The Story of Blue River & Boulder Creek

Have you ever summited one of the most commonly climbed fourteeners in Colorado, Quandary Peak? Have you ever driven by the expansive Dillon Reservoir just off of I-70? Then you have seen the water of the Blue River, either through snowpack on Quandary Peak (near its headwaters) or stored in or passing through the vast reservoir in Dillon.

Photo: Tenmile Range from Lake Dillon – Michael Kirsh – Flickr.com/Photos/Michaelkirsh

The Blue River starts up in the Ten Mile Range (which includes its highest peak, Quandary Peak). It flows 65 miles, passing Breckenridge and Silverthorne, until it connects with the Colorado River in Kremmling. Some of its water will go to a trans-mountain diversion through the Roberts Tunnel to the South Platte River Basin for use on the Front Range. The water may also flow to the Green Mountain Dam to provide hydroelectric power or irrigation water for countless farms and ranches along the way. The valued water in the Blue River also provides for the communities of Breckenridge and Dillon.

Photo: Blue River near Silverthorne – Luis Toro – Flickr.com/Photos/11263821@N05

The Blue River is a Gold Medal fishery, home to an abundance of rainbow trout. The river is also popular for canoeing and kayaking, as it has two whitewater runs for those brave of heart. It is a beautiful river lined with cottonwood trees and crowned by mountain ranges.

Photo: Whitewater on the Boulder Creek – Blue River – Mickey O’Hara

In the early 2000’s, a local ranching couple with generations of history living alongside the Blue River just north of Silverthorne were retiring and selling the majority of their land, along with the water rights. Scotty and Jeannette Moser donated much of their land to the Forest Service, and were glad it would stay protected from development. They had similar hopes for their water rights, to help keep their river protected.

Photo: Scotty Moser stands alongside Boulder Creek, a tributary of the Blue River.

For years, they saw their Blue River hurting. Their mission was to keep their water rights in the Blue River basin by ensuring that their water go to local use and not to “water some lawns on the Front Range.” But to do that is extremely complicated in the Colorado water law system that was set up in the 1800’s. They would need a lot of help. Scott Hummer, then the water commissioner in their area and whom they went to asking for help, knew there was a group of people who might be able to make this possible. He contacted Colorado Water Trust – a then newly formed organization with the goal of proving that you could work within Colorado water law to restore water to rivers by buying and leasing water rights.

Photo: Boulder Creek – Blue River – Mickey O’Hara

Colorado Water Trust met with Scotty and Jeannette Moser and they shared their goals with us. We looked into their water rights and researched needs on the river to make sure their rights were going to help the part of the river that needed water. It turned out it really would. In fact, the part of the stream their water rights were on was a prime fishery in need of boosted flows. We contacted the partners we would need, namely the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to help make this project possible. We navigated the rights through the complex legal system, and carried out the transaction to pay the Mosers fair market value for their water, and ensure it remained in the stream, heading west, in perpetuity. They were thrilled.

It was such a ground-breaking project that it made the news. And Scott Hummer said it was a turning point for not just Colorado Water Trust, but also for spawning action in the Blue River Valley community. The talk about this project and the recent years of dramatic differences in stream flows, mobilized the community to form the Blue River Watershed Group, aimed to engage their local community in protecting their watershed.

Since 2011, the project has restored

2.3 billion gallons

(over 7000 acre feet)

of water to the Boulder Creek and the Blue River. The details of our projects have evolved and matured since then, but our goal remains the same: To help Coloradans like the Mosers support their rivers and streams in need.

Photo: Boulder Creek – Blue River – Mickey O’Hara