The Story of Washington Gulch

Welcome to Washington Gulch, a small stream near the town of Crested Butte, in Gunnison County. There are beautiful open space trails along this river, where people mountain bike, backpack, snowshoe, ski, camp, hike, birdwatch, ride horses, and more. It is well known for being surrounded by rainbow-colored mountain sides when the wildflowers are in bloom, as it flows south into the town of Crested Butte and passes by the beautiful Whetstone Mountain.

Photo: Crested Butte Wildflowers – Raynor Czerwinski – LucidLandscape.com

As the river winds its way south, it works hard along the way. Diversions off the river provide water for agriculture and hay fields that have been around for more than a century and provide local food for surrounding communities. A reservoir off the stream provides municipal water for the people of the town of Mount Crested Butte. Washington Gulch flows until its confluence with the Slate River, where its water then gives life to beautiful open space and nearby trails that local residents cherish.

After merging with the Slate River, the water from Washington Gulch joins the East River, and eventually meets the Taylor River to form the mighty Gunnison. In some years, the volume of the Gunnison River can rival the volume of its eventual destination, the Colorado River. Before its confluence with the Colorado River in Grand Junction, it will carve out some of the deepest, longest, and narrowest gorges in the world through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The water in the Washington Gulch travels far and gives life and purpose to countless plants, wildlife, landscapes, and people. Keeping this stretch of river flowing is important. Before our project, there was a part of Washington Gulch that historically dried up in mid-July each year. But in 2010, a new owner of senior water rights on the river provided an opportunity to boost flows, and project partners called up the team at Colorado Water Trust to see if we could help.

Photo: Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Tony LaGreca

The new owners wished to move the point of diversion three miles downstream to the Slate River, and the Water Trust worked with them and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (the state water agency) to protect these flows instream along three quarters of a mile of the typically dry Gulch.
Additionally, the project protected two miles of the Slate River, which was also usually stressed at this time of the year. Thanks to the partnership of a local water user, the state, and Colorado Water Trust, we were able to reconnect this stream to help it flow as it naturally should.

The Slate River runs stronger today because of this project, and we have tracked its impact.

Since 2014, the project has restored

over 570 million gallons

(or more than 1700 acre feet)

of water to this four mile stretch of the Washington Gulch, just before it meets with the Slate River and flows through the town of Crested Butte.

Photo: Confluence of the Slate River and the Washington Gulch (Washington Gulch is the stream on the right)