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Colorado River Update: Good News, Bad News, on the Colorado River

Hi Friends of the Colorado River,

We have some really good news for you and some really bad news. We’ll hit the good news first to try and soften the blow of the bad news.

We thrilled to report that, last night, the Town Council of Ridgway, Colorado, passed our “Rights of Nature for the Uncompahgre River Watershed” resolution! Ridgway Mayor John Clark reached out to us after he learned about the similar resolution that passed in the Town of Nederland two months ago. Ridgway now makes the second town in the Colorado River basin to pass “Rights of Nature” for their local watershed.  The resolution states:

“The Uncompahgre River, its tributaries, and the Uncompahgre River Watershed, along with the living and other things existing naturally within them, exist and function as an integrated and interdependent system of natural communities and are therefore understood, respected, and recognized in this Resolution as a living entity, possessing fundamental and inalienable rights.”

The resolution, posted here, gives responsibilities to the Town to support the rights of the river, including to “Develop, implement, and enforce laws, policies, programs, best practices, and other measures necessary to effectuate the rights enumerated in this Resolution so that Nature and current and future generations of humans may thrive together in harmony within the Town.”

Our colleague, Grant Wilson, who works for our partner organization, Earth Law Center, gave a presentation to the Ridgway Town Council last night to help move the resolution forward.


We’re also excited to be moving Rights of Nature forward in the Town of Crested Butte, Colorado! Last night, I was a panelist in a zoom meeting about the Town of Crested Butte’s comprehensive plan process. Like all of Colorado, the Crested Butte is facing tremendous development pressures on its landscapes and natural resources. That pressure is coming both from wealthy investors and the “recreational economy”.

Coal Creek and the Slate River both flow through Crested Butte and both are facing extensive pressure from development as well as well drilling and other water diversions. I spoke to the community about creating a “Rights of Nature for the Slate River Watershed” resolution, and we will be moving forward a campaign in Crested Butte to achieve that goal. We’re eager to work with the Town Council and the community to help them protect their local environment and everything they hold dear.

The global Rights of Nature movement is the cutting edge of environmental activism and law. We recently received a grant from Lush Cosmetics to continue this work in 2022, and we are thrilled to be doing it. Stay tuned for more action about our Rights of Nature for Rivers program which is described in depth on our website here.

OK, now for the really bad news….

Two weeks ago, the Boulder County Commissioners signed an agreement with Denver Water that will allow the tallest dam in Colorado history to be built in Boulder County. The local community’s fight to stop this dam was long, complex, and often bitter. We did everything we could to support the local community, and our partner on the ground in Boulder County, “The Environmental Group”, in this decade-long fight. The project, called the “Moffat Collection System Project” will be a massive expansion of Gross Dam in Boulder County and also divert a new 3.5 billion gallons of water out of the Colorado River every year to attempt to fill Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

In the end, federal law in the name of the “Federal Power Act” appears to have trumped and pre-empted both the Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process and Boulder County’s permitting process. In addition, several years ago the larger and more well-known environmental groups that are paid by the Walton Family Foundation also caved into pressure from Denver Water.

We fought the good fight to the bitter end. We even pleaded with the Boulder County Commissioners to not sign the agreement and instead hold out for a much larger mitigation package that met more demands of local neighbors around the dam as well as our environmental concerns. The Boulder County Commissioners did not respond to our request and instead signed the deal with Denver Water. Read about the Boulder County decision in the Colorado Sun here.

We’re very sorry for this outcome, but it’s 100% Boulder County’s responsibility to deal with everything that happens next. Every question about timelines, impacts, enforcement, financial reimbursements from settlement, mitigation, etc. should be pointed to the Boulder County Commissioners —  their contact info. is here.

Ultimately, the weakness in federal, state, and local environmental laws is the exact reason we launched our new “Rights of Nature for Rivers” program in January of 2021. We’re still engaged in the fight against nearly twenty proposed dams in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and rest assured we will also fight those battles to the bitter end. By moving forward with our Rights of Nature program at the same time, we hope to strengthen laws that protect rivers from further dams, degradation, and exploitation.

Thanks for all of your support!

You can donate online by clicking here.

Gary Wockner, Director, Save The Colorado


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