Bill Fales is a self-described “sucker for experiments.”
The soft-spoken, unassuming 64-year-old grows alfalfa on his 600-acre ranch just west of Carbondale. For 45 years, Fales has irrigated the fields of Cold Mountain Ranch with water from the Crystal River, which flows 35 miles from its headwaters in the Elk Mountains to the Roaring Fork River.
In spring 2016, the Colorado Water Trust, a Denver-based nonprofit devoted to improving river health, announced a new water conservation initiative to ranchers in the Crystal River Valley. Fales was eager to jump on board.
It sounded simple enough: The Water Trust would compensate any ranchers willing to leave some of their irrigation water in the Crystal River to boost flows during dry times. In 2013, Colorado had passed a law protecting water rights registered in conservation programs, and Fales assumed his interest would be met with approval…
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