North Fork of the Gunnison gets a B-
By David Inouye
Published Thursday, July 20, 2017 8:30 am
Conservation Colorado has just released its first-ever Rivers Report Card (https://conservationco.org/2017/07/conservation-colorado-releases-report-card-colorado-rivers/). It included the North Fork of the Gunnison River, and gave it an overall grade of B-. This isn't too bad (the Dolores got a D-),
but I think two areas of the report card warrant concern.
First, the category of "flow" is rated C. I was surprised and worried to learn that the flow in the North Fork has declined 18 percent in the past 10 years, compared to historic flows. This decline is likely a consequence of warmer temperatures, decreased snowpack, and other elements linked to climate change. If this trend continues, agricultural users of irrigation water from the river will suffer.
Another area of concern is the category of "water quality," which was also graded as a C. This low grade is in part because of the high concentration of dissolved salts, metals and other inorganic materials from various sources, including the natural geology, industrial and agricultural activity. The report points out that "Increased oil and gas development threatens to pollute this water." An accidental spill of oil or fracking fluids would also threaten the water quality that agriculture in the North Fork valley depends on. This area now has the largest concentration of organic farms in the state.
The report card's overall summary states, "The North Fork Valley has changed considerably over recent years, undergoing a transformation to a community that heavily prioritizes clean water, healthy ecosystems and sustainable agriculture." I hope that the next time the North Fork is graded, it will maintain or even improve its grade.