Many congratulations are in order for Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board! Pitkin County’s desire to boost streamflows in the Roaring Fork Basin by utilizing its County water rights has finally come to fruition. On August 22, Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) received a final decree from the Division 5 water court officially placing senior water rights owned by Pitkin County into Colorado’s Instream Flow Program.

We particularly want to congratulate and thank all the people at the CWCB, Pitkin County, and the attorneys and engineers that made this pioneering project possible. Their perseverance, creative thinking, and leadership will benefit Colorado’s rivers for years to come.

The decree protects up to 3.83 cfs in Maroon Creek and 3.54 cfs in the Roaring Fork of water formerly used in the Stapleton Brothers Ditch. The decree is the first under a trust agreement, crafted in 2010 and facilitated in part by Colorado Water Trust. The trust agreement allows the County to maintain ownership of the water rights while allowing the use of the water for instream flows. Pitkin County and the CWCB used the Stapleton Brothers Ditch water rights as a test case for the trust agreement in general. Now that the Stapleton Brothers decree has successfully emerged from water court with instream flow as an additional decreed use, the trust agreement contemplates that the County will consider placing an additional 33 water rights in the program in the coming year. Congratulations, everyone!

This all started in 2001, when Pitkin County and CWT began discussing how the County could utilize its water rights to improve flows in the Roaring Fork Basin. Turned out, it was a complicated discussion due to the nature of the water rights and the existing instream flow laws. The passage of House Bill 08-1280 in 2008 changed the legal landscape, allowing flexibility in how the County could utilize its water rights, and the parties went to work contemplating a creative new agreement and drafting the guiding documents. Pitkin County and the CWCB signed the trust agreement, and the recent water court decree confirms the trust agreement’s legitimacy and Pitkin County’s ability to lend its water to Roaring Fork Basin rivers and streams for instream flow purposes. Success!