Colorado hits a ‘hard pause’ on water demand management as it waits for other states to catch up

The Colorado Water Conservation Board wants to instead focus on what can be done to help Colorado water users this year

Chris Outcraft
The Colorado Sun
Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County shows the effect of a water draw down on October 29, 2021. The reservoir has lowered because water from it is being released downstream to increase the volume of water available to downstream users that rely on the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is fed by the Gunnison River, one of the Colorado River's largest tributaries.
Dean Krakel/Special to The Colorado Sun

Colorado is taking a “hard pause” on investigating the viability of demand management, a program that would allow the state to pay water users to temporarily and voluntarily conserve water and store what’s saved in Lake Powell for future use.

“No more energy spent on this right now,” Colorado Water Conservation Board chair Jaclyn Brown said this week. “Until the facts change; until someone brings us new information.”

Demand management was a key component of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans agreed upon by all seven states in the Colorado River Basin. The idea was that the Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — would each investigate the feasibility of paying water users to conserve water on a temporary and voluntary basis and then store the extra in Lake Powell in a special 500,000 acre-foot “account.” Then, if needed, that water could later be used by the Upper Basin states to meet delivery requirements specified in the Colorado River Compact.

The CWCB, the agency tasked with protecting and managing the state’s water resources, worked on Colorado’s demand management investigation. Now, after years of work, Colorado is further along in the process than the other three states — and no program can be implemented without all four Upper Basin states on board. Brown said the fact that Colorado is ahead of the others is a big part of what led the board to take what she described as a “hard pause” on examining the concept.

“We have to let the other states catch up with their concerns and the issues they see,” she said.

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In pausing its research, the CWCB decided at a meeting last week that it would instead focus on what can be done this year to help Colorado water users with the challenges presented by the dry conditions impacting the state. Brown said the board is excited to focus on what can be accomplished locally, without needing buy-in from neighbor states.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

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