Fostering Implementation of a Regional Water Conservation Plan for the Roaring Fork Watershed (2014)

Client Organization: 
Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC)
Client is confirmed: 
Project Location : 
Basalt, CO
Secondary Client Organization: 
Ruedi Water & Power Authority (RWAPA)
Summary of Project Idea: 

In waterways across the American west, particularly the Colorado River, increasing demands on scarce water resources are placed in direct conflict with the need to maintain instream flows to preserve riparian and aquatic ecosystem health. One of the key strategies to solving this conflict is water conservation management. Putting in place conservation strategies or management plans that increase water use efficiency help not only to meet water demands over the long term, but also help lead to improved riparian ecosystem health if conserved water is targeted towards instream flows.

However, increasing water conservation to aid instream flows in imperiled waterways in the western U.S. is complicated by numerous factors, including laws, doctrines, and compacts governing water use and allocation; the variety of stakeholders and jurisdictions involved in water management; and polarizing and protective stances towards water rights. Despite abundant and intractable challenges, strides are being made in states across the west to increase agricultural and municipal water use efficiency in order to help maintain instream flows. These efforts are often undertaken through the cooperation and collaboration of divergent stakeholder groups within a region or watershed.

This project analyzes cases in the western U.S. in which regions implemented strategies and/or management plans that successfully increased water conservation. From these case studies, lessons and recommendations were garnered in order to inform the development of a regional water conservation plan for the Roaring Fork Watershed. The Roaring Fork River, located in central Colorado, is a major tributary of the Colorado River, and the watershed contains the communities of Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Snowmass Village. The project clients are developing a regional water conservation plan incorporating the five municipalities in order to address water demand and decreased instream flows. Cases were chosen in regions that were similar in geographic and demographic scope to the Roaring Fork Valley. The analysis addresses how agencies and organizations in each case study overcame obstacles to coordinated water conservation planning and ways that water conservation strategies can effectively be applied across a region.

In addition, the project has three complementary research activities: (1) an assessment of the municipalities in the Roaring Fork Watershed that provides an understanding of the willingness of groups and individuals in the Watershed to work cooperatively on water conservation; (2) a review of education and outreach strategies geared toward municipal and agricultural water users; (3) an analysis of existing ecological data in the Lower Crystal River to determine the potential impacts of various water conservation scenarios for the Town of Carbondale that may increase instream flows.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

Background in water resources policy, planning, and management (including some basic familiarity with Western water law), working knowledge of hydrology, familiarity with water conservation policies and practices, background in public education/outreach techniques, good research, writing and organizational skills, good verbal communication skills, good computer skills.

Secondary Client Confirmed: 
SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Project participants would: (i) gain experience in the practical application of water resources policy and management coursework, (ii) improve their knowledge of Western water law, Western land use, and Western water resources and land management, as well as critical water issues facing the arid West (as well as other parts of the world), and (iii) gain experience with effective environmental education and the application of strategic communication tools. Participants would have opportunities to make contacts with individuals at a variety of federal, state, regional and local entities engaged in water resources issues affecting Colorado. There are many ongoing professional conferences held in Colorado, and elsewhere, on Western water issues and water conservation; there may be opportunities for students to present their work at some of these conferences.  In the past, students have (i) travelled to the Roaring Fork Valley and presented their research locally at a televised meeting of the Roaring Fork Collaborative - which draws representatives from around the State and (ii) presented at the 2011 Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference - "Collaborative Watershed Partnership Assessment: Lessons and Themes from Survey of Twenty Ecosystem Management Partnerships."

Funding Sources: 

The project will not require the students to physically work in the Roaring Fork Watershed. All of the work can be accomplished via the Internet and by phone and email contacts. We currently do not have funding available for the SNRE project, but are continuing to seek grants to support our water conservation planning and implementation efforts.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

We envision a document addressing the following topics:

  1. A summary and analysis of the water conservation management practices included in CWCB-approved regional water conservation plans (including but not limited to the framework for plan administration and enforcement as well as actual implementation strategies and incentives) and an evaluation of experiences to-date under these regional plans (i.e., strengths and weaknesses);
  2. A summary and analysis of costs and cost-sharing arrangements associated with preparation of the Colorado regional water conservation plans completed to date;
  3. A summary and analysis of ongoing funding commitments and cost-sharing arrangements associated with implementation measures, administration, enforcement and incentives included in Colorado regional water conservation plans completed to date;
  4. A summary and analysis of water conservation planning undertaken to-date in the Roaring Fork Watershed;
  5. Options for structuring a regional water conservation plan for the Roaring Fork Watershed that builds upon 'lessons learned' under #1 above and existing initiatives identified in #4, and recommended approaches;
  6. A summary and analysis of the strengths/weaknesses of existing Colorado-based water conservation education/outreach programs, including any programs currently underway in the Roaring Fork Valley; and
  7. Options for structuring a regional water conservation education/outreach program for the Roaring Fork Watershed that builds upon 'lessons learned' under #6 above, and recommended approaches.
Additional Faculty Advisor(s) and Department(s): 
Dave Allan
Contact full name: 
Sharon Clarke
Job title: 
Land & Water Conservation Specialist
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Julia Wondolleck
Contact Phone: 
Advisor Confirmed: 
Contact e-mail: 
Additional Faculty Advisor(s) Confirmed: 
Contact information: 
Staff member of a potential client organization
Our Organization has been an SNRE master's project client in a previous year
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Charlotte Jameson, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Emma Maack, MPP/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Liz Och, MS Environmental Policy and Planning/Law
  • Kara Steeland, MS Conservation Ecology
One of our associates, Rose Ann Sullivan, is a SNRE alum; Past project, Fostering Implementation of the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan - compeleted in 2010 - for background, please see
Project Status: 
Past Project