The State of Western Rivers: Colorado

A deep dive into the health and future of vital waterways

The State of Western Rivers: Colorado
Landscape of rivers with rocks in front of forest
A new study finds that waterways in Colorado, including the Taylor River in the Gunnison National Forest, merits protection for its outstanding water quality, opportunities for paddling, breathtaking scenery, fish habitat, and profound history and culture.
Brett Henderson

Healthy rivers are crucial for supporting biodiversity and providing clean drinking water and recreational opportunities. Yet in Colorado and across the West, rivers are under increasing threat as the climate warms, placing greater stress and demand on freshwater resources. Despite their immense value to people, wildlife, and ecosystems, few rivers and streams are safeguarded under federal or state law.

To support greater awareness of and protection for ecologically important rivers, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned Conservation Science Partners to assess the rivers in six Western states: California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. The Colorado analysis found that thousands of miles of waterways, including the headwaters of the Dolores River and Roubideau Creek, are worthy of preservation through state-level protections, federal wild and scenic designations, or other mechanisms because of their ecological, economic, and cultural importance.

 Chad Brown, far left, leads urban youth from Portland, Oregon, on a day of fishing.
 Chad Brown, far left, leads urban youth from Portland, Oregon, on a day of fishing.
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Nonprofit Connects Urban Youth, Veterans With Nature

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One way to mark National Rivers Month is to hear from Chad Brown, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

Rogue River, Oregon
Rogue River, Oregon
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How Much Do You Know About U.S. Rivers?

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They benefit people, wildlife, ecosystems, and economies—but many face serious threats.

The Little Cimarron River
The Little Cimarron River
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More U.S. Rivers Deserve 'Outstanding' Designation

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In many American communities, rivers irrigate the farms that feed families, quench people’s thirst—rivers are the source of more than two-thirds of the drinking water in the U.S.—sustain wildlife habitat, and provide an economic boost for communities. Yet only a very small portion of those waterways are protected from threats ranging from pollution to damming, which would wreck the water’s natural flow.