Why I run rivers, lurk in dark places, dawdle in secret oases

by B. Frank on July 11, 2011

I just got off a river trip with a bunch of scientifically minded folk who are passionate about rivers. While we lived a wet dream of high-flow waves, sun, sand, camp games (and maybe a few good beers among those so inclined), they hooked me up with a raft of information on Colorado’s water needs and politics. Back in the research facility, bleary-eyed from staring at online documents, and stiff-necked from puzzling through a virtual tempest of predictions and planning processes, I figure that I shouldn’t keep all the fun to myself.

Let’s take a look at some boat-mates ridin’ the waves …

(Above photo courtesy Nathan Fey, Director, Colorado Stewardship Program, American Whitewater)

… and a cool slide show from the gang in green at Interior.

Flowing at 24,000 cfs (visualize a wall of 24,000 basketballs per second flowing through a canyon bottom), the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument is big enough to delight, drench, scare and otherwise satisfy the crap out of any self-respecting river-rat.

Uncontrolled by dams, the Yampa can seem more than a little alien to a lot of folk who regard rivers as a resource or a scourge, depending on where and how high the waters flow, and this is why I’ve been digitally lurking through the chambers of power for clues of just where the Yampa may fit into the grand schemes of water politics.

  • The Yampa’s yearly flow is a player in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s strategy of using “identified projects, water conservation, agricultural transfers (both permanent and nonpermanent) and development of new water supplies,” to meet Colorado’s future water demands, as is laid out in the  Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI 2010).
  • A whole quiver of arrows is needed to mark current diversion projects on a Colorado Division of Water Resources map:
Members of the Yampa River Awareness Project were worried enough about the options for “development of new water supplies” to lure my distinguished river-mates onto the wild waters. They see a mighty straw sucking at the Yampa’s bounty; sure enough, one proposed trans-mountain diversion would create a pipeline-feeding lake in the brush-covered hills a few miles upstream from Dinosaur, and (proving how water crosses political and state lines) another straw is proposed for Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River. In politics, water tends to run towards power, so if you see yourself playing a role in where and how high your favorite rivers flow, it’s high time to decide which of the Initiative’s options will best float your boat.

If you’ve had about enough clicking, reading and fact-checking, watch these quirky Colorado River District films on water supply fun and games, and then go dawdle in some secret oasis in the nearby faraway.

(Courtesy: Nathan Fey again [sometimes, it’s good that somebody brought a camera])


The Ragged Edge is a bi-monthly visit to B. Frank’s deep research facility, where the air is rich with the dark brew of developing stories, imminent outrages and shameless amusements that affect denizens of the Interior West.

Mountain Gazette senior correspondent B. Frank is the author of “Livin’ the Dream; Testing the Ragged Edge of Machismo” (Raven’s Eye Press, 2010). The San Juan Mountains of Colorado are his home range, with occasional sightings in Border Country. More stories and information at bfrankbroadsides.com.

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