April 26, 2012--Colorado rivers, streams may get boost from lease of water rights (Denver Post)

Looming drought has prompted a new push to prevent harm to streams and rivers: temporarily leasing water normally diverted to household taps, farms and ranchland and letting the water flow. State water authorities and private conservation groups say deals to ensure sufficient water in streams and rivers will mean the difference between life and death for fish, bugs, wild animals and riparian vegetation. But Colorado agricultural leaders this week warned that — with mountain snowpack 39 percent of average — spare water for environmental purposes will be hard to find. Drought worries have intensified. Denver Water on Wednesday issued "Stage 1 drought" measures, asking 1.3 million customers to voluntarily limit watering on lawns. While reservoirs are at normal levels, "the conditions we're seeing are similar to those in the 2002 drought. Reservoir levels can drop very quickly without much rain and snow," utility spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.  The Colorado Water Trust this week issued a notice seeking people interested in the voluntary leases. Trust leaders have been working on protecting tributaries to the Colorado, Eagle, Fraser and Gunnison rivers and may be able to devote as much as $400,000 to fund leases. The Nature Conservancy also is exploring possibilities on the Cache la Poudre River through Fort Collins and the Dolores River down from McPhee Reservoir in western Colorado. "This is not about taking water away from people. This is about keeping our rivers whole — and sharing water between people and the environment," said Nature Conservancy state director Tim Sullivan.

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