A $125 million program to cut Colorado River water use shuffles forward with fractured support | SummitDaily.com

A $125 million program to cut Colorado River water use shuffles forward with fractured support

The program is a key strategy in the Upper Basin’s plan to conserve water and help replenish reservoirs and rivers in the Colorado River Basin

Shannon Mullane
The Colorado Sun
One of the hay meadows north of the Kremmling that was enrolled in the Upper Colorado Conservation Project is pictured.
Jason Houston/For to The Colorado Sun

A$125 million conservation program that pays farmers and ranchers to use less water is lurching forward this month in the face of fractured support and a hefty time crunch.

The federally funded conservation pilot program pays volunteers to cut back on their water use on a temporary basis as part of an Upper Basin plan to reduce water use in the parched Colorado River Basin. 

On Wednesday, Colorado’s top water board approved protections for water users in the program so conservation wouldn’t impact their water rights, even as big players among the state’s water districts pushed to slow down its launch, and agricultural producers seemed to be conflicted about joining the program in the first place.

“This has gotten to that point where you’ve got people really adamant that this is a terrible thing, and other people who think we should throw $125 million at it. So who’s right?” said David Harold, a farmer in western Colorado who applied to join the program.

The conservation program is a departure from 100 years of water law, which requires water rights holders to actually use their water. It’s also a major expansion of its first iteration, a pilot program that ran from 2015 to 2018 in the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. 

The first System Conservation Pilot Program spent more than $8.5 million, included about 36,000 acres across the Upper Basin, and reduced consumptive use by roughly 50,000 acre-feet. At the time, the program was popular enough that the Grand Valley Water Users Association near Grand Junction had to move to a lottery system because too many people wanted to be involved.

Read the rest of the story at ColoradoSun.com.

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