The West’s rivers are its lifeblood, and one of our most treasured places to get out and unplug. But they face serious threats with the demands of a growing population and increased pressure from extractive industries. Study up on the facts here.
June in the West means it’s time for boating to kick into high gear. Thanks to this past winter’s huge snowpack, we’re in for some high water. Scrub the raft, load the coolers and put your swift-water rescue skills to use. (Actually, don’t. Bad idea. Avoid swift water rescue-necessary scenarios. But get the skills if you don’t have them!) As you float through different landscapes, remember that the West’s rivers—like all rivers—are fragile: They need stewardship and protection to remain vital and healthy. With help from Radha Marcum and Carly Schmidt from the river protection non-profit River Network, here’s a snapshot of some dream-worthy and raftable western rivers, coupled with the reasons why our treasured waterways need to remain protected.
250,000 – Approximate number of rivers that flow through America’s landscape, amounting to about 2,900,000 miles and including the U.S.’s biggest waterways: the Ohio, the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Colorado.
226 – Number of rivers the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act protects throughout the U.S.—a paltry amount. According to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System, which includes land and water management agencies like the BLM, the National Park Service, and the National Forest Service, this amounts to only 13,439 miles of river in 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. That’s less than one-quarter of one percent of the nation’s rivers.
620 – Miles of new Wild & Scenic Rivers that were protected in the Public Lands Bill passed in February 2019—including 63 miles of Utah’s Green River, a favorite of recreational paddlers.
1 – Number of Colorado rivers protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (the middle section of the Cache la Poudre, which is just 76 miles long).
107,403 – Total river miles in Colorado, including the Colorado River. The state’s namesake waterway starts in Grand County, flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau through the Grand Canyon and terminates in the Sea of Cortez.
120+/- Number of Class IV and V rapids in the Grand Canyon. But the Big Ditch is so big that it has its own difficulty classification—1 through 10. A Class 10 rapid, according to Advantage Outfitters, is one “many professionals and daredevils [go to for] the optimum adrenaline rush. The Gore and Tunnel rapids are just two examples [with] plenty of gushing rapids, spinning and twisting water features, and obstacles the size of a house.” Boy howdy!
2 – Total stretches of river that use the Class 1-10 designation: the Colorado through Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
18 – Number of raftable rivers in Colorado. Choose the Taylor, near Gunnison, for views of the Collegiate Peaks, or the Blue, near Frisco and Breckenridge, for prime fly fishing. Or head to the San Juan, which has its headwaters near Durango, for a multiday sick-of-winter spring float that starts near Mexican Hat, Utah, and winds deep into the desert near Canyonlands before re-joining the Colorado.
1 Number of Class III rapids on the San Juan, making it the perfect starter multi-day family trip—if you have a handle on river running, desert camping and river rescue.
50 Percent of U.S. wetlands that could be polluted and degraded by Trump’s “Dirty Water Rule,” “including prairie potholes, vernal pools, coastal prairies, and other important natural features of the American landscape.”
6,000-plus – Number of NGOs, government agencies, indigenous groups, and utilities in that protect rivers and drinking water across the U.S. You can check here to see a map of who is doing what where: rivernetwork.org/membership/map-who-is-protecting-your-water
⅔ – Amount of the 16-million acre feet of water generated in Colorado each year that heads to other states. As the population of the state grows, water will become a much more precious and expensive resource for those living on the heavily populated Front Range. resourcecentral.org/water-colorado-situation-problem-solutions-galore
90,000 – The number of commercially guided rafters who floated the whitewater of Clear Creek in 2018, setting a state record. While numbers dipped last year with low flows, this season’s snowpack could set the stream up for another record in 2019.
730 – Miles of the Green River author Heather Hansman floated solo in a pack raft to explore the collision of water, wilderness and necessary resources for her new book Down River: Into the Future of Water in the West. You can learn more here: heatherhansman.com/book
5 – Number of Love Local Water events taking place in Colorado this May through August. These community clean-up events conclude with discussion and a cold beverage hosted at sponsors such as Patagonia and Mountain Toad Brewing. rivernetwork.org/connect-learn/lovelocalwater
45,000 – Number of private landowners who are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 3,000 conservation organizations to voluntarily improve and restore habitat through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which has successfully restored over 1,000,000 acres of wetland habitat, 3,000,000 acres of upland habitat and 11,000 miles of streams. The program was funded by the recently passed John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. fws.gov/partners