The Upper Colorado River Commission System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) will be put on hold after this year. In an effort to boost water levels in Lake Powell, the four-year pilot program paid ranchers and farmers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico for water saved by fallowing fields. The program, which began in 2015, was originally set-up as a two-year program, and was extended for one year in 2017, and for another in 2018.
Though the program has funded 45 fallowing efforts at an average cost of $205 / acre-foot of conserved consumptive use in the first three years, it has not provided a means for the upper division states to account, store and release conserved water in a way which assures full compliance with the Colorado River Compact in times of drought according to the Upper Colorado River Commission.
According to Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, “In order for a conserved consumptive use program like this to work, the upper basin needs a pool of water designated in Lake Powell that we can use as a water bank. We currently don’t have that and until that’s there, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of our society’s resources on the program.” There is room in Lake Powell to hold more water sent down from the upper basin states, but no way to legally securely store the water because water that reaches Powell is fair game to be sent on to Lake Mead and lower basin states. Lake Mead, on the other hand, has a legal way to protect the pools of water: the intentionally created surplus.
In 2018, ranchers and famers in the upper basin will receive $3.9 million in payments through the program. The overall system was initially funded by an $11 million pool provided by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water, which received funding from the Walton Family Foundation, in partnership with Reclamation. Both Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy invested staff time to help build and manage the program. The funding for the program (both lower basin and upper basin), has grown over the years to the upper basin having access to a $9.5 million pool of funds.
Of the total programs, 15 were in Colorado including a municipal project with the Pueblo Board of Water Works in addition to programs with irrigators. Individual contracts in the first three years ranged from $6,300 to $635,000. One such contract recipient is the 9,177-acre Porcupine Ridge Ranch in Routt County, Colorado. In exchange for fallowing 1,941 acres of irrigated hay fields, the ranch received $421,650.
The programs associated with the lower basin will continue.
This blog is a co-post with Pfister Land Company, LLC.