Project Status


Crystal River Project

A river-wide diversion coordination project with agricultural producers in the shadow of Mt. Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado.

In 2022, the Crystal River project restored 38.8 million gallons (119 acre-feet) of water to the Crystal River.

The Colorado Water Trust is envisioning a river-wide diversion coordination effort, in partnership with agricultural producers, that will help keep the Crystal flowing during drier years. In 2022, the project was implemented for the first time in partnership with Cold Mountain Ranch, a Crystal River water user in a critical reach of the river.

The Crystal River in Pitkin and Garfield Counties has long suffered from low flows in average and dry years, stunting the river’s ecosystem and impacting recreation. Facing the 2012 drought, local project partners reached out to the Colorado Water Trust to discuss challenges and brainstorm streamflow restoration solutions with the water user community. Those preliminary discussions prompted the development of an ecological model and the Crystal River Management Plan.

Crystal River Project

The Crystal River near Carbondale

Partners Roaring Fork Conservancy and Public Counsel of the Rockies hired Lotic Hydrological to develop an ecological model to assess the Crystal River’s health and examine four alternative water management strategies, including non-diversion agreements. After seeing the recommendations and evaluating which would be most feasible to implement, the Water Trust combined Lotic’s conclusions and flow targets with water user feedback on types of arrangements that might work to develop a flow restoration strategy based on non-diversion agreements with water users upstream of the Carbondale Ditch. When implemented, this strategy would provide water for the Crystal River in drier years.

In 2018, Colorado Water Trust signed a three-year pilot agreement with Cold Mountain Ranch that would compensate the ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, for leaving their irrigation water in the Crystal River when it needs it most. Unfortunately, within this initial three-year period, we were unable to run the project due to a variety of factors such as fluctuating climate conditions and the needs of the ranch. In 2021, all parties went back to the drawing board to generate a new agreement that would take into account everything we learned.

The Crystal River was nearly dry in 2012

In July of 2022, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch signed a new agreement that accounted for changing climatic conditions, as well as the economic and operational needs of the ranch. Then, on the 13th of September, 2022, the project was implemented for the first time.

On September 13th, when flows in the Crystal fell to 40 cubic feet per second (cfs), the project became active. Then throughout the fall months, anytime flows dropped below 55 cfs, the ranch coordinated diversions, returning up to 6 cfs to the River. Colorado Water Trust monitored the amount of water left in the natural stream and then paid the ranch $250 per cfs per day for up to 20 days for the water they restored to the River.

The pilot agreement operated a total of 10 days in 2022, returning 118 acre-feet (or about 38 million gallons) of water to the Crystal River.

Our Crystal Project is the first crack at a highly customized, market-based solution that works for agriculture producers on the Crystal River. With this pilot project under our belt, we hope to gain more participants in the coming years to create a River-wide coordination effort to restore an even longer reach of the Crystal River to a healthy level.


  • Photos: Zach Smith, Colorado Water Trust, Bill Hoblitzell, Lotic Hydrological
  • Project Partners: Roaring Fork Conservancy, Public Counsel of the Rockies, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Lotic Hydrological, Cold Mountain Ranch, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, and Pitkin County
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