From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):
Just as those taking water out of the streams are facing significant challenges this year, creatures living in streams are likely to be stressed by low flows. Low flows raise water temperatures and drop oxygen levels, harming trout in mountain streams. Low flows on the Colorado River and major tributaries like the Gunnison and the Yampa make it difficult to operate fish passages around dams, constraining the habitat available to endangered native fish species like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
Last year, the Colorado Water Trust pioneered a new tool to benefit both water users and the environment in drought years. The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that works to restore and protect streamflows using market-based, voluntary methods.
The new tool, the “Request for Water” program, involves short-term leasing of water for streams to protect the environment. It is operated in close cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s In-Stream Flow Program, the only entity in the state authorized to hold water rights for flows to benefit the environment.
The “Request for Water Program” has been activated again this year, and the Colorado Water Trust is accepting offers to lease water until May 3.
Those who lease water through the program are financially compensated for the temporary use of their water rights, and they suffer no penalty in their consumptive use records (the “use it or lose it” provision of Colorado water law). These short-term leases can be handled administratively, without having to go through a lengthy water court process, as long as there is no injury to other water rights.
Despite the expedited leasing process, limitations on the program prevent it from being a good fit for all interested parties. For instance, the program may only be used to fill an existing, but water-short instream flow water right. Of 94 water rights offered to the program for lease in 2012, only 6 were ultimately leased. These augmented flows on 190 miles of stream in western Colorado, including the Yampa, the White and areas of the Upper Colorado basin. The enhanced flows provided important recreation benefits, as well as environmental benefits.