boating, rafting and other activities.

It’s time, Mugglestone says, to stop pitting state against state in regards to water rights. “We all benefit from it,” says Mugglestone, noting that the Walton Family Foundation funds a lot of projects that involve the river.

David Miller, the assistant vice president of business development at Alpine Bank, was one of a handful of Colorado businesspeople who recently brought the message to Washington.

“We need a crisis like this to understand that we need to take action,” Miller said. “Energy, air – even our health – we take it all for granted until something goes wrong.”

The Colorado River is also a major resource for businesses like Mesa Park Vineyards in Palisade.

“For farms, this is a huge issue,” said Brooke Webb, one of the owners of the business. “We need to educate our farmers so we can share the resources.”

That means lining ditches and ensuring runoff is not flowing into the river.

At New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, which donates to Save the Colorado, water conservation begins with the product itself.

Bryan Simpson, the brewery’s public relations director, points out that New Belgium tries to minimize its usage. Most brewers consume about five to eight barrels of water to make one barrel of beer, he said.

“We’re at around four barrels and trying to improve on that,” Simpson said. “At New Belgium, we’re cognizant of water as a resource. I think it’s great that companies look at themselves and see what they’re doing right. I think it’s also important for them to see what they could be doing better.”

Maria Martin is a freelance writer.

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