Before the Court: Change of Use for Colorado Water Trust’s McKinley Ditch Shares

McKinley Control Structure Return

Colorado’s water-short rivers present complex challenges that require creative solutions. At the Water Trust, we’ve always been inspired to explore new, localized approaches when existing ones don’t fit. For example, our innovative remedy on the Little Cimarron River southwest of Gunnison blends agricultural and non-consumptive water uses for the first time through split season operations. Seasonal lease agreements mean the water could be used for agriculture in the early season through our partners Western Rivers Conservancy, while later in the season more water would remain in the river for environmental benefits. Several Directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) praised our project when voting last fall to approve the CWCB’s purchase of the Grant of Flow Restoration Use for the Water Trust’s water right shares in the McKinley Ditch.

McKinley Control Structure & Return to River Point

“I can tell that this has been a tremendous amount of work because it is novel. And it seems to me … that it’s the sort of thing we need to explore so that we can figure out, if agriculture did something just a little differently but not harmful, could there be a benefit for some other use … Being able to move water around to where it’s needed, when it’s needed … by changing things just a little, I think, is hopefully the wave of the future.” ~ Director Patricia Wells, CWCB Meeting on September 12, 2014

In December 2014, the Water Trust and CWCB took the next step towards implementing this experimental concept by filing a joint application with the Division 4 Water Court seeking to add “instream flow use” (ISF) to the Water Trust’s shares of the senior McKinley Ditch water rights. Once this added use is approved by the Water Court, the Water Trust’s water rights can be used by the CWCB to keep water flowing in the Little Cimarron River, accruing benefits to almost ten miles of Colorado streams, from the McKinley Ditch headgate to the Gunnison River.