Maybe it’s the “river rat” in me (a term white-water rafters call themselves), but I’ve always had a special connection with rivers. Since I was five years old, my dad would take us on river trips all over the western United States. It was on these river trips that I learned the true value of rivers and their power and importance within the environment.
Rivers do a lot of amazing things: They carve canyons, provide a habitat for freshwater species and support so many different kinds of vegetation.
Water is our most valuable resource, but there’s only a limited amount of freshwater. Freshwater is only 2.5 percent of the total global water and surface water only makes up 1.2 percent of the total freshwater, according the the U.S. Geological Surveys. As a population, we need it to survive, and similarly, so does the environment.
Mark Twain used the quote, “Whiskey is for drinking — water is for fighting over,” and here in the western United States, we know that to be true. Colorado in particular has a strong relationship with water law — water has its own court system here in the state and it’s because of our close ties with water in Colorado that we tend to see controversies surrounding water rights.
Our very own city of Fort Collins is just one example of a town highly involved in water controversy. I’m sure that most people have seen “Save the Poudre” posters and stickers flitting around town. The wild and scenic Cache la Poudre River is threatened by the Northern Integrated Supply System (NISP).
Northern Water proposed NISP and would be made up of two reservoirs: the Galeton Reservoir, which would be implemented in the South Platte River Basin and the Glade Reservoir, proposed for the Poudre River.
The non-profit organization Save The Poudre is committed to restoring the Poudre River to a healthy state. According to Gary Wockner, the executive director of Save the Poudre, the dam is harmful to the ecology of the river. If NISP is approved, the reservoir will affect the flow, specifically the “June rise,” of the Poudre, which is necessary to maintain healthy life along the river.
With the implementation of the dam, there would be a significant decrease in cubic feet per second (CFS) during peak flows. When the flow of the river is reduced, Fort Collins would see a variety of effects on tourism, fresh water species of fish and wetlands.
According to Gary Wockner, the reservoir would turn the river into a “dirty, stinking ditch.” While that may be an exaggeration, it puts the effects of the reservoir into perspective. Plus, dams are notorious for doing the opposite of what they’re meant to do — many have high evaporation rates, yet they are still the traditional way cities and water districts store water.
Northern Water’s reasoning for the proposal of the reservoirs is to store water for future use, whether that use is agricultural or for municipalities. Fort Collins is in an interesting position because of our close ties with sustainability, agriculture and the current increase in population statewide. Many of the cities included in The Northern Integrated Supply Project are predicting an increase in population and are looking to reservoirs as a form of water storage for future growth.
The current assumption among cities is the more people living within a city, the more likely the water usage will go up — however, according to studies, water usage in both Denver and Fort Collins have actually decreased, even with the rise in population. New energy-efficient models in homes and conservation initiatives are more common than ever, meaning it is possible to decrease our water usage without having to resort to traditional dams and reservoirs. It is possible to conserve more water so that we can eliminate the need for dams and reservoirs.
Wockner says, “Conservation will always be the best method for water usage.” Water is necessary, and we have the responsibility to use it wisely. There are so many benefits to a free-flowing river and it is unwise of us to interfere with their natural flow, as the NISP would do.
Collegian Columnist Bridgette Windell can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Bridgette_Rae.