The Colorado River System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP)

Why worry about the Colorado River when you’re living in Utah? Well, approximately 27 percent of the water used in Utah comes from the Colorado River and 60 percent of Utahns benefit from it! Lily Bosworth, a staff engineer for the Colorado River Authority of Utah (“Authority”) recently joined Clyde Snow’s Emily Lewis to discuss the new 2023 System Conservation Pilot Program (“SCPP”)  to discuss the System Conservation Pilot Program (“SCPP”) and why we care about the management of the Colorado River.

The Authority is a state agency organized in 2021 with a mission to protect, preserve, conserve, and develop Utah’s Colorado River system interests. The Authority works with everyone from the water conservancy districts to the Utah Geological Survey to non-profit organizations like Open ET. The Authority regularly engages with the Upper Colorado River Commission (which includes the four Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) to coordinate water resources and policy decisions to enable each state to use and develop their portion of the Colorado River.

Most recently, the Authority has been working to respond to the drought and reservoir crisis on the Colorado River. To do so the Authority has been working with the Upper Colorado River Commission to resurrect the SCPP program. 

SCPP originally ran from 2015 to 2018 and focused on gauging interest among water users in foregoing water use to create more water in Lake Powell. The original SCPP included municipalities, industry, and agriculture (the biggest player). Each participant’s role depended on their line of work, their connection with the water, and what their water rights allowed. SCPP operated through temporary, voluntary, and compensated leases with participating parties submitted a variety of applications and proposals Interested parties were able to choose what conservation methods worked best for their operations, understood leases to be temporary, and were compensated per acre-foot forgone and priced according to impacts on the participant.

Now, five years later, the Upper Colorado River Commission is reinstating SCPP as part of their Five Point Plan to conserve water and address the low river levels brought by drought. Lessons learned from the program’s initial run have brought the SCPP back better than ever. Now, the funding for leases comes from a single pool, which allows coordinators to better allot funds and set expectations for the amount of water conserved. Furthermore, new policies reauthorized by the Upper Colorado Commission and the Federal Government allow for a higher per acre foot compensation. Participants have two choices: they can take a fixed firm price of $150 dollars per acre-foot or opt to propose and justify a different per acre-foot price based on their circumstances. Furthermore, new tools like Metric satellite-based data are available to help estimate consumptive use and better understand the efficacy of conservation practices.

Those interested in participating in the SCPP can submit an application to the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Authority by February 1st. For more information, tune into The Ripple Effect on Apple Podcasts or contact Lily Bosworth at Authority.