Back in the 1800s, early-settling Coloradans began diverting water from the state’s rivers and streams to obtain water for their farms, ranches, mines, industries, and homesteads. Water was obtained on a "first-in-time, first-in-right" basis—a system that is still in place in Colorado today. Since those early days, increasing amounts of water have been diverted to serve myriad beneficial uses, leaving many rivers, streams, wetlands, and riparian areas water-short or even dry. This strands and exposes fish, damages riparian habitat, and affects the local businesses that rely on the river.
In 1973, the Colorado legislature formally recognized the need to “correlate the activities of mankind with some reasonable preservation of the natural environment.” The passage of Senate Bill 97 created the State’s Instream Flow Program and gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board the exclusive authority to appropriate instream flow water rights and to protect water in a reach of stream.
The Colorado Water Trust was formed in 2001 to partner with Colorado's Instream Flow Program and amplify its work by supporting and promoting voluntary, market-based efforts to protect and restore Colorado’s streamflows. Today, the Colorado Water Trust is the only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to restoring flows on Colorado's rivers using market-based transactions. Through the three program areas, Water Rights Solutions
, Infrastructure Solutions
, and Consulting Services
, they facilitate the transfer of decreed water rights into the Instream Flow Program in partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. They also coordinate water-sharing agreements, infrastructure projects, and other creative solutions to restore flows to the state's rivers.
Together with the diverse partners throughout the state, they are restoring habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving local economic opportunities, and where lost, returning to Colorado’s landscape the beauty of a flowing river.