‘Save the Poudre’: still fighting for Colorado’s water

Austin Fleskes

A pair of inner tubers float down the Poudre River at the North Shields Ponds Recreation Area at sunset.
A pair of inner tubers ride on the Poudre River at sunset as it flows through Fort Collins on Sept. 4. (Forrest Czarnecki | The Collegian)

The Cache la Poudre river continues to flow from the Rocky Mountains through the City of Fort Collins and out into eastern plains, providing recreation, drinking water, irrigation water and more for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans. 

With organizations such as Save the Poudre, which aims to stop the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a project that they state will drain water from the river, as well as restore the river to a “healthy and vibrant condition” according to the Save the Poudre website, the question remains: does the Poudre still need saving? 

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Todd Simmons, the director of Wolverine Farm Publishing, as well as a member of the board of directors for Save the Poudre, said that the Save the Poudre is still working to stop Northern Inegrated Supply Projecta proposed water storage and distribution project, according to the Collegian.
 
“The health of our community and our natural environment is a priority for Wolverine Farm. We stay involved and try to help where we can,” Simmons said, adding that he feels that Save the Poudre has done a good job of informing the public and talking about the health of the Poudre River. 
 
Simmons also stated that water treatment is something that is central to life in Colorado and should be a concern to those living here. 
 
“For anyone living in the west, water is sort of the deciding factor of everything,” Simmons said. “Everything centers around water. The misuse of water ideally would be a concern to everyone either in their own homes or on a societal scale.”

Along with possible changes to the river, one of the largest threats to the Poudre is budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, as discussed in a recent presentation given by Defend Our Future, a non-profit organization that works with younger people interested in climate change and clean energy solutions, according to the Defend Our Future website

The proposed budget plan outlined by President Donald Trump in March and planned to start in October involves a $5.7 billion cut to the EPA from its current budget of $8.2 billion, the largest cut in over 40 years, according to an article in the New York Times

This proposed cut to the EPA has been the a topic of discussion for some environmental groups on campus, such as Defend Our Future. 

On Thursday Sept. 28, Defend Our Future student leaders along with Colorado Senator Peggy Reeves, Colorado State University Professor Ellen Wohl and former EPA Assistant Director for Region 8 Carol Campbell spoke in Legacy Park about the dangers that the proposed budget cuts would have to Fort Collins water sources.

Wohl, a professor at CSU as well as a geologist that looks at the physical forms and processes of rivers in the geoscience department, has lived in Fort Collins since 1989 and has studied the Poudre river extensively. 

“I’m attached to it, I’ve done a lot of research on the Poudre,” Wohl said. “If you’re not active in the place you live, you’re missing an opportunity.”

At the presentation, Wohl spoke about how a great danger to rivers like the Poudre is the act of uniforming and homogenizing them.

“When you start talking about water quality, the simpler and more uniform the river is, the lower its ability to have natural process that remove contaminants,” Wohl said, using high nitrate accumulations in rivers due to human activity, an element naturally occurring and necessary for rivers but damaging in high quantities, as a good example. 

One of the many jobs of the EPA is to check rivers like the Poudre for contaminants. The EPA developed actions to reduce those contaminants. Wohl explained without the agency conducting that research, the change to Fort Collins would happen over time. 

“If you don’t keep up with tracking the types of contaminants, then you basically get a nasty surprise down the road,” Wohl said. “Nothing is going to happen unless you have an organization like the EPA that can speak with Congress.” 

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Ryan Montagne, the vice president of the CSU chapter of Defend Our Future, said the key concept of the event was to shine a light on what the EPA does in Colorado and on the consequences of a budget reduction. 

Montagne said that one of the biggest threats to water quality is non-point pollution, which includes runoff from areas such as coal mines, adding that cuts to the non-point source mitigation program takes care of this but would see huge setbacks in a budget cut. 

“Overall, it would impact the health of the community,” Montagne said. “Since so many Coloradans get their drinking water from streams and rivers, I think its really important that we are focusing on keeping those clean and contaminant free.”

Along with drinking water being contaminated, activities such as fishing and rafting on the river would diminish if water quality diminished, according to Montagne. 

For those interested in learning about the effects of the Poudre river and its quality, Montagne says that students can join Defend Our Future, which provides resources to keep students informed. 

Individuals can also visit the Surf your Watershed website, which is run by the EPA and lists organizations that are trying to protect ceratin watersheds. 

“These beautiful natural areas are so important to us here in Colorado for so many of our activities,” Montagne said. “We will see the quality and the number of these activities decrease if protection of the environment isn’t a key issue to members of this community.” 

Collegian news reporter Austin Fleskes can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Austinfleskes07.