New Program Pays Users to Conserve Colorado River Water

Farmers, cities, and power plant operators could soon be paid to cut their use of the Colorado River under a new interstate program aimed at keeping more water in Lake’s Powell and Mead. The four largest communities fed by the Colorado River will contribute millions of dollars into a fund to help farmers and industrial operations pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures to cut their water use. Known as the Colorado River System Conservation Program, it will be seeded with $2 million each from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Another $3 million will come from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The direct beneficiary of the pilot program is the river itself, and that’s what makes the effort unique. Water managers have teamed up before to fund conservation measures on the river, but they always did so in exchange for a share of the savings. Any water conserved under this program will be kept in the river. According to Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, this program is part of the Upper and Lower Basin states contingency planning discussions. Contingency Planning is focused on increasing (or at least maintaining) water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead. As such, the programmatic focus is on consumptive use reductions system wide.