DSCN0354I had the great fortune of spending this past week rafting down the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah. We saw many amazing things including beautiful rock formations, some striking petroglyphs and the kicker, a bald eagle soaring across the canyon on the 4th of July! But, as I recover from our sun-soaked escapade, get back into work mode, and reflect on the trip, I can’t help but acknowledge the role the water/energy nexus played in our adventure.

The put-in for our trip was the Gates of Ladore Campground in Moffat, Colorado; 50 miles upstream of that campground sits Flaming Gorge Dam, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation storage reservoir and hydroelectric facility that began operations in 1964. Flaming Gorge was constructed for long-term storage and controlled releases to meet downstream commitments at Lees Ferry, Arizona as part of the Colorado River Compact, with a 151 megawatt (MW) hydroelectric powerplant included to generate electricity and revenue for repayment of the project.[1]

Water levels in the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge fluctuate throughout the day due to reservoir releases to meet energy demands and downstream flow requirements. As an example, we set up our boats at the put-in the night before our launch and were advised to dock them on a sand bar about 50 yards from the shoreline. Sure enough, water levels receded overnight and our boats were at the shoreline the next morning. Each day we watched the water levels fluctuate and planned our days’ excursions around high water times to make sure we could most efficiently navigate the rapids.

Especially during drought conditions, reservoir releases have a big impact on river levels, flow rates, and recreation in the Western United States. Many river stretches that are not dam controlled cannot even be run this time of year due to low water levels. As climate change intensifies drought conditions these impacts will be compounded, especially if we continue to rely on carbon intensive energy sources.

Brendle Group’s President, Judy Dorsey, will be moderating a workshop today (Wednesday, July 10th) on this nexus, going beyond discussing the issues at the intersection of Colorado’s energy and water supply to developing actionable demonstration and economic development innovations in Colorado for replication globally. Follow the Colorado Water Innovation Cluster and Colorado Clean Energy Cluster to continue to track how Northern Colorado is leading the way in this space.