September 1, 2022
During this year’s World Water Week, a coalition including community members, anglers, recreation groups, and conservation organizations are celebrating the finalization of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s decision to designate over 520 miles on 25 streams across Southwest Colorado as Outstanding Waters. The coalition came together from across the state, dedicating three years to demonstrating that these streams have high water quality, exceptional recreational and ecological values, and that they warrant protection. The Commission’s designation of these waterways marks the adoption of the largest community proposal for Outstanding Waters in Colorado’s history.
Outstanding Waters are designations determined by the state of Colorado through the authority granted them by the Clean Water Act. Outstanding Waters protect existing high water quality for the environment, wildlife, and recreation, and safeguard freshwater from future degradation including pollution from development, mining, oil and gas, and other uses that threaten clean waters. As communities face drought, wildfire, development, and other water quality stressors across Colorado, protection of these waters is a huge step forward to ensure that these streams retain their high quality and help preserve their exceptional ecological and recreational values.
“These waterways provide critical habitat and exceptional recreation experiences that are valued by Coloradans across the state,” said Orla Bannan, the strategic engagement manager for Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers team. “This is the climate action we need to conserve our natural landscapes—so our communities, wildlife, and rivers can thrive. We will continue to work to determine the best way to protect Colorado watersheds from harmful practices that would permanently degrade the quality of our most important streams and protect our precious water resources for generations to come.”
Clean water is the backbone of healthy economies and healthy ecosystems, and is one of Colorado’s most important natural resources. Recreational activities on many of these streams with high water quality include remote fly fishing, unique whitewater kayaking, or catching a glimpse of rare cutthroat trout. With the finalization of the rule in September some of Colorado’s most spectacular streams will now be afforded strong water quality protections.
“The more one fishes in our wild, pristine Southwestern Colorado waters, the more one comes to think of a trout not as just something to be caught, but as a partner in the beautiful web of life,” said Duncan Rose, the conservation co-chair for Dolores River Anglers, Trout Unlimited. “With partnership comes responsibility. Only through actively protecting and conserving such waters for generations to come can we be reasonably assured of that delicate relationship persevering.”
“It is the high water quality that makes Colorado’s streams exceptional places to float, paddle, fish, and explore,” said Kestrel Kunz, the associate stewardship director for American Whitewater’s Southern Rockies Program. “This is why river recreationists from across the Southwest asked the Water Quality Control Commission to protect these streams this June. And now, their protections will ensure that our future generations will be able to enjoy these streams in their pristine condition for years to come.”
These new water quality protections afforded to streams in the Southwest are a great start to ensure greater climate resilience, ecosystem health, and recreational opportunities in Colorado. However, it is clear that Colorado still has a number of streams with exceptional water quality that need protection. The state has an opportunity to secure additional Outstanding Waters protections in the Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Colorado Basins in the coming years, where there are many high-quality streams deserving of protection.