The Colorado River

The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) was formed to represent southwestern Colorado in water management and planning matters. Since 1941, SWCD has advocated for the protection, use, and development of Colorado’s interstate compact entitlements in the San Juan and Dolores River basins. SWCD plays an active role in negotiations among Colorado River water users within the state, serving in an advisory role to the State of Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and regularly engaging with state and federal agencies and on interstate Colorado River management.

West Slope Risk Assessment

The SWCD, the River District, and the four West Slope Roundtables have undertaken a three-phased study to assess threats to Western Slope water development from basinwide constraints such as Lake Powell critical elevations and compact curtailment. The goal of the study is to inform local stakeholders as planning efforts move forward in the Colorado River basin.

In Phase I, it was determined that there is significant risk of Lake Powell reaching critical elevation 3,525 feet, which can be reduced (not eliminated) by Lower Basin states implementing their drought contingency plan and CRSPA reservoir reoperations. Phase I and II further explored the additional risk reduction by reducing consumptive use voluntarily. It was clear that reducing consumptive use had to be significant in order to bend the risk curve, and such reductions may need to be weighed against their costs. Phase III delved deeper into what curtailment may look like on the Western Slope, using specific basin data and various administrative scenarios, with the goal of preparing stakeholders to discuss objectively these possible futures and plan accordingly.

Executive Summary: Risk Study Phases I & II
Presentation: Risk Study Phases I & II
Final Report: Risk Study Phase I
Final Report: Risk Study Phase II, Task 1
Final Report: Risk Study Phase II, Task 2
Final Report: Risk Study Phase III

Drought Contingency Planning

The Secretary of Interior directed the seven Colorado River basin states to adopt a drought contingency plan (“DCP”). The DCP serves as an interim agreement until the 2007 Colorado River Interim Shortage Guidelines are renegotiated prior to their expiration in 2026.

The goal of the Upper Basin DCP is twofold: avoid compact violations or possible curtailment, and keep Lake Powell above target elevation 3,525’ to maintain power generation and crucial revenues for Colorado project operations and compliance programs.  The three main strategies for implementation of the Upper Basin DCP as drafted are 1) drought reoperations of the initial CRSP reservoirs, 2) supply augmentation via cloud seeding and invasive phreatophyte removal, and 3) exploration of a voluntary, temporary, compensated program to reduce consumptive use, a.k.a. demand management.

SWCD is supportive of Colorado’s participation in the Upper Colorado River drought contingency plan, and assert that any exploration of a program to reduce consumptive use in Colorado must have parameters that ensure the viability of Western Slope communities. For their full position, please see the links below.

Demand Management Feasibility Investigation

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has paused their investigation to evaluate the feasibility of a demand management program for Colorado.

The SWCD Board has adopted guiding principles addressing demand management. Click on the link below to download the latest guidelines:

SWCD’s Guiding Principles on Demand Management

The SWCD Board emphasizes that this is a living document that may be revised based on constituent input, developments in the demand management feasibility investigation, or other reasons.

Please type your comments in the text box above on SWCD's draft guiding principles regarding the demand management feasibility investigation (limit 400 characters).

Colorado River Water Bank Work Group

The Water Bank Work Group (WBWG) was conceived by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Colorado River District. Other participants are the state, the Front Range Water Council and The Nature Conservancy. The intent of the WBWG was to explore conservation efforts to prevent buy-and-dry of senior West Slope agricultural water rights by East Slope water providers, most of whom hold post-compact water rights.

A study evolved into sponsoring a pilot project program with irrigators being paid to demonstrate how reductions in consumptive use could be made. Another avenue being explored is how water banking could be structured to result in an overall net benefit rather than merely minimize impacts

In September 2020, the WBWG released the following study that evaluates the secondary economic impacts of demand management program in Western Colorado:

Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado
Executive Summary
Key Findings

For more information, please visit the River District’s website.