Your Watershed / Crystal River / Stream Management Plan

Crystal River Management Plan

The Crystal River watershed provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as water essential for both local agricultural and municipal uses. The river system is home to cutthroat trout, Bald Eagles, Lewis’s Woodpeckers and rare plant species, and draws anglers, kayakers and sightseers from around the world. Because of the free-flowing river’s scenic, historic and recreational values, the U.S. Forest Service has found the upper Crystal River eligible for federal Wild and Scenic River designation. Interest in protecting the watershed and its consumptive and non-consumptive water uses has recently grown due to a variety of factors, including the addition of the Crystal River to America’s ‘Most Endangered Rivers’ list (by American Rivers in 2012), work being conducted on the Colorado Water Plan, and recent drought conditions. 

Beginning in 2013, Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered with Pubic Counsel of the Rockies and Lotic Hydrological, to produce the Crystal River Management Plan. The Crystal River Management Plan utilizes a science-based and stakeholder-centered approach to consider 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 in an effort 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. A series of 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. 


Photo credit: Amy Marsh


2016 Crystal River Management Plan


Where We Started

The 2008 State of the Roaring Fork Watershed Report summarized the serious issues faced by the Crystal River, including:

  • Water quality issues. Stream temperatures exceed state standards when flows are low and air temperatures are high. High sediment loads fill in fish habitat and smother spawning areas, as well as the aquatic insects that fish feed upon.

  • Riparian and instream habitat degradation. Seventy percent of the riparian and instream habitat in the lower Crystal River is heavily modifiedor severely degraded.Trout numbers are very low compared to other similarly-sized rivers in the area.

  • Reductions in stream flow. Late summer and early fall flows are often below the instream flow established by Colorado for protection of the natural environment. There is sometimes insufficient streamflow to satisfy agricultural water users’ appropriations.

    These problems are the result of the Crystal River Valley’s natural constraints as well as man- made alterations, such as Highway 133. Frequent drought conditions and climate change are only making these conditions worse. 


Roaring Fork Conservancy Project Partners: Public Counsel of the RockiesLotic Hydrological, LLC

Funding Partners: Colorado Water Conservation Board, Dornick Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Valerie Gates

Contact Us

Roaring Fork Conservancy

PHONE: (970) 927-1290

PO Box 3349
Basalt, CO 81621

22800 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO 81621

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