In late summer when stream flows drop and demand for irrigation water is high, numerous water diversions from Willow Creek reduce flows and have the potential to completely dry up the creek near its confluence with the Colorado River. Previously, water rights holders were hesitant to take any steps to reduce diversions, conserve water, or enhance flows in the creek because they would have risked losing valuable water rights under the “use it or lose it” provision of western water law. As a result, water rights holders lacked the ability to share water with the creek in times of drought or other environmental stress.
The Willow Creek project represents the very first use of a new Colorado law that allows water rights holders to enter into a long-term water conservation program and use their water to benefit rivers during times of critical low flow—without risk of losing valuable water rights. With funding provided by BEF’s Water Restoration Program, The Colorado Water Trust worked closely with ranchers to develop and implement an approved water conservation program that will restore flow to Willow Creek during dry years when the creek is in need. This first-of-its-kind Colorado project is on track to replenish flows during years when the creek is in danger of being dewatered. The project can restore over 150 million gallons per year to benefit both Willow Creek and up to a 4-mile section of the upper Colorado River.
* Project supports voluntary transactions to change, reduce or stop water use – either temporarily or permanently – to protect or restore water for environmental benefit
** This resource has been reviewed and found to meet the BEF Flow Program Certification Criteria for Evaluating Proposals to Secure Environmental Flows by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.