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We are celebrating a recent vote by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to protect spring and early summer flows on Oh Be Joyful Creek, the Slate River and Hot Springs Creek.  The vote means that high spring and early summer flows on these waterways will be protected for future generations.  High flows are a key part of a healthy river system-they create new habitat for fish and they help maintain riparian vegetation, not to mention the benefits for boating and scenic values.

HCCA staff and board members surveyed the Slate River with the BLM in 2012 and 2013 and helped organize a meeting of local stakeholders with water rights and property interests on the Slate River.  HCCA Board Member Sandy Shea lives near the Slate River, and said “We are very thankful that the Slate River’s natural hydrograph has been protected by the state of Colorado.  This river is a centerpiece of our community and a huge draw for visitors.”  HCCA also forwarded to the CWCB a letter from 24 local businesses supporting the proposed protections.

Originating in the Raggeds Wilderness, Oh-Be-Joyful Creek supports a population of brook trout and joins the Slate River at a popular BLM campground.  The Slate River feeds key wetlands and protected open space around Crested Butte and supports a riparian corridor vital to local wildlife.  Hot Springs Creek east of the city of Gunnison is similarly important for its trout habitat and riparian amenities in the midst of rolling sagebrush steppes.  The BLM proposed the protections for all three streams before the CWCB.  The instream flows which will be held by the CWCB on these streams are treated in the same manner as all other water rights within Colorado’s prior appropriation system.  Hot Springs Creek will see a protected flow of 2.4 cubic feet per second (cfs) from May 1 to July 21, Oh Be Joyful will be protected at 3 cfs in April, 14 cfs from May 1 to July 15, and 3 cfs from July 16 to August 15.  The Slate River from Poverty Gulch to its confluence with Oh Be Joyful will be protected at 30 cfs from May 1 to July 15 and on to the confluence with Coal Creek at 45 cfs for the same time period.

While flows on these streams will be even higher this summer with all of the glorious snow we’re receiving lately, the state’s protections will ensure minimum levels to protect fish and habitat.  Let’s keep our momentum going to protect the headwaters of the Gunnison River-send a comment now to the Governor on the State Water Plan: http://coloradowaterplan.com/