Healthy watersheds support healthy rivers, and all of us—people, birds, and other wildlife—depend upon both every single day. Rivers are the lifeblood of human and wildlife communities in the arid West. Riparian areas, the green ribbons of vegetation that line waterways, comprise less than one percent of the land area of most western states, yet up to 80 percent of all wildlife species in this region are dependent upon riparian areas for at least part of their life cycles.
People, birds, and other wildlife gain ecological services and functions from riverscape ecosystems (riverscapes contain both channel and floodplain habitat). Colorado’s Water Plan discusses the importance of healthy watersheds and notes that approximately 80 percent of Colorado’s clean, reliable drinking water comes from forested watersheds. Riverscape systems filter and improve water quality, reduce flood peaks, augment river base flows, facilitate surface and groundwater exchange, and support exceptionally high biodiversity hotspots. In addition, riverscape and riparian ecosystems provide resilience to wildfire. Water does not burn. Riparian and wetland vegetation found in riverscape systems provide continued ecological services and functions after wildfire and provide a substantial base from which vegetation can recover.
Healthy, flowing rivers and waterways are also big business and the backbone of Colorado’s economic infrastructure. In Colorado, Business for Water Stewardship reports that statewide water-based recreation generates $18.8 billion annually, and supports more than 131,000 jobs. Agriculture is also a significant economic driver in our state, contributing $41 billion to the Colorado economy annually and employing nearly 173,000 people, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Recreation and agriculture both depend on healthy rivers. These industries need each other and can work hand-in-hand. Both depend on healthy river ecosystems to thrive. Both need cool, clean water to succeed.
Given the context of change in a warming climate, precipitation, population centers, water quality, water use, and volatile drought and wildfires, healthy rivers are more critical than ever for the resilience of human and wildlife communities. Colorado’s rivers need more support for scientific assessment and strategic projects, including flow restoration, to carry on. The restoration and improvement we do now pays dividends to wildlife and us in the future.
When we understand the connections—where our water comes from and how much we depend upon it—then we value water for what it is: life and prosperity for all. The future of Colorado is dependent on water and each of us is connected by it. Now is the time for Coloradans to come together and support healthy, flowing rivers and waterways. Now is the time to invest in our water resiliency, stability, and sustainability.
We are all connected to this valuable resource. It’s one water coming from healthy rivers coming from healthy watersheds
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