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Michelle Garrison
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Colorado River States Water Savings Program

The states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico have embarked on a unique test program to shore up declining reservoir levels if the 15-year drought that has plagued the Colorado River continues into the future. On July 1, 2015, the four states approved 10 projects in Colorado and Wyoming that allowed farmers, municipalities and other water users to voluntarily and temporarily forego use of their water in exchange for compensation. Twenty-one projects throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico participated in 2016. The UCRC and funding entities recently agreed to extend the pilot program into 2017.

On October 5, 2016, the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) reissued a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a third and final round of funding for the Pilot System Water Conservation Program for the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Four major water providers that depend on the Colorado River Basin supplies, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, funded the Pilot System Water Conservation Program. This program is designed to develop and test tools that could potentially be used as part of a drought contingency plan to help protect storage within the Colorado River basin. Approximately $1.8 million remains available for projects to be implemented in 2017. The UCRC is actively seeking Proposals for 2017 conservation opportunities that would be voluntary, compensated, and temporary in nature. See the documents under Additional Information for the RFP, application and funding agreement.

The states hope that this "forbearance" of water use will supply information that can be used in times of extreme drought as part of a contingency plan to ultimately reduce impacts on Lake Powell, a major Colorado River reservoir located on the Utah-Arizona state line. Lake Powell releases water to Lake Mead for use by the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California and the Republic of Mexico pursuant to an interstate agreement among the seven Colorado River states and a treaty between the United States and Mexico. Lake Powell is also a major producer of hydropower for the Western United States.