Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust and the Cold Mountain Ranch (Alyson Meyer Gould and Bill Fales):
Cold Mountain Ranch and Colorado Water Trust finalized an agreement intended to increase streamflow in the Crystal River in drier years. The six-year agreement will compensate the Cold Mountain Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, for retiming their irrigation practices to leave their irrigation water in the Crystal River when the river needs it most.
The Crystal River, in 2012, was listed as the eighth most endangered river in the country by American Rivers. It is still a struggling river today. Owing to diversions off the river and the impacts of climate change decreasing snowpack, it runs very low or dry in most years. This impacts the fish and wildlife that depend on it. Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch are trying to help. This innovative agreement would provide the ranch the opportunity to add flows to their local river when it needs it most and hopefully contribute to a healthier aquatic and riparian habitat for those that depend on it. Together, we aim to show that agriculture and conservation can go hand in hand.
Cold Mountain Ranch relies on the Crystal River to irrigate pastures and hay fields that support its cow-calf operation. Under the agreement, Colorado Water Trust will monitor flows in the river and if flows fall to 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) in August or September, the ranch may voluntarily decide to shift its irrigation schedule to allow Colorado Water Trust to lease the water for environmental benefit. Colorado Water Trust will monitor and measure the changed practice and pay the ranch a $5,000 bonus for signing the agreement at the outset of the five-year contract and then $250 per cfs per day to encourage that shift. Once streamflows reach 55 cfs, payments would cease. The agreement can restore up to 6 cfs in the Crystal River.
In 2018, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch signed a similar three-year pilot agreement that ended in 2020. Unfortunately, within this initial three-year period, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch were unable to run the project. In 2018, the Crystal River’s flows were too low to implement the agreement – there was not enough water available to result in significant benefits instream. In 2019, the river was high enough to avoid triggering the agreement during the timeframe of the agreement. Although it flirted with the low flow trigger in the late fall, the timing was out of range for the agreement. And in 2020, because of dry and hot conditions and impacts to their irrigated crops, Colorado Water Trust’s partners at Cold Mountain Ranch needed to use as much water as possible to maximize their late season production and keep their ranching operation sustainable.
Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch’s initial three-year pilot agreement was the first crack at a highly customized, market-based solution that works for agriculture and rivers on the Crystal River, and offered lessons for the renewal and re-tooling of that initial agreement. In this new six-year contract, the partners tried to account for drier years and changing climatic conditions, as well as the economic needs of the Ranch. The changes include a $5,000 bonus to support agricultural operations, additional payment and flexibility for coordination, and extending potential coordination into October.
One of the most important goals of Colorado Water Trust’s work on the Crystal River was to design a solution that allows water rights owners to maintain healthy agricultural operations – and Colorado Water Trust continues to accomplish that goal.
Our past agreement also shows other ranchers on the Crystal River that when we say our solutions are voluntary and are NOT designed to harm their operations, we mean it. The vision for this project is that other ranchers on the Crystal River will see that Cold Mountain Ranch is fully empowered to make their own decisions in the best interest of their business, and will feel comfortable to sign on to the project as well. The Crystal River needs more water than just that of Cold Mountain Ranch’s and we hope others will get involved to maintain a healthy river.
ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide, nonprofit organization that restores water to Colorado’s rivers in need. Colorado Water Trust accomplishes its mission with voluntary, market-based projects.