Dispatches From The River: Impact of Colorado River Diversions on the Western Slope

“We’re just kind of hanging out here trying to stay in business as long as we can ma’am.”

Bill Thompson is a rancher outside of Kremmling in Grand County on Colorado’s Western Slope. The Colorado River runs through his property and he relies on that water for irrigation. This stretch of river has experienced 60 percent drops in water, mainly due to water being diverted to the Front Range. Lower water levels result in higher water temperatures, which impacts fish and irrigation equipment.

Thompson is working with a coalition of ranchers, conservation groups, and Northern Water on conservation projects along this stretch of river, including the construction of riffles – rocks placed in the river at strategic points to increase depth and water flows. It provides habitats for fish and invertebrate life and helps cool the river.

“It’s frustrating to see all your water go the other way but at the same token if we can live within our means and try to get by with some grants from various people maybe we can keep going and keep the water cool and keep everybody happy.”

Even more water will be diverted east in the coming years with the Windy Gap Firming project.

“We’re just kind of hanging out here trying to stay in business as long as we can ma’am.”

As for the future of ranching in the area, Thompson says he hopes that ranching will outlast the tourism industry. “The future would be just to hang on as long as we can and try not to raise condos…if we can’t raise cows we’ll have to raise condos, and we’ll be out of business. And we’ll have conservation easements all over this property and that’s not the way to go.”


KGNU News Director Maeve Conran is on the Colorado River this week as part of a fellowship with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources. She’s meeting people who rely on the river and who are directly impacted by changes in water flows due to water diversions to the Front Range and climate change.

The stories are a part of the series Dispatches From The River.