The Colorado Water Trust has finalized a deal that will help keep more water in Summit County’s scenic Blue River and, in a new twist, provide additional water for Western Slope communities.

The transaction – the first of its kind in Colorado – means that water will be kept in a stream for environmental purposes and then used later for people.

“It’s a very important demonstration project,” said John Carney, executive director of the trust. “We’re going to use the water for (environmental) flows in Boulder Creek and the Blue River, and then it will be used by others (once it flows into the Colorado River ).

“This is an approach that satisfies what are normally competing water interests.”

Formed in 2001, the nonprofit water trust’s mission is to help maintain stream flows and advise others trying to do the same.

But keeping water in streams simply for the environment is often difficult in Colorado because if water isn’t captured in a reservoir for use by farms or cities, it eventually flows out of the state. Under this deal, though, the water will be fully consumed before it reaches the state line.

The $130,000 sale was completed Friday. Under the terms of the deal, the water trust is buying about 800 acre feet of water from the Slate Creek Ranch in Summit County. The water, once used to irrigate hay meadows, will flow down Boulder Creek into the Blue River, helping raise river levels through the spring and summer, keeping fish and kayakers happy.

Once the water flows from the Blue into the Colorado River , it will be purchased again by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties.

The second purchase means the water trust will be reimbursed for the original transaction costs, giving it more money to buy additional water rights.

Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based river district, said his agency decided to participate to help the fledgling nonprofit and because the additional water is badly needed on the Western Slope. “It will go a long way,” Treese said.

Rocky Mountain News
Jerd Smith