The Colorado River was originally home to an array of plant and animal species naturally fitted to its environment. Due to the actions of humans, some of these species are endangered and on the brink of extinction. The Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail are endangered fish species that once thrived in the Colorado River system. These fish are endangered because of two types of habitat alterations – water developments (dams, reservoirs, diversions) and introductions of non-native fish. Over a hundred of dams, diversions, and other barriers have been constructed: river flows have been cut by a third or more, and in some places the river is completely dried up: and more than 40 species of non-native fish have been introduced in the upper Colorado River basin. A huge coalition of agencies and organizations came together in 1988 to recover endangered Colorado River basin fish. Those coalitions have spent over $200 million trying to save and recover the endangered fish with limited success so far – none of the fish have yet been removed from the federal Endangered Species list.
Protecting endangered species in the Colorado River will continue to be an expensive and time-consuming task. More proposed dams and diversions, climate change, and the proliferation of non-native fish and other species will make recovery efforts harder and less likely to succeed. While the simple solutions of “getting more water in the river, and removing some dams” could solve the problem, those solutions face extraordinary economic and political roadblocks.