Landmark Legal Decision Protects Instream Flows

In April the Colorado Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision upholding the instream water right for the San Miguel River in Southwest Colorado. The court deemed that a senior water rights holder, Farmers Water Development Company, is unaffected by the State of Colorado’s instream water rights on the San Miguel river and affirms that state water rights are a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife.

In 2013, the Water Court in Montrose ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s application for instream flow protection that permanently safeguards water flowing in the San Miguel River for fish. The Water Court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second, enough to support native fish in the San Miguel. Farmers Water Development Company challenged this decision, claiming their water right would be negatively impacted. The San Miguel River is home to three native fish that are struggling to survive. Without dedicated instream flows in the San Miguel and elsewhere, these fish could require protective action under the federal Endangered Species Act.