Healthy Rivers in Colorado Assessing Freshwater Ecosystems for Conservation Outcomes

Water is the lifeblood of Colorado’s economy and quality of life. The water we use - for drinking, to irrigate fields and gardens, to generate electricity and sustain our communities - is water we share with the natural environment.  However, today’s freshwater ecosystems experience a wide variety of anthropogenic stressors that can lead to changes in runoff patterns, directly alter flow regimes and rates of groundwater infiltration, and impact the quality of water and habitat. These alterations fundamentally impact the chemical, physical, and biological conditions of Colorado’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Further exacerbating these conditions, shifts in climate increase frequencies of weather extremes including flooding and droughts, which amplify uncertainty for effectively managing water to meet the needs of people and nature.

With the completion of Colorado’s Water Plan, practitioners, managers, and decision makers need baseline information and frameworks to help assess current conditions and plan projects that will maximize freshwater conservation outcomes.  To meet these needs, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado has conducted a scientific analysis, called the Healthy Rivers Assessment, to estimate the resilience of freshwater ecosystems in Colorado based on physical, biological, and social conditions - and stressors to those conditions.  The Conservancy examined 22 variables across five different indicator categories to provide a comprehensive assessment of freshwater conditions in Colorado. The Healthy Rivers Assessment is designed to serve as a resource and guidance document that offers critical baseline data for maintaining, protecting, and restoring rivers and streams throughout Colorado and informs project design and prioritization.