Outstanding Waters

Protecting Colorado’s highest quality waterways for future generations.

Streams with exceptional water quality are becoming increasingly rare. As we move into a future of climate uncertainty and increased development pressure, it will become more and more important that we protect the high-quality water that still exists in our State.

Fortunately, there’s a way. The United States Clean Water Act gives individual states the authority to safeguard waterways to ensure water quality is protected and not degraded. These designations provide the highest level of water quality protection for our Nation’s most treasured water bodies.


In Colorado, these designations are called “Outstanding Waters”. For our rivers, lakes, and streams to be designated as Outstanding Waters they must meet specific criteria that demonstrate high water quality and the need for protection. These designations are made by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC), which is the agency responsible for developing certain water quality standards and policies in Colorado including Outstanding Waters.

During the summer of 2022, and thanks to local advocates, the WQCC designated over 520 miles of Western Colorado’s most high value waterways, protecting habitat for native trout, clean water for recreation, and drinking water for mountain towns. Now, we are working to protect more of Colorado’s most high-quality waters. A coalition of groups has begun the important work of identifying potential candidate streams in the Colorado, Eagle, Yampa, and Roaring Fork river basins. We are collecting critical water quality data, documenting natural resource values, and contacting interested parties as we continue to work towards  protecting more of Colorado’s high-quality waters. 

OW San Juan and Gunnison Proposed Candidate Reaches