With dropping levels of Lakes Powell and Mead as a sobering backdrop, a future reality may be such that the lakes would not be able to generate power. Such a problem also presents opportunities for developing new markets. In this case a market for water savings.
In October, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) reached out to various organizations in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River in an effort to investigate any voluntary measures that could be taken to maintain water levels in the case of a serious drought. Measures producing additional water savings and flow in the Colorado River would be compensated.
This isn’t the first time the UCRC has reached out to explore a market for saved water. The System Conservation Pilot Program run by UCRC began reaching out to the Upper Basin states in 2015, seeking for creative solutions for augmenting flows in the Colorado River.
Strategies that were funded in the first rounds of this program included fallowing plans, water storage releases, crop switching and other innovative irrigation plans implemented by municipalities or agriculture. Almost all of the projects in 2015 and 2016 were in Colorado and Wyoming and the UCRC wants to give Utahans the chance to compete in this pilot project as well.
All measures proposed to the System Conservation Pilot Program are voluntary and only last for one year. By way of compensation for volunteering, the UCRC, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other organizations have pledged approximately $1.8 million that will be used to reimburse parties that participate in such voluntary pilot projects, in 2017.
While this is the third year of the program, the partners are looking this time specifically for projects involving multiple water users together, storage water, innovative and temporary fallowing methods and those that employ ditch companies, irrigation districts or conservancy districts, among other criteria.
Some irrigators in the Price River drainage are looking into the program. However, the program is available to any individual, company, or city that has water rights and are open to implementing conservation measures.
That being said, owners are not being asked to donate their water, rather they will be reimbursed for their contributions. In the past, reimbursements have been $200 for an acre foot of saved water and it is anticipated that will be the same for the third round of projects. The hope is that a program such as this will lead to a market for water that allows water right holders to use water to farm and to market when there is need in the Colorado River system because of severe drought.
By creating a market the hope is to prevent the need for a a downstream call on water that could potentially prevent Upper Basin water rights holders from ever having to forfeit water due to shortages to senior water rights holders.
The program is open to applications until Nov. 30. More information on the program and the form to apply can be found at www.water.utah.gov. Groups such as Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy are trained to help those that might be interested in submitting an application and can be contacted to aid in developing water conservation strategies.