Water board moves to improve 2 streamflows

Two important streams near Crested Butte will have better water flows in late summer thanks to a recent instream, water-right purchase by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The board acquired 5.45 cubic feet per second of water in the Breem Ditch water right for instream-flow use in Washington Gulch and the Slate River, two highly visible, water-short streams north and east of Crested Butte.

According to the board, irrigation demands often completely dry up Washington Gulch by the middle of July and significantly deplete flows in the Slate River. The acquisition will allow Washington Gulch to flow year-round, even during dry summers, and it will help fix flow shortages to the Slate River.

“This is a great example of the benefits CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program can provide to our state’s streams through creative partnerships with water users,” said Jennifer Gimbel, board director.

In 1973, Colorado adopted legislation recognizing the maintenance of instream flows as a beneficial use of water. This legislation said instream flow could be used “to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree,” and it removed the requirement of a diversion to appropriate water.

A water right in Colorado can be held by any legal entity. Under the legislation, however, the water conservation board is the only entity in the state that can hold instream-flow rights to preserve and improve the natural environment, which in most cases has been fisheries.

In 1986, the in-stream flow legislation was amended to authorize the board to acquire water rights for in-stream flows by methods other than appropriation.

The Water Acquisition Program allows the board to acquire senior water rights from willing water-rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in the state’s Instream Flow Program.

A portion of this latest acquisition was purchased using funds authorized in 2008 for instream flow water acquisitions while the Colorado Water Trust donated a portion of the water.

The acquisition will protect water through Washington Gulch and about two miles of the Slate River below the confluence with Washington Gulch.

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