Whether you’ve read about it on our website or facebook page, signed a letter of support at one of our events, or listened to Wading in the Water on KBUT, then you must have heard the term “instream flow”. What is the status of instream flows in our community?

An instream flow is a legal water right to protect a quantified minimum amount of water in a stream. As Linda Bassi from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) puts it, instream flows “preserve the status quo on a stream of what the flows are, and [prevent] the stream from being further dried up in the future”. Because it is a water right that is decreed in time, instream flow rights don’t take priority over irrigation, municipal, and/or other rights established earlier in time, but can protect minimum flows for fisheries against future appropriations. Instream flows are important to provide water for riparian ecosystems, wildlife, and fisheries. They benefit other aspects of our local community as well.  By living in a community that values outdoor recreation and relies on a tourism economy, instream flow appropriations inherently contribute to a healthy economy while promoting the overall scenic beauty of the Gunnison Valley.

Over the past few years, High Country Conservation Advocates’ water program has worked collaboratively to appropriate instream flow protections on Oh-Be-Joyful Creek and the Slate River. In 2015/16 we partnered with Western Resource Advocates to successfully protect an appropriation on Schaefer Creek through the water court process. HCCA is continuing to pursue new appropriations moving forward. Last January we partnered with American Rivers to propose instream flow protections for Coal Creek and Brush Creek.

The health and well-being of both of these creeks is crucial to our local community. Coal Creek provides us with drinking water and a beautiful natural environment that will be supported by a flow that will help maintain the creek’s robust riparian ecosystem. Brush Creek houses an incredible fishery of Colorado Cutthroat Trout.

Instream flows were established for both of these creeks in the early 1980s. However, the flows established then do not meet modern scientific criteria used to determine minimum flows. By revisiting these appropriations we hope to better mimic the natural hydrograph. Doing so will better support Brush Creek cutthroat and the Coal Creek ecosystem. Both of these proposals were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in January, and now the CWCB and HCCA are conducting a year of outreach to garner feedback on them.

Interested in getting involved? More information about instream flows can be found at www.hccacb.org. Our last three episodes of Wading in the Water on KBUT started on July 26th. They are all about instream flows and air on Tuesdays at 7:31am and 5:18pm, or can be found at www.wadinginthewater.com. If you would like to support these proposals, we are collecting signatures from community members at the links below or at our booth this weekend at the Crested Butte Arts Festival.