CWCB Puts A “Hard Pause” On Demand Management

In late March, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) decided to take a ‘hard pause’ on further study of Demand Management.

‘Demand Management’ is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Included as one of the tools in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, its goal centered on creating a water storage account in Lake Powell and the Upper Colorado River Storage Project Act reservoirs (Aspinall, Flaming Gorge and Navajo) of up to 500,000 acre feet (AF), which would aid all the Upper Basin States in meeting their Compact obligations. 

The CWCB provided two central reasons for red-lighting further study of a Demand Management framework. 

First, for any significant outcome to be possible from these efforts, all Upper Basin states must be committed to the program at similar levels. As it stands, the state of Colorado is the only state to have made real progress exploring demand management options for its water users. Until Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico provide evidence of equal commitment to the program, the CWCB believes Colorado should devote no further human or financial resources. 

The second rationale was the lukewarm response to Demand Management from water users across the state. Agricultural producers and communities across the West Slope shared serious concerns about potential long-term impacts of any ‘buy and dry’ scenario, even if it was voluntary, temporary, and compensated. Without a verified way to ‘shepherd’ the saved water down to Lake Powell, the Conservation Board noted it would be difficult to quantify resulting benefits to the system. 

In place of Demand Management exploration, the CWCB will develop what the organization is calling a ‘Drought Resiliency Toolkit.’

On the West Slope

During the Colorado River District’s Second Quarterly Board Meeting in April, General Manager Andy Mueller pointed out that in many ways, water users on the West Slope have been managing their demand since the Millennial Drought began in the early 2000s. 

“There are shortages being taken every year in the state of Colorado which primarily impact two user groups: agriculture and the environment. Our ag producers can’t use water that isn’t there. In the headwaters of the Colorado River, we’re bound by our hydrology. ” 

The Board Directors voiced their appreciation for the past efforts of the River District in developing a thorough understanding of Demand Management, even if the efforts go no further. 

River District Board President Marti Whitmore said, “Studying [Demand Management] accomplished a lot of what we hoped it would. It got people thinking about specifics instead of [a general concept]. It will be a good thing to have in our hip pocket. In the event that interest in Demand Management returns, we will have a solid working document to offer, and we understand the needs and priorities of our constituents in the matter.” 

The River District plans to support the state’s Drought Resiliency Toolbox development. 

“Our [Community Funding Partnership] had a lot of foresight – it’s already making our communities more drought resilient through both urban and agricultural water conservation efforts,” stated Mueller.