The Colorado River has been called the "hardest working river in the West." In its 23rd year of drought, the river is being stretched beyond its limits, placing at risk: $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity -- at least half the gross economic product of each of the seven states it encompasses; the drinking water supply relied on by over 40 million people; and 5.5 million acres of irrigated farmland.

The disproportionate contribution of the snowpack captured by high-elevation headwaters on National Forests is critical to total Colorado River flows. While National Forests comprise less than 20% of the land area, they contribute more than 60% of the Colorado Rivers' Water.

Green River on the Ashley National Forest before eventually flowing into the Colorado River. Photo by Nina Ritchie.

The National Forest Foundation recognizes the importance of water-related ecosystem services provided by our National Forests. In an effort to support these services, the National Forest Foundation has added two full-time watershed coordinators focused on restoration projects throughout the Colorado River Basin. The initial scope of work for these positions focuses on scaling up the use of low-tech, process-based restoration (LTPBR). LTPBR approaches deliver desired ecological outcomes efficiently and at a low-cost, especially compared to conventional approaches.

Example of LTPBR. Photo by Olivia Reinhardt.

Beaver dam analog. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

In practice, LTPBR approaches often include techniques such as Zuni bowls, Zeedyk structures, one-rock dams, and beaver dam analogs. LTPBR focuses on creating the right conditions for natural processes to resume, thus "letting nature do its thing."

These restoration projects result in improved stream and floodplain outcomes, reducing soil erosion and increasing flood resiliency, wildfire resiliency, and carbon sequestration. NFF is working diligently to scale up the use of LTPBR across the Colorado River Basin and hopes to create a "pipeline" of restoration projects to support the vital lifeline of the west, the Colorado River.

Thank you to the Walton Family Foundation for supporting NFF's work across the Colorado River Basin.

Cover photo by Lee Sussman.


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