River District Steps in on System Conservation Program

In December 2022, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) officially opened a request for proposals (RFP) for a $125 million, Bureau of Reclamation-funded System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) to commence in early 2023. The program aims to pay water users to leave their water in the system ‘to mitigate the impacts of ongoing drought and depleted storage in the Upper Colorado River Basin.’

At the Colorado River District’s upcoming board meeting, General Manager Andy Mueller shared thoughts and concerns with Directors regarding the possible risks to West Slope water users in a program of this pace and scope, specifically the potential for economic and social disruption, as well as drought profiteering.

“At $125 million and a fixed offering price of $150 per acre foot of water conserved, this program could result in as much as 833,000-acre feet of water being transferred from Upper Basin water users to the Colorado River system over a period of one or two years,” he said.

“We continue to believe that any SCP or Demand Management Program in the Upper Basin should only be implemented if the Lower Basin has committed in an enforceable manner to reducing consumptive use by a minimum of 2 million acre-feet of actual use on an annual basis.”

The Colorado River District will look to include additional sideboards when considering any application for SCP funds. First, no more than 30% of land within any one basin can be fallowed. Next, if the land owner is not the land-operator, at least 40% of the money must go to the land’s tenant in order to preserve the agricultural workforce on which our communities depend. Stay tuned for more as details develop.