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

Client Organization: 
Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC)
Project Location : 
Basalt, CO
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.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Julia Wondolleck
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
Project Status: 
Past Project