Colorado Water Trust to Initiate Project to Help 15-Mile Reach


Andy Schultheiss (720-933-0028)

Mark Harris (

Max Schmidt (

Tom Chart (

Palisade, Colorado —  In an innovative and groundbreaking effort, the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”), Grand Valley Water Users Association (“Association”), and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (“District”) have struck a deal designed to improve the habitat of the Colorado River’s endangered fish at critical times of year.

Under the agreement effective February 1, water secured by CWT from upstream sources may be delivered to and used in the Grand Valley Power Plant, a nearly century-old off-channel hydropower facility in Palisade, operated by the Association and District.  Once run through the plant’s turbines, the water will be released back into the Colorado River’s 15-Mile Reach to benefit native endangered fish, including the humpback chub and Colorado pikeminnow (the largest minnow in North America).

The non-regulatory agreement has multiple benefits – not only will it support the endangered fish, it will direct additional water to the power plant, generating additional revenue for the operators, and provide essential funding for the rehabilitation of the aging plant.  Rehabilitation of the plant is critical to the health of the endangered fish, as its senior water rights pull water down from the headwater tributaries to the 15-Mile Reach under the state’s ‘first in time, first in right’ water allocation system.

“This agreement expands the benefits of the plant’s rehabilitation by giving CWT the option of delivering additional water to the power plant at times when the plant’s own water rights have not fully utilized the capacity,” said Andy Schultheiss, Executive Director of the CWT.  “In particular, we hope to deliver water in the spring to combat what has become known as the ‘April hole,’ a time when streamflows dip in the 15-Mile Reach when irrigation diversions begin but runoff from high mountain snowpack is minimal.”

The health of the 15-Mile Reach is a critical concern for Colorado water users.  The agreement furthers the efforts of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a multi-partner effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that provides Endangered Species Act protection for 2,500 water projects on both sides of the continental divide for everything from irrigation to drinking water.

“Working in partnership with the Colorado Water Trust to rehabilitate the Grand Valley Power Plant and more effectively utilize the capacity in the system is a win-win proposition,” said Max Schmidt of OMID.  “Our water users will benefit from additional power revenues as well as from the support for the endangered fish.”  Added Mark Harris of GVWUA, “In times of increased pressure on water supplies throughout the state, projects like this that further the interests of multiple sectors are sorely needed, and we applaud the creativity and flexibility that all the parties brought to the table.”

“The efforts of all the parties that brought about this creative arrangement will have multiple benefits, including supporting native fish habitats in this critical reach of the Colorado River,” said Tom Chart, Director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.  “We applaud the Operators of the project and the Colorado Water Trust in crafting this one-of-a-kind agreement.”

CWT will contribute $425,000 to the total costs of over $5.4 million dollars expected for plant rehabilitation in exchange for the five-year deal.  The rehabilitation contribution and the work leading up to the success of this project was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

CWT works within Colorado’s complex water laws and administrative system to return water to Colorado’s rivers in need.  CWT has returned over 9 billion gallons of water to nearly 400 miles of rivers and streams since its founding in 2001.