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How We Work

Colorado Water Trust was formed to restore and protect streamflows through water acquisitions, physical solutions, and other creative approaches. CWT is the only non-profit organization working statewide to transact water deals for conservation benefits. We work closely with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the only entity in Colorado that can hold water rights for instream flow purposes.  Our projects are all voluntary and market-based.

We work with the agricultural community and other water users, governmental entities, land trusts, watershed groups, and others to address a statewide challenge: preserving Colorado’s way of life while restoring and protecting its watersheds. 

Operating Principles

The Colorado Water Trust has adopted operating principles to maintain the integrity of our work and keep us focused on our mission:

  • To work within the framework of Colorado water law, inter-state compacts, and equitable apportionments.
  • To work with willing participants.
  • To strive for consensus in representing a broad spectrum of water interests.
  • To act with ethics and integrity.
  • To act on sound factual, scientific, technical, and legal bases.
  • To be results-oriented, pragmatic, visionary, and problem solving.
  • To maintain a strategic focus on the Water Trust’s niche and mission.

The Tools We Use

In Colorado’s water allocation system, geography and priority rule the day, making each water right unique. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for restoring streams, we utilize all of the tools available to us.  We work with interested parties on opportunities that will allow us to further our mission.

Water Rights Sale
A sale is a permanent transfer of a water right for change to instream flow use. It typically requires separation of the water from the land and acceptance of the water by the CWCB.  CWT fundraises to buy the water, conducts any necessary engineering and other studies, and completes the transaction with the CWCB.

Water Rights Donation
A donation is similar to a sale. It, too, requires separation of the water from the land and acceptance of the water by the CWCB, and our role remains the same as it does in a sale. The difference is that the donation may be a charitable contribution and, therefore, tax deductible.

Long-Term Lease
Leases allow for the CWCB to use water for instream flows on a temporary basis. Long-term leases under House Bill 08-1280 must go through water court. Funds may be available for water users who enter into these leases, and we are able to facilitate the lease transaction with the CWCB.

Short-Term Lease
Short-term leases allow the CWCB to utilize water for instream flow benefits in three of ten years. Typically, these leases need not go through water court. Funds may be available for water users who enter into these leases, and we are able to facilitate the lease transaction with the CWCB.

Dry-Year Transactions
This is a transaction that allows the CWCB to use water rights when a certain event, such as water levels dropping below a certain point at a specific stream gage, is triggered. These can be short-term, long-term or permanent arrangements. It will depend on the duration of the agreement as to whether water court must be involved. Funds may be available for water users who enter into these leases, and we are able to facilitate the lease transaction with the CWCB.

Structural and Alternative Use Solutions
Colorado’s water-short stream reaches can also benefit from physical solutions such as headgate and delivery-system upgrades that make more water available downstream. Other approaches include reservoir outlet structure upgrades, changes in points of diversion, creation of low-flow channels and fish-ladders, and other creative physical projects that don’t involve buying or leasing water.  These types of arrangements may have to go through water court, depending upon the plan. Other approaches that can provide additional flows include innovative agricultural technology, storage releases, or changes in reservoir management.

Water Rights Trust
Under the right circumstances, water rights can be placed in a trust to be managed by the CWCB. The water rights owner maintains title to the water, but the CWCB can use the water in the Instream Flow Program. Funds may be available for water users interested in this type of arrangement, and we are able to facilitate the lease transaction with the CWCB.

Conservation Easements
Colorado Water Trust works closely with the land conservation community on water rights issues, from educational programs on water to model language that encourages smart, flexible, and effective inclusion of water rights in conservation easements.

Creative Combinations
The best thing about the Colorado Water Trust is that it has a Board and staff that collectively bring centuries of experience to each transaction. We will use all of the arrows in our proverbial quiver to work with interested parties to find the right conservation transaction, whether that’s a single solution or a hybrid of the solutions available.