Partnering with farmers and ranchers

Trout Unlimited partners with farmers, ranchers and irrigation companies on pragmatic, voluntary, and market-driven solutions that benefit ag operations as well as fish and wildlife habitat. We work with land stewards to find win-win solutions that are making a difference across the West.

How Trout Unlimited partners with agriculture

Modernizing infrastructure

Aging infrastructure is at epidemic levels across the West. Trout Unlimited staff help connect farmers and ranchers with the resources and expertise to upgrade irrigation systems and implement other modernization measures aimed at boosting productivity and water-use efficiency while at the same time better protecting local fisheries


Promoting water conservation

Trout Unlimited has been a leader in enrolling ranchers and farmers in programs that pay producers for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use through partial or split-season fallowing or switching to less water-intensive crops. Read more about the SCPP program.

Habitat improvements

Trout Unlimited has partnered with agriculture producers on scores of projects across the West that boost flows, reconnect fragmented tributaries by eliminating fish barriers and screening water intakes, recreate natural riffle and pool dynamics by restoring stream channel function, and protect streamside vegetation and banks damaged by legacy land use impacts.

Partner profiles

Colorado River

Working together on solutions

The Colorado River flows 1,450 miles from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, delivering water to some 36 million people for agricultural, industrial, and municipal needs as well as supporting a booming recreation economy and amazing fish and wildlife habitat. It’s one of the hardest working rivers in the country and an icon of the Western landscape.

BUT TODAY, the Colorado Basin is facing a host of challenges, including increased water demands from growing cities, a changing climate of prolonged drought and decreased snowpack, and declining water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead that, if not checked, could trigger future water calls and conflict.

To meet these challenges, Trout Unlimited is working with agriculture producers across the Upper Colorado Basin to find pragmatic, creative solutions that enhance both farm and ranch operations and river flows and fish habitat. One of those solutions is an ambitious, basin-wide program to reduce demand for water.

System Conservations — a promising new water market for agriculture

In 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation, several municipal utilities and other river stakeholders launched an innovative pilot program—the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP)—to test the willingness of landowners, ranchers, municipalities and other water users to take part in voluntary, compensated reductions in water use.

Trout Unlimited, building on years of earned trust with the farm and ranch community, has played a key role in enrolling agricultural producers in the program.

How SCPP works

Under SCPP, ranchers, landowners and others are paid for reducing water use through conservation practices such as switching to less water-intensive crops and reducing water applications (partial-season and deficit irrigation). These methods provide alternatives to permanent “buy and dry” of agricultural water rights.

Conserved water is left in the stream to flow down to storage reservoirs to benefit both water security and river health and habitat.

Conservation frees up water to help maintain reservoir levels and hydropower production. The long-term goal of SCPP is to bolster storage levels in Lake Powell to protect against loss of hydropower capacity and ensure the Upper Basin can meet its obligations to the Lower Basin under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The good news: agricultural producers are showing a strong interest in this market-based approach to water conservation—SCPP is creating an exciting new market for their water “crop.” The program also shows great promise in helping the overtaxed Colorado River meet the growing water needs of communities, businesses and agriculture. But the program needs sustainable support to help secure our water future. Learn more about the SCPP.

Carbon Canal, UT

After TU helped the Carbon Canal Company secure funding for irrigation system upgrades a number of water user members reached out about the SCPP. Six members of the company agreed to SCPP projects in 2017 that conserved nearly 2,000 acre feet of water and helped ensure better flows in the Price River. Moreover, the SCPP payments have created a buzz about the income potential of water leasing programs.  With TU’s support and help, even more producers would like to enroll in 2018.

Farming in the high desert in Eastern Utah means we need to be smart with how we use our water. System conservation gives producers a tool to add flexibility to water management. Kevin Cotner

KC AG LLC, Price River, Utah

SCPP at a glance

  • In 2015-2016, the SCPP program conserved approximately 11,400 acre-feet (AF) of water via 32 projects.
  • 75% of the water was conserved through temporary, split- or late-season fallowing (that is, ranchers and farmers irrigated for part but not all of the potential irrigation/production season).
  • TU and its ag partners helped to conserve approximately 7,600 AF of those water savings.
  • In 2016/2017 round, water users submitted 47 applications for SCPP projects, with a potential 20,000 acre-feet of water savings in Wyoming alone.

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the amount that one suburban household consumes in a year.

By the next generation, Trout Unlimited will ensure that robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish once again thrive within their North American range, so that our children can enjoy healthy fisheries in their home waters.