System conservation

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.

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.
(Pic of trout)–Conserved water is left in the stream to flow down to 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—it’s 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.

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.

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.