White Jankowski Lawyers

CWCB instream flow water rights on the Colorado River — milestone

March 29, 2013

On March 26, 2013, (Senior) Water Judge Ossola (Division 5) entered three decrees that provided the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) with instream flows on the main stem of the Colorado River.  Instream flows are a specific type of water right held by the CWCB that allows water to remain in a stream, without any diversion, in order to help preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree―often referred to as “minimum” flows.

With the entry of these decrees, a 70-mile stretch of the Colorado River from the Blue River to the Eagle River is protected by contiguous instream flow decrees.  The first segment covers the Colorado River from the Blue River to the Piney River; the second segment extends from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and, the third segment extends from Cabin Creek to the Eagle River, which meets the Colorado River just past Gypsum.  Year-round flows are protected in a range from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) up to 900 cfs.  

Entry of these decrees marks the early attainment of a milestone in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan to provide long-term protection measures for the recreational fishing “outstanding remarkable value” on this important stretch of the Colorado River as part of the BLM’s Resource Management Plan.  These decrees will also help preserve and improve proposed environmental flows of water jointly being sought by Grand County, CWCB and Denver Water, by “attaching” that water to CWCB’s instream flow rights through this reach.  Importantly, these decrees highlight how a diverse group of interested parties successfully collaborated in order to protect Colorado’s water resources for non-consumptive uses while safeguarding traditional water rights.