SYSTEM CONSERVATION PILOT PROGRAM in 2023

Temporary, voluntary, and compensated measures…

From 2015-2018 the Upper Division States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, through the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), conducted the first Upper Basin System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) – a 4-year pilot program designed to explore potential solutions and to address declining water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell due to long-term drought in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The program tested and implemented on-the-ground water conservation opportunities that were helpful in managing drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

More 2015-2018 SCPP Information and Reports

On June 14th, 2022, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton provided testimony to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee concerning the need for additional protective measures that could protect the Colorado River System. Specifically, she asked Basin managers to collectively save an additional 2-4 million acre-feet of water, a significant percentage of the Colorado River’s total annual flow.

In response to Commissioner Touton’s request, the Upper Division States and the UCRC developed and adopted a 5-Point Plan, which put forward a number of strategic activities to help improve the Colorado River System, in conjunction with commensurate conservation activities proposed and undertaken by the states of the Lower Basin. The first listed element of the 5-Point Plan is the re-authorization and re-initiation of the SCPP program with the subsequent steps of developing the agreements, legislation, and funding that would enable SCPP activities to take place in the Upper Basin in 2023.

Subsequently, an SCPP funding agreement was approved by the UCRC on November 21, 2022, and delivered to Reclamation for their consideration. The UDS and UCRC anticipate approval and companion legislation by the end of 2022. The agreement includes a commitment of up to $125M available for projects between 2023-2026, but the UDS and UCRC’s current focus is on participation in the 2023 water year.

The official “kickoff” for the SCPP was announced on December 14th at the UCRC 299th Regular Meeting in conjunction with the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference. The proposed participation process begins with the Request For Proposals (RFP) (below) for review by Colorado River water users with established historical water use and availability of use in 2023. After proposals are submitted, the UDS and UCRC will review and select projects for the implementation of SCPP in 2023.

Some important concepts to note about SCPP in 2023:

  • SCPP is NOT Demand Management. SCPP for 2023 is a re-authorization and re-initiation of the SCPP of 2015-2018. A Demand Management Program is contemplated under the framework of the Demand Management Storage Agreement (DMSA), which is part of the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plans (DCP). Interested parties can learn more about a potential Demand Management process (as outlined in the DMSA) here.
  • There is no target volume for conservation for SCPP 2023 participation. It is a voluntary, temporary, and compensated program to put forward additional reductions in 2023, and therefore participation is not known in advance of program initiation.
  • The compensation approach will include a firm fixed price minimum in terms of $/acre-foot and the opportunity to propose higher amounts if there is a basis and justification for deviation from the firm fixed price. The UDS and UCRC encourage participation and proposals but discourage speculation and drought profiteering.

Notice of Pre-Solicitation Request for Proposals (RFP)

SCPP Project Application Form

***NEW*** On January 18th, the UCRC and Upper Division State representatives hosted an online Q&A webinar to answer questions about the re-initiated SCPP for 2023 in advance of the February 1st deadline for applications. Please see below for the recorded informational webinar. The UCRC and UDS also are developing a FAQ. This will be posted on this website by Friday, January 19, 2023.

Yes, transbasin water projects are eligible to submit proposals for this program. One key component will be to develop and describe an activity that results in demonstrable conserved consumptive use, can be verified, and is administrable by the State Engineer.  Another key component for water users within a larger system/project is that it needs to be workable and acceptable to the entity(ies) that holds the water rights and distributes the water within that system.

The Upper Basin base rate of $150 per acre-foot was set based on proposals seen during the last round of SCPP, however applicants are welcome to propose a higher value with justification.

The Upper Division States, through the UCRC, adopted the Upper Basin 5-Point Plan in July 2022 to address declining elevations in Lake Powell and to protect critical infrastructure and health and human safety. The re-initiation of the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) is an important component of the 5-Point Plan. It is one of the tools the Upper Basin can employ as part of its commitment to assist with the protection of the Colorado River System, provided that commensurate and substantial actions and water use reductions are made by Lower Basin entities.

No, the participants will not be expected to shepherd the water downstream.

The amount of conserved water will be based on average HCU for full season fallowing and will take into account average HCU savings for proposed alternate activities (i.e., deficit irrigation, alternative crops).

Generally, a nearby non-irrigated area will be selected and ET for that area will be subtracted from ET of the irrigated field. Please contact your state representative if you would like further information or help. Note that while we are striving to calculate water conserved similarly across all states, some projects may require different methodologies depending on the data available.

Changes in water use for conservation purposes do not require an EIS. Also, the SCPP does not propose any changes to federal facility operations.