The Nature Conservancy has a history of working on the Colorado River and its tributaries in six of the basin states. Realizing that a river facing multiple threats and demands across state and national lines requires a big-picture approach, the Conservancy created its Colorado River Program in 2008. The underlying premise of the program is that the needs of people can and must be met without sacrificing the health of the Colorado River system, upon which the region depends.
The Colorado River Program is partnering with other non-profit organizations, water users and policy makers to develop innovative ways of managing water. Our goal is to integrate freshwater habitat needs into the normal course of business of water management. This includes working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Basin states on the Basin Study. The Study aims to find solutions to address the supply and demand imbalances in the Basin to benefit both people and nature. We are also working with Reclamation and water users to re-operate existing dams to protect ecological values downstream and to create more flexibility in our water management system by finding ways to share water among cities, agriculture and nature.
Freshwater ecosystems throughout the Basin are significantly imperiled due to low flows, loss of habitat, declining water quality, invasive species alteration of natural flow regimes, and floodplain development. Historically, the Colorado River Basin supported 30 fish species found nowhere else. Today, four of these 30 are extinct and 16 are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Conservancy’s goal is to create an integrated approach to native species and ecosystem conservation through active and focused participation in the endangered species recovery programs in the Basin. View a map of imperiled species in the Colorado River Basin (PDF).
A clean supply of water and healthy rivers are important public benefits, but these benefits aren’t free. In polls conducted throughout the nation, people consistently rank a reliable supply of clean water as a top priority. With this in mind, the Conservancy is working with state and federal agencies, lawmakers, communities, businesses, outdoor enthusiasts and other stakeholders to create long-term funding for the science, conservation and on-the-ground projects necessary to ensure the Colorado River system provides the water needed for people as well as the plants and animals that add to the quality of life here and support the regional economy.
Despite extensive environmental damage, an assessment of freshwater regions in North America showed that those within the Colorado River system are considered “continentally outstanding” in terms of the distinctiveness of the plant and animal species found here.
With 16 priority projects on the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Conservancy is uniquely poised to share and demonstrate knowledge gained through on-the-ground work. Explore the 16 priority projects here.
To provide continued diversity and abundance of fish species, the Conservancy has worked with its partners to help ensure permanent flow protection for native fish, create fish hatcheries that restock native species, install screens that protect fish from water intakes, and construct fish ladders that help migratory species swim past obstacles like dams. The Conservancy is also working in several places in the Basin to remove non-native plants that out-compete native species, make poor riparian habitat and use more water than most native species. Tamarisk is an aggressive-growing exotic shrub the Conservancy and partners are working to eliminate along rivers throughout the Colorado River Basin. The Conservancy and its partners are also working to ensure permanent flows to wetlands in Mexico that are critical to birds and waterfowl that spend warmer months farther north, in the United States and Canada.