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Water Rights Solutions

Water Rights Solutions
The Fraser River in Grand County

No two rivers are the same – naturally or in the way they are operated to support Colorado’s way of life. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to restore flows on our state’s many rivers. The Colorado Water Trust works directly with water rights owners in a neutral and collaborative manner to find ways of effectively restoring flows to dry rivers.

Projects come to us in a variety of ways – through consultants and attorneys, our own outreach, or from water users themselves. When the Colorado Water Trust receives a call from an interested water user, we begin our initial investigation into the water right. Questions include:

  • How much water is it?
  • Is it a junior or senior water right?
  • What is its decreed use?
  • What other water rights are on the river?
  • How much water is needed to restore a healthy level of flows for this particular river?
  • Are there any instream flow rights on the river already?

Once we establish a lead as a viable project, we present a menu of options to the water user to see what best fits their goals.

Tools we use:

Water Rights Sale or Donation

A sale or donation is a permanent transfer of a water right to instream flow use. It may require full year or partial year separation of the water from the land, acceptance by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and water court approval. Donations may be tax deductible (consult your attorney).

Water Rights Long-Term Lease

Long-term leases allow the CWCB to use a lessee’s water right for an agreed upon term to restore streamflows. They typically require a transfer to instream flow use, may require full-year or partial-year separation of the water from the land, acceptance by CWCB, and water court approval. Leases can be very flexible to accommodate the needs of the water user.

Water Rights Short-Term Lease

Short-term leases allow the CWCB to use a lessee’s water in 3-of-10 years to restore streamflows. Typically, these leases require partnership with the CWCB, and require only a quick administrative process instead of water court approval. In a given year, these can be activated upon mutual agreement or by a low-streamflow trigger.

Water Rights Agreements

Private agreements between the water owner and the Colorado Water Trust can be implemented to restore streamflows. These typically include non-diversion agreements and strategically timed reservoir releases.

SB-19 Water Conservation Program

Legislation passed in 2013 allows water right owners to reduce their water use for 5 years in a 10-year period without penalty to their water rights. Sometimes, that reduction of use can have restorative benefits to rivers.  The Colorado Water Trust works with owners to develop the conservation program and to secure the necessary approvals.


Our project on the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin is a great example of a Water Rights Solutions project. Learn more >>

If you are a water user interested in knowing if your water can help your local river, please Contact Us today.