Keeping Water in Rivers & Lakes is Important to Fish, Wildlife, Communities, and our Economy

Rob Harris“We all value our Western rivers and lakes and want to see them protected for future generations. WRA actively supports restoration projects across the Interior West and champions smart water supply solutions to avoid unnecessary and expensive dams and diversions.”

– Rob Harris, attorney with Western Resource Advocates.

Healthy Rivers Need Water Flowing Through Them

A river’s natural flows, including the volume of water and the rise and fall of water levels over time, drive many natural processes that benefit both people and nature. These “healthy, environmental flows” are nature’s tools, working to provide clean water, refill groundwater, and support abundant game and wildlife, and offering many recreational opportunities.

However, pressure from increased withdrawals of water (called diversions), dams, and climate change mean there is less and less water staying in rivers and lakes. Reduced water levels can cause a loss of wetlands, spread of invasive species, decline in the abundance of native fish and wildlife, and increased water pollution. In addition, low water reduces or eliminates recreation such as rafting and fishing. Recreation is a significant part of the West’s economy. For example, the Colorado River supports a $26.4 billion recreational economy.

People Oppose Draining Rivers and Lakes

For too long, river and lake health was merely an afterthought. That’s changed. People across the West now recognize the value of keeping water in rivers and lakes for local communities, recreation and the environment. A 2015 State of the Rockies poll by Colorado College found that voters in the West vastly prefer using currently developed water supplies more wisely, rather than draining more water from rivers.

It is important to avoid costly new diversions and dams that harm the natural river flow. Western Resource Advocates champions water conservation and reuse as cheaper, faster, less controversial, and more environmentally friendly options to invest in, rather than taking more water out of our rivers and lakes. In addition, we advocate for more funding for local streamflow management plans all across the West. Streamflow management plans identify and implement measures to protect rivers for fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing and all the other ways we enjoy rivers.

Western Resource Advocates Champions Numerous Projects to Protect Rivers and Lakes

Western Resource Advocates’ current projects to protect rivers and lakes include:

Western Resource Advocates promotes alternatives to unnecessary dams and diversions. Current projects are on:

  • The Colorado River (in UT, via a pipeline from Lake Powell)
  • The Green River (in WY, via a pipeline from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir)
  • The Gila River (in NM, via a pipeline from the Gila’s headwaters)
  • The Poudre (through two new reservoirs in northeastern Colorado)


The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin (2014)
Identifies five innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River and meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban and Domestic Water Needs in Southwestern New Mexico (2014)
The water supply ‘gap’ between Southwestern New Mexico cities’ water supplies and new demands is only 35 acre feet, which can be met with available water conservation practices, rather than constructing the expensive, unnecessary Gila diversion project.

Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Platte Basin, Wyoming (2013)
A report by Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited documents how Wyoming can more than meet the future water needs of the Platte Basin while minimizing impacts to the state’s rivers and streams through smart structural projects as well as conservation, reuse, and agriculture-urban sharing strategies.

Filling the Gap: Meeting Future Urban Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin (2012)
This report is the second in a series outlining how Colorado can meet future water needs for 80% of the population without building large infrastructure projects or pipeline diversions.

Filling the Gap: Commonsense Solutions for Meeting Front Range Water Needs (2011)
This report offers a realistic and balanced water supply and conservation strategies to meet the projected needs of the Colorado’s Front Range communities while protecting healthy rivers, economy, and quality of life.

Healthy Rivers Program

Keeping Water In Rivers & Lakes


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