Colorado Water Trust Employs New, Unique Tactics In Drought Response

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

he Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Colorado Water Trust are asking owners of water rights in the upper Roaring Fork River basin and in the Crystal River basin to leave some of their water in the river this summer to benefit fish and the environment.

The two nonprofit organizations are seeking water owners who might be willing to lease their water on a short-term basis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) — without endangering their water rights — as part of an innovative program launched in the face of a looming drought…

The snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin is currently at 22 percent of average and conditions are similar to 2002, when the Roaring Fork through Aspen was reduced to a trickle.

A meeting has been set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Carbondale Town Hall for interested water rights owners to meet with representatives from the Water Trust and the Conservancy to discuss the program, which is called “Request for Water 2012.” The deadline for water rights owners to sign up for the program is May 11. The initial round of screening is set to be wrapped up by June 6 and the leases are to be implemented — and the first round of checks to owners to be sent — by July 1. That’s working at warp speed compared to how Colorado water law usually proceeds, but the Water Trust has designed the facilitated process in conjunction with the CWCB, which will lease the water and hold the water right for up to six months.

The Water Trust is not a policy or advocacy organization but instead works “with willing sellers and lessors to put senior water rights back into rivers to benefit the natural environment.”

More coverage from Scott Condon writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

Sharon Clarke, a land and water conservationist with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said the lower Crystal River and the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and just east of Aspen are among the local stretches that desperately need extra water during dry times. Irrigation draws the rivers down to extremely low levels in dry years.

Rick Lofaro, executive director of the conservancy, said the water-loan program is “critical” this year because all streamflow forecasts for the state are below average. “Recent information shows the Colorado Basin with the lowest snowpack in the state — at 37 percent of average,” Lofaro said in a statement. “If conditions don’t improve, we could see some streams dry up in the Roaring Fork watershed — just as they did in 2002. We need to take steps now to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.

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