Project Status


Crystal River Project

A river-wide diversion coordination project with agricultural producers in the shadow of Mt. Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado
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 early 2018, the Water Trust signed its first agreement of the project 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.

Bill Fales and Marj Perry of Cold Mountain Ranch have agreed to pilot the first agreement for a three-year term. The agreement pays the ranchers to shift the timing of the ranchers’ diversions to leave some water in the Crystal River when it needs the water most. The agreement will be closely monitored to determine compliance and benefit.

The Crystal River was nearly dry in 2012

The pilot agreement with Cold Mountain Ranch is the first step towards integrating the needs of the Crystal River in the complex decision-making process that agricultural water users engage in every day to manage their water and operations.

The Water Trust’s project will compensate water users to reduce diversions during periods of low flow in the Crystal, and will encourage collaboration among water users through a flow target incentive payment. Each participant that reduces diversions will be compensated for their reductions, and if the community can collectively add enough water to the river to meet the flow target, each participant will receive additional compensation for each day that the flow target is maintained in the river. While the water conserved by the Crystal River Project will not be enrolled in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program, it will benefit their instream flow water right on the Crystal River, and will help ensure a healthier Crystal River for years to come.


  • 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