Colorado’s bountiful rivers have attracted people to the region for generations. Our rivers provide water, food and habitat for abundant wildlife and help us grow the food that we need to survive. Once, the demands of a sparse population on our majestic rivers may have been barely noticeable. Today, however, Colorado’s over 5.3 million citizens must seek new solutions to balance their needs with protecting beautiful and abundant rivers. Enter the state’s “instream flow” program. Think of it like a park system for our rivers. Just as parks permanently protect land for wildlife and recreation, an instream flow is a water right that permanently keeps water in rivers and streams for fish, amphibians, and the environment. Instream flows are only one step towards adequate protection of the state’s important waterways, and we must develop and implement more innovative solutions to ensure the long-term health of our rivers. However, the instream flow program is an essential tool in our toolbox for long-term river sustainability.
In early April we celebrated the Colorado Supreme Court’s rendering of a landmark decision upholding the instream water right for the breathtaking San Miguel River. The San Miguel River is unique, rising in the San Juan Mountains southeast of Telluride and flowing through San Miguel and Norwood canyons, then past Placerville and Nucla, joining the Dolores River in Montrose County. The river is renowned for exciting whitewater rafting and tremendous trout fishing. This visually stunning river flows through Colorado’s red sandstone canyon country and is home to three native fishes that are struggling to survive.
And the good news for this beauty of a river — the court affirmed that state water rights are a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife. The Colorado Supreme Court decision allows all current and future in-stream flow protection efforts to continue.
We’re ecstatic that the Colorado Supreme Court upheld permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country. Healthy rivers are important for wildlife and recreation. This case will long be remembered for not just protecting the San Miguel, but preserving healthy rivers throughout Colorado as a legacy for future generations. Anglers, rafters, and wildlife need these sorts of instream water right protections to secure water for their needs. We are proud of the part we’ve played legally defending this instream flow water right, and we thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and our tireless partners in the conservation community who helped make the victory possible.
So after reading this article, please raise your water glass and toast our magnificent Colorado rivers!