System Conservation (Pilot) Program
In December of 2022, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) re-launched the System Conservation Program (SCP) to fulfill part of their Five-Point Plan, a response to the Bureau of Reclamation’s call for significant conservation across the Colorado River Basin. $125 million in federal funding backs this fast-moving program, which will pay agricultural producers across the Upper Basin states to fallow fields and send more water downstream to Lake’s Powell and Mead.
The deadline for applications, at any stage of completion, was initially February 1, 2023, but was extended to March 1, 2023. Compensation for program participants is $150 per acre foot of water ‘conserved,’ although water users can request a higher rate if they have sufficient justification. In the end, this program may send up to 833,000-acre feet of Upper Basin agricultural water to Lower Basin states over a period of one or two years.
The potential impact of SCP on our West Slope communities cannot be overstated. While we recognize the program is voluntary, temporary, and compensated, the speed at which this program rolled out left no time to integrate protections against economic and social disruption or drought profiteering.
The Colorado River District’s role will be to help the state evaluate applications from within our fifteen-county district to ensure that the lease of these water rights, and the fallowing of any fields, will not have long-term negative impacts on the communities which depend on that water.