Precedent-Setting Decision Made by Colorado Water Conservation Board; First-of-Its-Kind Relationship Built Between Board and Pitkin County for Local Streamflows

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust:

There will soon be more water for the fish who call the Roaring Fork River basin home. This boon is the result of collaborative efforts among Pitkin County, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”), and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”). Pitkin County has agreed to allow numerous water rights it owns to stay in local rivers, rather than be used for irrigation or other uses. It will do this by placing those water rights into a trust to be managed by the CWCB for use in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. If all of the water rights in the trust agreement are used for instream flows, the Roaring Fork River basin could see up to a 19 c.f.s. increase in flows during the summer months (although that figure is only a raw estimate and does not consider needs of Pitkin County or changes that may be required in the water court process).

The State of Colorado has a long history of recognizing the importance of instream water uses in addition to more traditional water uses. The placement of an Instream Flow Program in the hands of the CWCB in 1973 was its clearest pronouncement. As of now, Colorado’s Instream Flow Program stewards more than 1,500 defensible water rights protecting nearly 9,000 river miles. But the CWCB has been working to increase the water available to that program. Pitkin County owns various water rights in the Roaring Fork Basin it has acquired through its Open Space and Trails Department and through its Airport Enterprise Fund. Pitkin County, with its location in the Roaring Fork Basin and significant portfolio of water rights, was a natural partner.
The trust agreement, formally approved by the CWCB today, is governed in part by House Bill 08-1280, groundbreaking bill passed by the Colorado legislature in 2008 that provides protections to and removes penalties that might accrue to water users who loan or lease their water to the CWCB for use in the Instream Flow Program.

The project is a groundbreaking project for the state’s instream flow program.  Here’s why:

This project is the first use of House Bill 1280.

The trust agreement provides a model for all other water users in the state that have water rights that are not currently being used, such as municipalities that have developed water supplies beyond their immediate needs.

If this transaction is approved, more than thirty additional water rights will be submitted by Pitkin County for acceptance into the CWCB’s instream flow program.  Furthermore, Pitkin County will add water rights to the trust agreement that it will acquire by using the proceeds from its new Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.  Thus, the trust agreement will form the foundation for a long-term, perhaps perpetual relationship between Pitkin County and the CWCB to increase the water available to your local streams.

The trust agreement was fought by the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Starwood Metropolitan District, the Willow Creek Ditch and Herrick Ditch Company, and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Company. Those parties requested the hearing before the CWCB that, today, settled the matter. After an almost five-hour hearing, the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted unanimously to approve the trust agreement.

“We’re very pleased with the arrangement. Today is the beginning of a long-term relationship with the CWCB to improve streamflows in Pitkin County and everybody benefits, from the local fish to our local businesses dependent upon healthy streams in our County,” says John Ely, Pitkin County’s attorney. Speaking for the CWCB, Linda Bassi, Chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section adds: “This is a great project for a critical area of the state. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with Pitkin County under this long-term, win-win arrangement.”

Contacts: John Ely, Pitkin County Attorney, at (970) 920-5190; Chief, CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section, at (303) 917-5916; Amy W. Beatie, Executive Director, Colorado Water Trust, at (303) 525-4736

More HB 08-1280 coverage here.

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