Protect CO Waters Coalition Blog 

2-26-24

How and Why We Must Protect Colorado’s Vital Wetlands and Streams Now 

Recent polling shows that the vast majority of Coloradans want strong water protections. Nearly nine-in-ten voters say it’s important for Colorado to reduce the damage and pollution from development, industry and mining on wetlands and streams.

Voters from across the political spectrum support establishing a state permit system to evaluate the impacts of these activities on wetlands and streams, according to a New Bridge Strategy poll last October.   

It’s clear in Colorado that water plays an indispensable role in our environment and daily lives. The wetlands and streams that feed our state water resources are essential ecosystems that promote biodiversity, provide natural defenses against climate change and dangerous flooding, filter out pollutants for drinking water, nourish farmland and deliver other benefits essential for the health of nearby rivers and other water bodies  we all depend on. However, Colorado has lost about 50 percent of its wetlands due to developments since statehood, so protecting what remains is a necessity.

In every area of the state, Colorado’s remaining wetlands – along with 24 percent of streams that run seasonally (intermittent) and 45 percent of those only flowing in response to rain or snow (ephemeral) – are now in jeopardy. A U.S. Supreme Court opinion last year in Sackett v. EPA resulted in the biggest rollback of the Clean Water Act since its inception over half a century ago, leaving many of our streams and wetlands at risk. This comes at a time when Colorado and the American Southwest are in the midst of the worst drought in 1,200 years1 and flows in the Colorado River, which provides 40 percent of the state’s water supply, have decreased by 20 percent since the year 20002.   

State lawmakers must address the loss of federal Clean Water Act protections by creating a state program that once again shields the state’s invaluable wetlands from harm. Why is this every Coloradan’s concern? As Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser observed in his Sackett case brief last year: “At the Colorado Capitol, it is inscribed on the walls: ‘Here is a land where life is written in water.’” 

Speaker of the House, Representative Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) is working with Governor Polis and his administration to pass legislation to set up a state permitting program aimed at protecting wetlands and streams left in danger by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  

We, members of the Protect Colorado Waters coalition—representing tens of thousands of members across Colorado—urge state lawmakers to design a program that, at a minimum, restores the level of protections provided to our state’s water bodies before the Sackett decision. This program should be rooted in the following principles: 

  • Full protections for all of Colorado’s critical water bodies;
  • Accountability and transparency for all involved;
  • Regulatory certainty to allow for long term planning and careful but efficient permitting;
  • Clear mechanisms for strong enforcement to protect Colorado’s wetlands and streams.  

Re-establishment of protections and inclusion of the aforementioned details above in the legislation are vital to securing strong state protections for our water supply. That north star goal is critical to achieving the Colorado Water Plan goal that “by 2050 all Colorado waters will fully support their classified uses, which may include drinking water, agriculture, recreation, and aquatic life.”

The health of our families are now at risk due to the lack of protections from pollution that can poison our drinking water. This is especially true for those disproportionately impacted by pollution. In Colorado, water contamination is primarily found in counties with high Latino populations. These communities already face significant barriers to healthcare services and economic resources to mitigate the health implications of consuming contaminated drinking water3.

Colorado will have only one shot to get this critically important waters and wetlands protection policy right, and what our state chooses will influence this region of our country for generations. History has taught us, what happens with water in Colorado definitely doesn’t stay in Colorado. Our state is a headwaters state for the Platte, the Arkansas, the Republican, the Rio Grande and the Colorado rivers that flow through 19 states and supply water needed for drinking, recreation, agriculture and industries. What we do in Colorado impacts tens of millions of people. Colorado is one of the first states to take up this issue, meaning others will be looking to us as an example for how to address this problem. 

We at the Protect Colorado’s Waters coalition call on our state’s leaders to follow what the vast majority of Coloradans support, and pass legislation that protects Colorado’s waters as demands for a limited supply increase and our climate gets hotter and drier. Implementing these safeguards will light the way for other states to step into the void left by a misguided Supreme Court decision. Taking this leadership position to wrap protective arms around one of the nation’s most important natural resources that sustains healthy lives, healthy communities and a healthy economy for generations to come can be our state’s legacy. 

  1.  Williams, A.P., Cook, B.I. & Smerdon, J.E. Rapid intensification of the emerging southwestern North American megadrought in 2020–2021. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 232–234 (2022) ↩︎
  2.  https://magazine.csusystem.edu/2023/02/13/rapid-decline/#:~:text=Udallpercent20estimatespercent20thatpercent20Coloradopercent20River,duepercent20topercent20warmingpercent20andpercent20drying.
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  3.  “Colorado Latino Climate Justice Policy Handbook” by Protégete. Online publication. <https://conservationco.org/wp-content/ uploads/2022/11/11.17-V2-PROTEGETE_HANDBOOK.pdf> ↩︎
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