Colorado Water Trust’s Breem Ditch instream flow deal

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Here’s a look at the Colorado Water Trust’s Breem Ditch deal for instream flows in Washington Gulch from Zach Smith writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

One example starts with a ranch outside the high-mountain resort town of Crested Butte in western Colorado. The aging owner wanted to sell his land for subdivision and his water right along with it. The water right diverted water for irrigation from Washington Gulch, a tributary of the Slate River and eventually the Gunnison River. It was valuable because it was the most senior; during the irrigation season it could shut off other diverters upstream. And once the water reached the headgate, it took every last drop, leaving the Gulch’s stone skeleton to bleach in the sun. It was all perfectly legal, and acutely devastating. A nearby water district, looking to shore up its supply, began negotiating to purchase the water right. But the developer who had bought it wanted more money for it from the water district. It was at this point that the Colorado Water Trust got involved in the transaction…

Using this innovative tool [CWCB Instream Flow Program], the Colorado Water Trust works in the water market as a broker, making deals to acquire water from willing sellers or lessors to send water back into rivers. Seeing an opportunity in the Washington Gulch transaction, the Trust and the Board proposed funding the price difference if the water district would divert the water 2.5 miles farther downstream than the rancher had, past Washington Gulch’s confluence with the Slate, as well as grant the Board an instream flow right for the river stretch between the old point of diversion and a proposed new one. In simpler terms, the Trust asked that the water district use the natural path of the stream itself as its water delivery system. All parties agreed, and now the deal is off to water court for approval.

What did this all mean? The developer got the price he asked for. The water district got the water it needed. What’s new is that Washington Gulch will have a protected instream flow with the most senior priority on the stream. When the stream level drops, the board will place the call, and Washington Gulch and parts of the Slate will run wet. It is all legal, and wonderfully healing.

Here’s the CWT release.

More Breem Ditch coverage here. More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

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