The Bureau of Reclamation is kicking in $315,721 toward efforts among Western Slope entities to evaluate issues surrounding potential involvement in water demand management efforts in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
The federal agency on Tuesday announced awards totaling $2 million to 10 projects involved with water market activities.
The Western Slope money will go to the Colorado River District, which will consider what a water market associated with a demand management program might look like, what impacts it might have and how they might be addressed.
The federal grant is being matched by $361,344 in nonfederal funding. The river district is undertaking the project with partners including the Grand Valley Water Users Association, Uncompahgre Valley Waters Users Association, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Nature Conservancy.
The project ties back to ongoing efforts by states and local water entities in the Colorado River Basin to address factors such as drought, climate change and growing populations.
States in the Upper and Lower basins have reached multiple agreements to address these concerns.
These include an agreement to let water conserved by possible Upper Basin demand management programs be stored in a separate account in Lake Powell to protect the reservoir's water levels.
The goal is to avoid the possibility of a curtailment of some Upper Basin water uses under the terms of a 1922 agreement with other basin states, if not enough water continues to flow downstream from Lake Powell.
Demand management would involve voluntary, temporary, compensated curtailment of uses in order to bank that water in the reservoir.
These curtailments could include numerous measures ranging from fallowing of fields to cutbacks in municipal and other uses.
Sonja Chavez, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River District, said the project funded with the help of the grant will continue to consider the concept of a water bank, how it would work and what its framework might be.
Project participants want to know things such as what the costs of the resulting water market would be in terms of compensating cutbacks in use, how landowners would be compensated, what the legal framework and administrative costs of such a program would be, and what kind of mitigation might be required for communities affected by those cutbacks, and the environment.
A big concern on the Western Slope is what economic ripple effects temporary cutbacks could have on small, agriculture-dependent communities.
"It's just trying to answer some of those outstanding questions," Chavez said of the project the new grant is helping fund.
Put another way, the work would assess some of the risks that demand management could pose to the Western Slope, and how those risks might be addressed.
Western Slope water entities also have been analyzing what risk there is of a curtailment of water uses under the 1922 compact, and which water rights holders are at risk based on how junior their rights are, depending on how large a curtailment occurred.
The Western Slope's water-bank analysis will feed into the Colorado Water Conservation Board's efforts to look into the feasibility of a demand management program.
Chavez said, "I think that we really need this information to make informed decisions around demand management. We look forward to sharing this with the public and seeking their input."