Roaring Fork Conservancy Releases the Final Report of the Crystal River Management Plan

The Plan’s final report offers possibilities for future feasible and effective water management alternatives that could improve the ecological health of the Crystal River, while honoring local agricultural production and preserving existing water uses.   

May 4, 2016 (Basalt, Colo.)— Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered with Public Counsel of the Rockies and Lotic Hydrological to produce the Crystal River Management Plan. The Plan evolved from years of studies and assessments that underscored the need for further investigation into water use patterns, ecological health and associated impacts in order to produce on-the-ground improvement in riparian and instream conditions in and along the Crystal River, based on concerns solicited from stakeholders, including water rights holders and water users. Combining prior knowledge with community input created a strong foundation for the Plan, bringing together river science and community values.

“We are proud to share the Crystal River Management Plan, one of the first Stream Management Plans in the state.” said Rick Lofaro, Executive Director of Roaring Fork Conservancy. “Colorado’s Water Plan puts a high priority on this type of stakeholder-driven process to understand non-consumptive water needs across the state. We are continuing to work with stakeholders in the Crystal Valley to implement key pieces of the Plan.” 

The Crystal River Management Plan relies on a robust science-based and stakeholder-centered decision-making framework to identify and evaluate management and structural alternatives that honor local agricultural heritage, preserve existing water uses, and enhance the ecological integrity of the river. This unique approach considered the complex interactions between the physical components driving watershed structure; the biological components of riverine ecosystems; the social context of competing perspectives, needs, and values; and the existing legal and administrative frameworks governing water use. Stakeholder meetings held throughout the planning process served to clarify outstanding questions, summarize results from previous studies, refine planning goals and objectives, and evaluate the feasibility of various management alternatives. 

“The Crystal River Management Plan reflects the dedication of agricultural water users, the Town of Carbondale and many others to voluntarily work together to understand threats to the river we all love, and ways we can better protect this resource we love and rely on,” says Chelsea Brundige of Public Counsel of the Rockies.  “We are confident that this effort will also serve as a template to guide other stream management planning getting underway across the state.”

The Final Report’s findings are a reflection of field studies, modeling efforts, and invaluable stakeholder input. The recommendations, summarized below, represent the most promising avenues for action in future work towards community goals for the Crystal River watershed.

  • Few external stressors exist in the headwaters of the Crystal contributing to a generally healthy riverine ecosystem above Redstone.
  • Constraints on ecosystem function slowly increase in the downstream direction due to the cumulative effects of floodplain development and surface water diversions.
  • The reaches between Thompson Creek and the confluence with the Roaring Fork exhibit the most degraded overall functional condition.
  • Reductions in late summer baseflows produce cascading impacts on channel hydraulics, water temperature and physical habitat quality and availability.
  • Supply shortages on water-limited tributaries are common. Demand shortages on the Crystal River exist for the junior rights on East Mesa Ditch, Sweet Jessup Canal, Helms Ditch and Kaiser & Sievers Ditch. The CWCB instream flow right is frequently not met in late summer.
  • Water efficiency upgrades (e.g. sprinkler irrigation and ditch lining) can significantly reduce the frequency and magnitude of demand shortages experienced by agricultural producers.
  • The most feasible and effective management options for meeting planning goals include 1) Non-Diversion Agreements between the Sweet Jessup Canal and Carbondale Ditch, and 2) ditch lining and short term water leasing by the Town of Carbondale on the Carbondale Ditch and Weaver and Leonhardy Ditch.
  • Non-Diversion Agreements of approximately 25 cfs in severe drought and 10-15 cfs during moderate drought will limit risk  to ecosystem function to a moderate level. Current conditions expose the ecosystem to high ecological risk in the same drought conditions.
  • Reaching management targets will require diversion reductions between 5-18% (depending on drought severity) between the Sweet Jessup Canal and the Carbondale Ditch.
  • Stakeholders should continue to investigate the feasibility of stand-alone water efficiency infrastructure projects, off-channel reservoir development, and channel modifications to simultaneously promote ecosystem function and the long-term sustainability of local agricultural production.

Seth Mason, Principal at Lotic Hydrological states: “Stream management planning on the Crystal provided the local community with the unique opportunity to address complex water use needs through a stakeholder and data-driven process. We are looking forward to supporting the community through experimentation with and implementation of the management options identified through this process.” 

Roaring Fork Conservancy, Lotic Hydrological, and the Public Counsel of the Rockies view the Crystal River Management Plan as an ongoing process. The Plan’s final report is intended to serve as a platform for bring the collaboration and partnership that started the process into future conversations, partnership and action to preserve a sustainable agricultural economy, existing water uses and a healthy river. A public meeting is scheduled for May 26th at the Carbondale Library from 12-2pm.

Funding for this study was provided by Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Basin Roundtable, Gates Family Foundation, Dornick Foundation, Aspen Skiing Company’s Environment Foundation, and private donations. A full digital version of the Crystal River Management Plan can be found at

Questions about this study can be directed to Heather Lewin, Watershed Action Director, Roaring Fork Conservancy, (970) 927-1290,

About Roaring Fork Conservancy:
Since 1996, Roaring Fork Conservancy has inspired people to explore, value and protect the Roaring Fork Watershed. We bring people together to protect our rivers and work to keep water in local streams, monitor water quality, and preserve riparian habitat. Roaring Fork Conservancy is an independent, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. For more information call (970) 927-1290 or visit