Colorado River gets water rights for fish habitat |

Colorado River gets water rights for fish habitat

Special to the Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News file photo
Byron Hetzler | Sky-Hi Daily News

A broad-based stakeholder effort to protect the Colorado River received a boost last month when a state court granted water rights designed to keep flows in the river, creating three important instream flow water rights.

“The CWCB (Colorado Water Conservation Board) is very pleased that the stakeholder group worked through the state’s Instream Flow Program to protect this important reach of the Colorado River,” said Linda Bassi, stream and lake protection section chief, Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is a great example of how our Program can provide regulatory certainty to water users along with preservation of the natural environment.”

The year-round water rights range in flows from 500 to 900 cubic feet per second and will include about 70 miles of the Colorado River from the Blue River near Kremmling to the Eagle River. These rights were decreed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the only entity allowed to appropriate instream flow water rights for habitat benefits in Colorado. The decreed amounts reflect minimum flows necessary to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree” – as provided by state law. In this case, the flows are designed to protect fish species, particularly trout.

“This is good news for a stretch of the river that is beloved by generations of anglers,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “It’s an example of what can be accomplished when working together.”

The 2011 priority date means these instream flow rights will have to be satisfied before water rights filed in later years can take their water.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board filed for the water rights in state water court at the request of the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group, a group representing Front Range water providers, Western Slope governments, affected landowners, conservation groups and recreation interests. The stakeholders have developed a local management plan designed to balance protection of the outstanding values within this segment of the Colorado River with water supply needs. The plan is awaiting approval by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Issuance of the water rights to protect river flows is a key component of the plan. “We are grateful for the support we receive from all our agency participants, especially the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and for the concerted efforts of all our stakeholders who worked to bring this vision into reality,” said Rob Buirgy, Project Manager for the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Alternative Stakeholder Group. “These decrees are an important new tool for us in maintaining the fishing and boating values on this stretch of the river.”

The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group is composed of American Whitewater, Aurora Water, Blue Valley Ranch, Colorado River Outfitters Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, Eagle County, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Summit County, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc.

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