An agreement allowing the same water rights to be used for fish and for farming recently was signed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Water Trust.

Under the agreement, up to five cubic feet per second of water from the Little Cimarron River historically used to irrigate ranch property on the lower river will to be used for restoring stream flows as well as preserving agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.

The accord says irrigation water will continue to be diverted until mid-summer flows drop to where the river faces going dry.

At that time, the water will be left in the river to protect fish and other wildlife.

Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, said the agreement brings together two essential parts of the state’s economy.

This “is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses,” Beatie said.

According to the Water Conservation Board, this reach of the Little Cimarron River has for years seen late-summer, low-to-no flows due to water rights diversions.

The Water Conservation Board, the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights, purchased the five cfs water right while the Water Trust retained the ability to continue irrigating.

“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” CWCB Director James Eklund said. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”

The agreement was made possible when the ranch property, which had been listed for sale, was purchased in 2012 by Western Rivers Conservancy, a non-profit specializing in conservation purchases of riparian lands.

The Little Cimarron originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is a tributary to the Cimarron and Gunnison rivers in Gunnison and Montrose counties.

The Daily Sentinel
Dave Buchanan