Upper Colorado River states land $125 million for pilot conservation program amid drought crisis | SummitDaily.com

Upper Colorado River states land $125 million for pilot conservation program amid drought crisis

The major expansion of a previous experiment will be one of Colorado’s biggest contributions to emergency use cuts on the troubled waterway

Michael Booth
The Colorado Sun
Low water levels exposed islands and sand bars in the Dillon Resevoir during a hot dry summer, July 2018.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News archive

Upper Colorado River Basin states have a new $125 million pot to rent and dry agricultural land and keep more water in the drought-plagued waterway, in a major expansion of a previous conservation pilot announced by the Biden administration’s Bureau of Reclamation. 

Colorado politicians called the new funding key to the state’s ability to make its share of emergency water use cuts ordered by federal officials who are scrambling to keep enough water in the major basin reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and meet minimum allocations to Lower Basin states. About 40 million people rely on Colorado River water.

The system pilot pays farmers, ranchers and other river users, potentially including municipal or industrial consumers, for temporary and voluntary use of their valuable water rights. Renting that water in dry years keeps the water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead high enough to continue generating hydropower and avoid damaging the dams. 

“To combat the drought crisis on the Colorado River, we all need to work together. Empowering voluntary conservation is a critical part of managing our diminished water supplies,” said Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, who along with fellow Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and other state lawmakers has pushed for federal drought relief funding.

The $125 million is part of more than $700 million in conservation and clean water projects announced Monday, paid for through a combination of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and 2023 appropriations. 

Read the full story on ColoradoSun.com.

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