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Colorado River Is Top Employer in Southwest U.S.

Protect The Flows,

Economic Study Reveals Colorado River As Top Employer, Major Economic Driver Across West

Colorado River Ranks #155, 19th Largest Employer on Fortune 500.

Kerrick James Photography

(Denver, CO – May 3, 2012) Following extensive research into the economic impact of recreational activities along the Colorado River and its tributaries across six western states, Protect the Flows in partnership with Southwick Associates, Inc. today released a study, “Colorado River, Inc.: The $26 Billion Recreation Resource Employing a Quarter Million Americans,” revealing the Colorado River to be the 19th largest employer on the Fortune 500, and major economic powerhouse fueling economies in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Protect the Flows, a coalition of more than 400 small businesses from the seven Colorado River basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, commissioned the report by economic research firm Southwick Associates, Inc. to understand the economic output derived from the Colorado River and its tributaries. The study found that 5.36 million adults use the Colorado River and its tributaries for recreational activities, including picnicking, trail activities, wildlife watching, camping, fishing, water sports, bicycling, and snow sports each year, and that such recreation, in turn, contributes significantly to the economic growth and stability of basin region states.

Among the study’s key findings, river-related recreation in the six-state region:

  • Supports 234,000 jobs across Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming
  • Produces $26 billion in economic output
  • Generates $17.0 billion in retail sales
  • Out performs regional farming revenues by 14.6% on average
  • Contributes $3.2 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue annually
  • Provides enough state and local tax revenues to fund over 29,000 teacher positions
  • Creates $10.4 billion in annual earnings, salaries, and wages

“The Colorado River is a major provider of recreation, which is a tremendous economic driver across the basin region. But what must be emphasized here, is that unlike other income generators, there are very few substitutes for the Colorado River,” said Rob Southwick, the study’s lead economist. “Typically, there are alternative places for people to visit and spend their money when their preferred recreation spots no longer usable. However, consider the size of the Colorado River basin and the distance to alternative places, well over half the people surveyed said their outdoor recreation would significantly decrease if the River was not available. Without recreation along the River, the federal government is risking over half a billion dollars in taxes.”

The study comes as the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) considers proposals to resolve the supply and demand imbalance during the final weeks of the Options and Strategies Phase of the Colorado River Basin Study. Upon completion in July 2012, the BOR Study will define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years, and will provide adaptation and mitigation strategies to resolve those imbalances. The federal and state governments can then consider these findings when deciding on measures to implement to solve the imbalance.

“This study makes it clear just how much the Colorado River needs to watch its bottom line. Water-related recreation is our lifeline,” said Protect the Flows coordinator Molly Mugglestone. “The west’s economic future is tied this magnificent resource and the recreation it encourages, so we would do well to do all we can to protect it and keep the river flowing.”

U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) are encouraged by the numbers and will meet with the study’s lead economist and mountain region business leaders on Friday, May 4, in Denver to determine what actions they need to take to preserve the future of the Colorado River and its associated recreation and tourism economy.

“When tourists visit the Colorado River, they’ll stay in a hotel, eat out at restaurants, fill up their gas tank, maybe buy snacks and souvenirs,” said U.S. Senator Bennet. “When you consider all these visitors, it all adds up to billions of dollars that ripple through our economy.”

“The Colorado River is the economic, cultural and social backbone of the Southwest. This is true for recreational uses of the river as well, as today’s report clearly demonstrates,” said U.S. Senator Udall.  “We must be mindful of the important role outdoor recreation plays in our economy and to our way of life as we make decisions about how to allocate water, because we stand to lose thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in Colorado if we do not.”

For the complete report, go to


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