Colorado Water Trust Employs New Tactics in Drought Response

The Colorado Water Trust just kicked off its pilot drought response water leasing program this year. Visit the CWT website or schedule a public informational meeting to learn more about leasing your water rights this summer.

Colorado Water Trust seeks willing water users interested in pilot water leasing program

Across the state, many Colorado water-users are preparing for drought conditions this year.  According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, streamflow forecasts indicate flows are likely to be below average to well below average in all basins across the state due to low snowpack combined with a dry spring and warmer than usual March temperatures.  This is creating concerns for Colorado’s water users and the state’s rivers, on which waterfowl, wildlife, fish, bugs, and plants depend.

This year, the Colorado Water Trust (CWT) intends to utilize Colorado’s short-term leasing statute for the very first time to put water back in the state’s rivers while compensating water users at fair market value for choosing to participate in the program.  Under the pilot program, CWT will be leasing water from willing water users to place into the State’s Instream Flow Program.  An instream flow water right is treated in Colorado’s water allocation system just like any other water right, but is decreed for nonconsumptive, in-channel use in order to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.

“We intend to put this statute to work to make a difference both to water users facing what could be an uncertain summer if conditions don’t improve and to the state’s rivers,” says Amy Beatie, Esq., executive director of CWT.  The Colorado short-term leasing statute, created through widespread, bi-partisan support in 2003, allows water users to bypass the long “change of use” process in water court and temporarily loan their water to streams within a matter of weeks through a state administrative approval process.

“We’re putting out a ‘Request for Water’ to give water users the opportunity to both protect Colorado’s natural heritage and generate revenue this year–lease your water for instream flow use and grow a crop of fish habitat,” says Beatie.

CWT will work with water right owners and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on a voluntary basis; CWT will facilitate and pay for pilot program leases under the state statute.  The law provides several protections for those who choose to lease their water.  It also protects other water users from injury when short-term leases are implemented.

“We are very excited about working with CWT and water users to use this tool to benefit the State’s streams and give water users another option in a potentially difficult year,” says Linda Bassi, who administers the CWCB’s Instream Flow Program.  CWT has been coordinating with the CWCB to build the infrastructure necessary to implement these expedited short-term leases.

Eric Wilkinson, general manager for Northern Water, commented, “This is a great pro-active effort to address the challenges brought about by reduced stream flows in this low run-off year.  Colorado Water Trust should be commended for working within the state’s water rights system and applicable statutes to address these challenges.”  At this point in time, CWT is already working on a lease with Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District, and several other parties are interested in working with CWT to lease their water this year.

Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring streamflows in Colorado through market-based, voluntary mechanisms.  Details about CWT’s “Request for Water” are available at

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