River board promotes citizen stewardship
ASPEN, COLO. (June 24, 2021) – Pitkin County Healthy Rivers, whose mission is to maintain and improve water quality and quantity within the Roaring Fork watershed, today announced a new campaign called “Paddle with Purpose,” encouraging river users and enthusiasts to be active participants in river stewardship.
There is no better place to illustrate the power of recreationalists to protect a river than the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park in Basalt. The whitewater park was born out of Pitkin County’s pursuit of a Recreational In-Channel Diversion (RICD) water right to protect the future flows of the Upper Roaring Fork River. Colorado has a number of RICD based whitewater parks but perhaps none more critical to the future health of a river.
Both the ecological integrity, and recreational viability, of the Roaring Fork depend upon sustained seasonal flows. Yet, by the early 2000’s several stream reaches on the Upper Roaring Fork were commonly depleted by late summer. On average, 47,000 acre-feet of the upper Roaring Fork’s annual flow is diverted to the Front Range. Conditional water rights could allow the development of additional diversions and droughts have become increasingly frequent and extreme.
In an effort to limit further dewatering of the river, Pitkin County Healthy Rivers began pursuing a RICD water right in 2010. The RICD gives the county legal standing to shepherd runoff from the Roaring Fork headwaters down to the whitewater park in Basalt, just above the confluence with the Fryingpan River. Keeping these flows in the river is critical to maintaining a healthy river ecology along the entire Upper Roaring Fork.
In order to use the RICD to call water, Pitkin County was required to install two in-stream diversion structures (wave features) that put the water to “beneficial use.” In this case, that beneficial use is recreation (wave surfing) at the whitewater park. The wave features were constructed and opened to the public in 2017. The park has been growing a diverse user base ever since.
“It’s not just playboaters who use it. The wave features create opportunities for many different users depending on river flows,” said Healthy Rivers board member Andre Wille. “In addition to kayaking, it creates a great fishing hole, it’s great for boogie boarding, a nice spot to cool off on a hot summer day or to just hang out and watch the river flow.”
Wille added, “It’s great to see the community embrace the park. Many folks don’t realize how critical that is to realizing the RICD’s river health benefits.”
Recently, the project achieved its most important milestone. Colorado water court issued the absolute decree recognizing the RICD water right has been perfected, or made real, on November 22, 2020 with a priority date of December 30, 2010. As with any water right, the county must continue to prove the water flowing through the diversion is put to beneficial use. In the RICDs case, that requires documenting use of the whitewater park.
RICD education, and encouraging use of the park, is where the Paddle with Purpose campaign comes in. The campaign seeks to demystify the term “RICD” by helping river enthusiasts understand how their whitewater park visits contribute to the Roaring Fork’s aquatic and riparian health.
“With an acronym like RICD, it’s easy to lose track of what the whitewater park is all about. It’s the one spot in our watershed where putting your paddle in the water literally helps protect the ecology of an entire river,” said Healthy Rivers Board member Wendy Huber.
Anyone can help protect Roaring Fork flows by sharing photos or videos of their Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park experience to #RICDfundial on Facebook or Instagram.
“Whether you enjoy surfing the waves, or a peaceful moment by the water, we’d love to see your pictures,” said Huber. “It’s a meaningful way to stand-up for your river.”
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