Healthy Rivers board tackles RICD education
ASPEN, COLO. (July 15, 2021) – The Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners has formally recognized July 2021 as Pitkin County’s inaugural “RICD Appreciation Month.” The proclamation, made at the request of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board, is meant to increase public awareness of the RICD mechanism which protects the instream flows of many rivers throughout the state of Colorado.
Legislated into Colorado water law in 2001, RICD, stands for Recreational In-channel Diversion. RICDs are non-consumptive water rights that protect the in-stream flow necessary to provide a reasonable recreational experience in or on a river. RICDs require control structures, otherwise known as wave features, be built within the streambed to produce a recreational experience.
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers began the complicated process of securing a RICD water right in 2009. The goal was to prevent further dewatering of several stressed reaches along the Upper Roaring Fork River. In order to gain these protections, Pitkin County was required to install two wave features that put the protected water to beneficial use.
The county elected to build the waves just upstream of the Roaring Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt. The location near, but above, the confluence was ideal because it brought maximal Roaring Fork flow protections as far downstream as possible. Since the Fryingpan adds to the flow of the Roaring Fork, locating the waves at or below the confluence would have lessened the RICD’s flow protections for the stressed upper reaches of the Roaring Fork. The selected site also offered an opportunity to turn a highly degraded section of river into a community amenity.
The two wave features, known today as the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park, opened to the public in spring of 2017. Colorado water court granted an “absolute” decree for the Pitkin County RICD on November 23, 2020. It has priority over all water rights filed after December 30, 2010 – a major boon for an overallocated river facing droughts of increasing frequency and intensity.
The Pitkin County RICD protects up to 1,350 cfs between June 11 and June 25 (when mother nature obliges). That’s a great boating flow – up and down the Roaring Fork – and enough water to trigger the annual sediment flush so critical to aquatic life. During July, and most of August, the RICD safeguards up to 380 cfs – what may turn out to be the Upper Roaring Fork’s last drops of vitality during dry and hot summers.
“Our RICD protects a huge chunk of the hydrograph,” said Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board member Andre Wille. “We’re talking about June’s flushing flows and July and August water that is absolutely critical to river health. Without the RICD protection, you can bet that water would go elsewhere.”
Protecting river flow also has considerable economic upside. According to Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies Stewardship Director with American Whitewater, “River recreation provides Colorado with nearly $19B in economic output, $2.7B in tax revenue, and provides 131,000 jobs. Ensuring protection for healthy river flows is necessary to sustain the outdoor recreation industry. RICDs like the one in Pitkin County, and others around the state, help protect river recreation of all types.”
Despite RICDs playing the lead role in many river stewardship success stories, RICD awareness and education has always been a challenge - one that extends well beyond the Roaring Fork Valley. As it turns out, there is a statewide disconnect between how people think of RICDs – as whitewater parks – and what they actually protect – natural river flows.
“RICDs are hard to wrap your head around,” said Johnson. “Many people enjoy the whitewater parks but don’t understand how they are a tool towards flow protection. The protection RICDs offer goes so far beyond the parks.”
There are currently 21 RICDs protecting river flows throughout Colorado, each with far reaching ecological, economic, and recreational benefits that extend upstream, and often downstream, of the whitewater parks.
It was with RICD education in mind that Pitkin County commissioners proclaimed July 2021 the county’s inaugural RICD Appreciation Month.
“Recreational In-Channel Diversions can have a big impact when it comes to protecting rivers and ensuring recreational options are available to the public. I would love to see more RICDs happen around the state,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman. “The more Coloradans who understand what RICDs are, the better for our rivers, and the better for our communities.”
RICD Appreciation Month is part of Pitkin County Healthy Rivers’ “Paddle with Purpose” campaign encouraging river users to be active participants in river stewardship. Learn how you can lend your voice to the effort at https://www.pitkincountyrivers.com/ricd-water-right.html.
About Pitkin County Healthy Rivers
The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers program was approved by voters in 2008 to protect, defend, and enhance the rivers of the Roaring Fork watershed. It is funded by a 0.1 percent sales tax on goods purchased within Pitkin County. The seven-member Healthy Rivers Citizen Advisory Board is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners to assist in administering the Healthy Rivers Fund.
Pitkin County Attorney's Office & Healthy Rivers Program