Upper Colorado River basin officials have released details of a conservation program that would pay water users to reduce their use of Colorado River water, with the goal of implementing it as soon as this summer.

In July the Upper Colorado River Commission released its 5-Point Plan, designed to protect critical elevations at the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The first action listed in that plan was to restart the System Conservation Pilot Program, which ran from 2015 to 2018 and paid water users to cut back.

The SCPP reboot comes with $125 million of federal funding through 2026, but no target for an amount of water to be saved through the temporary and voluntary program. The money comes from the $4 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funding for Colorado River projects.

The goal would be to reduce Colorado River use and mitigate the impacts of long-term drought and depleted storage, not to guarantee a certain amount of water makes it to any particular reservoir, said UCRC Executive Director Chuck Cullom.

“Anyone who is proposing or providing any sort of estimate about what this program might yield is engaging in wild speculation given the water stress that all the Colorado River water users are suffering in the upper basin,” Cullom said. “Even though we have a significant financial resource available it’s unclear to me how many people will be able to subscribe to the program.”

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