There’s a lot of talk about Colorado snowpack during this month, how it compares to normal or average, etc. Why does this matter so much, you might ask? It matters because what happens in Colorado with snow and run off affects more than just Colorado. The snow in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado affects water rights and resources for up to nine states. And it all begins in an area just due north of Nederland in a little place I used to work called Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Colorado River. The mighty Colorado River. The roiling, rollicking ribbon of brown that is the centerpiece responsible for carving one of the deepest, widest canyons in the world — the Grand Canyon. The headwaters of this major river of the west can be found in the Never Summer Mountain range in western Rocky Mountain National Park, starting as just a small spring of water coming out of the mountains.
But as the river makes it down into the valley, winding its way westward, picking up more volume and speed as tributary streams make its way into it, more demands are placed on this precious resource. The waters of the Colorado are so precious that two major dams were constructed along its path to capture its precious water into massive reservoirs, harnessing its power to provide precious water and electricity to desert cities like Las Vegas.
The Colorado River Compact, created in 1922, allocates water rights for the Colorado among seven western states — Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The compact was meant as a proactive maneuver that would dictate just how much of the Colorado could be used by each state, thus limiting potential future controversies of water rights.
The growing dependent use on the Colorado’s waters is not without a cost. While the river used to eventually empty into a delta in Mexico, there is no longer enough water for the river even to make it across the border, with only a muddy streambed to show for it. The ecosystem of the river has been forever changed where dams have built, stifling plant growth, and blocking the passage of fish. And of course, recreation, such as fishing and whitewater rafting were forever changed once the Glen Canyon Dam was erected.
Even at our home in Nederland, we have water restrictions. Living in a rural location, we are on a well and septic system. Because the snow melt here drains into tributary creeks, which eventually end up in major river basins, water laws limit our use of well water. We are not allowed to use our well water for any outside purposes, such as growing a garden, washing cars, or other uses. The only avenue we have to use for outside water is collecting rain water into a cistern.
All this snow and water, so much demand. Such pressure on the weather Gods to produce enough snow to translate to water for so many who demand its use. Thankfully, this year we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The Colorado snow pack is well above normal, and the mighty Colorado is filling up.