Building Climate Resilience in the Colorado River Basin 

Hannah Holm1*, Fay Hartman2, Jordan Nielson3*, Aaron Derwingson4, and Season Martin5 

1American Rivers, Grand Junction, CO USA

2American Rivers, Denver, CO USA

3Trout Unlimited, Spanish Peaks, UT USA

4The Nature Conservancy, Salida, CO USA

5Virga Labs, Tucson, AZ USA


This presentation will outline how together we can improve the resilience of the Colorado River basin by implementing strategies and projects that reduce the risk and impacts of climate change, while generating co-benefits for people and nature. To highlight the importance of these solutions, we developed the Colorado River Resilience website which describes the need for resilience strategies for the Colorado River Basin and outlines what needs to be done to reduce our risk of increased drought, fire and flood. This presentation will highlight resources on the website, including an interactive project map and database, federal funding information, and a suite of resources that can be used to educate decision-makers and other stakeholders about the importance of resilience solutions and the benefits they have for local communities.  

To help illustrate the benefits of resilience strategies in the Colorado River Basin, we will provide an overview of three projects in the Colorado River Basin. Project examples include: 

  • Mud Creek Restoration (UT): This project is restoring a high-priority section of Mud Creek in Carbon County, UT, by working with the county, private landowners, and others, TU and partners excavated and rebuilt banks along one mile of Mud Creek and built low-tech structures to capture sediment. Benefits of this project include reconnecting Mud Creek’s floodplain, improving fish habitat and large wetlands, and reducing the amount of phosphorus and sediment loading into the downstream Scofield Reservoir. 
  • Sage Creek Riparian Restoration (WY): This project aims to restore, protect, and enhance sagebrush, wet meadow, riparian, and instream habitat throughout the headwaters of Sage Creek. Project plans include the removal of a fish barrier, reconnecting the historic channel and floodplain, implementing low-tech process-based restoration, installing riparian fencing, and improving diversions for fish passage reconnection.  
  • Cochise Conservation and Recharge Network (AZ): This project is implementing water management projects that protect and sustain groundwater resources for the communities and ecosystems along the Upper San Pedro River, a tributary of the Gila River. The project has eight project sites totaling more than 6,000 acres along 25 miles of the river that collect and slow runoff, enhance infiltration to the aquifer, and improve downstream water quality.  
  • Sierra Madre Snowpack Monitoring (WY): Using snowtography, TNC and partners are testing whether proactive forest management strategies can also improve water supplies in the face of increased drought. The project will monitor and study the impacts forest management activities have on snowpack accumulation and soil moisture. This project will help forest practitioners gain a better understanding of how changes to forest structure via ecological restoration affect soil moisture availability, streamflow and groundwater recharge across a range of elevation and forest types in the Colorado River Basin. 

Finally, none of this work can be done without funding and resources to support planning, development and implementation of these projects. This presentation will provide a brief overview of current funding opportunities through both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.