Colorado Legislature Votes to Expand Key Instream Flow Program

Audubon—along with many stakeholders—advocated for the changes that are good for people, rivers, and birds.

UPDATE 3/20/2020: Colorado Governor Polis signed this bill into law.

DENVER—After a multi-year, multi-stakeholder effort from Audubon, partners, and other stakeholders to expand Colorado’s existing program to loan water to the environment, an instream flow bill (HB20-1157) passed both the House and the Senate and garnered wide bipartisan support. In Colorado, an estimated 90 percent of the state’s 800 species of birds, fish and wildlife depend upon riparian habitat, even though these areas comprise less than 2 percent of the state.

“Healthy and functioning rivers help Colorado's birds, other wildlife, agriculture, and local economies thrive,” said Alison Holloran, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon Rockies, an office of the National Audubon Society. “Audubon is proud to have worked with so many statewide partners to support Colorado’s instream flow loan program administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to improve the health of our rivers.”

Agricultural water users, including the Colorado River District Board of Directors and Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Front Range water providers, and environmental and conservation organizations have expressed support in recent months. Audubon utilized its broad network of volunteer bird advocates to support this bill. More than 1,450 members of the Audubon network sent letters to their legislators in support of this bill.

“Colorado thrives when our rivers do. Rivers are the lifeblood of our state’s economy, but with increasingly variable and diminishing water supplies, we need expanded and flexible tools for supporting rivers and water users,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies. “While there is more work to be done for the future of the Colorado River and key tributaries in our state, this is a major step forward for the health of our rivers, as well as for the people, birds, economies and communities of Colorado.”

“This program will provide new ways to protect Colorado’s rivers by working in concert with water users across the state. The widespread support of this bill demonstrates that all Coloradans support healthy rivers, productive agriculture, and access to recreational opportunities,” said Aaron Citron, Acting Director of External Affairs for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

"We are hopeful that changes to the temporary loan program through HB20-1157 will help expand opportunities to add water to instream flows that currently fall short, improve the natural environment with loaned water, and ultimately benefit the environment and Colorado's water future," said Linda Bassi, Colorado Water Conservation Board's Chief of Stream and Lake Protection.

“I’m thrilled that (HB20-1157) passed with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers. It’s reflective of the work done over the summer that we were able to achieve success that will help rivers. The bill is on the way to the governor, and I’m just thrilled that it passed,” said bill sponsor Representative Dylan Roberts.

“As a rancher and an environmentalist, I am excited to see HB20-1157 passed on final reading. This bill ensures the agricultural community has a seat at the table while expanding the possibility of loaning water for in-stream flow programs to ensure the health of our riparian environments. This is a win-win,” said bill sponsor Senator Kerry Donovan.

HB20-1157 would expand the Colorado Water Conservation Board short-term water loan program. The new bill provides a 100 percent voluntary, flexible, and responsive option for water users to divert less or no water during dry years allowing for more water to stay in a river—ultimately benefiting our environment, wildlife, and local economies.


About Audubon:

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more and how to help at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

The Western Water Initiative is Audubon's multi-state effort to protect the Colorado River and the West’s network of Saline Lakes. Some 65,000 members strong and growing, the network advocates for science-based, non-partisan water policies and management that benefit rivers and lakes for the birds, wildlife, habitats, cities, and economies they support. To learn more, visit:

Contact: Joey Kahn,, 480-788-2416