Roaring Fork River

Near Aspen, CO

PROJECT PARTNERS: City of Aspen, Colorado Water Trust
PROJECT TYPE: Water Management Agreements


For decades, large water diversions have reduced the amount of water flowing in Colorado’s upper Roaring Fork River to the point that only a fraction of the river’s natural flow actually flows through the City of Aspen. According to the Colorado Water Trust, at times, more than ninety percent of the Roaring Fork’s flow is diverted from the river and piped under the Rocky Mountains to serve water users located on the opposite (east) side of the continental divide.

Recognizing this problem, the City of Aspen took the lead in exploring local solutions that might alleviate long-term stream flow challenges for the Roaring Fork. Working closely with the Colorado Water Trust, the City of Aspen developed a solution that reduced outdoor water use and facilitated conservation and use of alternative water supplies so that the City could use one of its senior water rights to benefit a perennially dewatered reach of the river.

BEF’s Water Restoration Certificate® program provided critical funding to support the Colorado Water Trust’s efforts to work with the City to design, structure, test and monitor the project so it could restore water to the river just as flows dropped below critical thresholds necessary to maintain fish, wildlife and water quality. In the pilot year of this agreement the project in total restored more than 140 million gallons of water to this thirsty river—roughly half of which was directly supported by the collective contributions of Patagonia, Clif Bar, New Belgium, White Wave Foods and Ted’s Montana Grill.

The City of Aspen provided the innovative thinking and commitment to make this project a reality by working collaboratively with local citizens to reduce outdoor water use and redirect other water supplies to meet the city’s needs. As a result of this innovative project, flows were enhanced in a year that was predicted to bring severe drought to the river. With extensive recreation—including fishing, hiking, running and floating—taking place along this stretch of river, Aspen was able to show that creative options exist to help the river while at the same time meeting the needs of Aspen’s visitors and residents.

*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.