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Promoting Healthy Watersheds and Protecting Flows in the Colorado River Basin

April 29, 2021
We need collaborative, inclusive and community-led solutions for the West’s hardest-working river

In the West, our future is intimately tied to how we choose to manage our rivers and our water resources – especially within the Colorado River Basin.

In the face of growing populations and a rapidly changing climate, the need to create a healthy and sustainable Colorado River Basin has never been more urgent. It sounds simple enough, but creating more effective water management systems will require concerted effort on all sides: public officials and farmers and ranchers who recognize the need for innovative approaches, engaged environmental advocates, business leaders who understand that common-sense conservation is good for business, and journalists committed to keeping the public informed.

We are facing real and dramatic challenges in the Colorado River Basin. The work ahead of us is significant, but we’ve already achieved real successes.

By incentivizing water conservation practices, rather than promoting outdated ideas that encourage water users to “use it or lose it,” we’re laying the groundwork for a cultural shift in how we understand and safeguard our water resources. Similarly, we’re supporting farmers and ranchers across the Colorado River Basin to find collaborative solutions to help sustain the West’s vital agricultural industry and heritage. From the innovative projects at Bruchez Ranch in the headwaters of the Colorado River watershed, down to the Grand Valley Water Users Association conserved consumptive use program near Colorado’s state line, we’re helping to fund creative solutions while mitigating social and environmental impacts.

Farmers and ranchers, cities, tribes, environmental organizations, state leaders, federal agencies and companies must all come together to help shape the solutions.

But the fundamental truth within the Colorado River Basin is that we are going to have to learn to live with less water and more variability in our hydrology.

Without tools to manage this risk, we all stand to lose. The ways we manage the risks facing this basin cannot fall on the backs of any one country, any one basin, any one state or any one sector. Farmers and ranchers, cities, tribes, environmental organizations, state leaders, federal agencies and companies must all come together to help shape the solutions.

As sobering as this future is – we know that, collectively, we can rise to meet this challenge. The foundation is committed to playing our part.

It’s in this spirit that we just unveiled our next five year strategic plan. Over the last five years, our Colorado River work has focused primarily on ensuring that we can stabilize the system by supporting the development of new water conservation approaches.

colorado river canyon istock
A view of the Colorado River from Slick Rock Trail, Utah.

Over the next five years, we will continue to promote water conservation in the face of climate change, but we are more deliberately focusing on promoting healthy watersheds and improving and protecting flows within the Colorado River Basin.

This means we will:

  • Elevate the voices of those most affected by water policies – and help bring their perspectives to bear in crafting policy solutions that strengthen environmental and economic outcomes in their communities.
  • Work with on-the-ground partners to support innovation – including developing, testing and driving the widespread use of nature-based solutions (forest management, flood plain reconnection, etc.) and innovative agricultural practices.
  • Help to bolster sustainable agriculture throughout the Colorado River Basin by supporting community leaders who are using market demand for sustainably produced products to improve how farmers and ranchers operate. 

And lastly, we will work with stakeholders from within and beyond the environmental field. Our work in the Colorado River Basin is driven by the knowledge that those closest to the problem are those closest to the solutions. That’s why our efforts center on working hand in hand with local partners and experts who have been engaged in sustaining this river for decades. Now, we must do more to deepen our support of communities of color, who disproportionately experience the most severe impacts of climate change.

For the past 13 years, we have worked to help ensure a secure and stable supply of water in the West. Today, we are more committed than ever to ensuring the Colorado River Basin, and the people, environments and economies that rely on it, can thrive – for the next five years and beyond.

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