Webinar: Healthy Colorado Rivers Support a Healthy Colorado Economy

Mar 05, 2020

Rivers are the lifeblood of our economies in the West, contributing billions of dollars every year to the state of Colorado’s economy. However, our rivers are at risk from the impacts of climate change and our growing population. In 2015, Colorado completed its Water Plan, a roadmap with measurable outcomes and goals to ensure that Colorado and its communities have a healthy water future. Yet, the Water Plan lacks full funding for its implementation, which means that water projects throughout the state won’t have the support they need to become a reality, putting our water resources at risk. Now is the time to dedicate additional funding for implementation of this plan. 

In the second webinar in our series about the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan, we heard from Molly Mugglestone about a new study commissioned by Business for Water Stewardship (BWS) that looks at the full economic impact of the state’s rivers. According to new data from leading economists Southwick and Associates, Colorado’s rivers are a major economic driver with nearly $19 billion in economic output every year from people recreating on or near the state’s many rivers, streams, lakes, and waterways. 

Recreation on or near Colorado’s rivers produces ~$19 billion for the state every year. (Yampa River / Abby Burk)

Business for Water Stewardship commissioned this study to characterize outdoor recreation on or along waterways within Colorado in 2019. The study looks at where people recreated along waterways across nine activity types including trail sports, water sports, camping, and others. After determining where and how people recreated, study authors then matched that data with spending data from an earlier Outdoor Industry Association study. The results reflect one year of participation (2019) and all economic estimates are reported in 2019 dollars.

River Basins under Study

Using the map below highlighting nine river basins, participants in the study were asked where they recreated in the state. The report breaks down economic figures specific to each of these nine regions–numbers that will be useful in water management and policy decisions being made at the state’s Basin Roundtables, local, municipal, and state governments, and other regional entities across the state. 

Economic Impact of River Related Recreation 

Direct retail spending by residents and non-residents recreating along waterways in Colorado generates an estimated $9.9 billion in economic output and contributes $5.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). It also supports close to 81,000 jobs that provide $3.3 billion in household income and generate an estimated $1.7 billion in tax revenues.  

Collectively, the retail spending by these recreationists and the related multiplier effects generate an estimated $18.8 billion in economic output and contributes $10.3 billion to the state’s GDP.  Total contributions support over 131,000 jobs that provide $6.3 billion in household income and generate an estimated $2.7 billion in tax revenues.  

Continued stewardship of the state’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and headwaters contributes to the health of Coloradans as well as the recreational economy. We must do all we can to fund and implement Colorado’s Water Plan to protect our rivers and safeguard our clean water supply. The Water Plan lays out important goals for healthy watersheds and robust river flows and sets up a plan for our state’s water future in the face of continued drought and population growth. These economic figures show that maintaining healthy communities, economies, and rivers is critical to the state’s economic future. 

Click here to view the webinar presentation, here to view the study’s Executive Summary, here to read the Q&A, and here for the study’s full Technical Report. This event was hosted by The Audubon Society, American Rivers, Conservation Colorado, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Water Now Alliance with support from Business for Water Stewardship and River Network.

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