Creative Deal Means More Water for Fish in the Roaring Fork Valley

A collaborative effort between the Colorado Water Trust, Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board achieved a creative solution to protecting instream flows through the Roaring Fork Valley. Numerous water rights owned by Pitkin County have traditionally been used for irrigation and other uses. Through this partnership, Pitkin County has agreed to place these water rights in a trust to be managed by the CWCB for Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. By utilizing the trust agreement, water will now remain in local rivers, increasing summer flows on some creeks and streams and enhancing the habitat of fish and other aquatic species through the Roaring Fork Valley.

In 2003, CWT identified certain watersheds in the state as priority areas for the organization’s streamflow improvement activities. The unique riparian environment, water challenges, and majestic views of the Roaring Fork River watershed made it an ideal candidate for the list. With a significant portfolio of water rights acquired through its Open Space and Trails Department and the Airport Enterprise Fund, Pitkin County became a natural partner for improvement efforts within the basin. CWT had been working closely with the County to find the best way for the County to place its water in the Instream Flow Program. The result of this partnership is the trust agreement.

The arrangement will occur in two phases, with one of the County’s water rights to be adjudicated in an early case and a number of other water rights to be changed in a later case. The trust also contains a provision to allow the addition of water rights in the future. This provision is significant because County voters passed a 0.1% sales tax in November 2008 that is expected to generate $1 million in funding. The sales tax, called the Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund, is intended to be spent on protecting the quality and quantity of water in the rivers and streams of the Roaring Fork River Basin and could be used to acquire additional water rights.

“We’re very pleased with the arrangement and can’t say enough about the CWCB staff’s effort to put this together,” says John Ely, Pitkin County’s attorney. “And we are thankful to the Colorado Water Trust for facilitating the deal.” Speaking for the CWCB, Linda Bassi adds: “This is a great arrangement for a critical area of the state from a streamflow perspective. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with Pitkin County under this long-term, win-win arrangement.”