Community Agriculture Alliance: Now is the time to look at the arid west |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Now is the time to look at the arid west

With the continued barrage of drought news in the Colorado River Basin, you are no stranger to the changing conditions in the arid west. 

As you dig yourself out of winter, you may be wondering why you keep hearing that we are still in a drought … but that the drought conditions have lifted? Here are a few points, in a nutshell, to consider as you kick up your heels and think about warmer days ahead.

Drought versus drought

A 19-year drought in the Colorado River Basin means the average annual flow, as predicted when the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed, is not met throughout the basin in most years. The Colorado River Basin can be in drought while individual regions are not — this is why a good year can’t negate the bad ones. There is a new term to replace drought, since drought infers an end — aridification.   

Structural deficit

Since demand has outpaced supply, causing some water users to use stored reserves, the Colorado River Basin has a structural deficit. Users need to use less and store more Colorado River water to begin to manage this shortfall. This is directly related to the continued reduction of average annual flow in the basin. 

Drought Contingency Plan — or DCP

This is the set of seven state plans — including California, Arizona, the lower basin in Nevada and Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and the upper basin Colorado — outlining how each will take part in the short term to manage the supply and demand issues. 

The lower basin states have individual, complex plans to reduce use and store water in Lake Mead. The upper basin states collectively agree to Colorado Storage Project Act reservoir reoperations to bolster Lake Powell, cloud seeding operations and discussion, with possible implementation, of demand management. 

These are temporary agreements that will be introduced as legislation to Congress. The agreements are temporary while the long-term interim guidelines are negotiated.  

Demand management

If the DCP is signed into law, the upper basin states have authority to bank water in certain reservoirs in case consecutive low flow years bring the basin near incompliance of its obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. 

The idea is that banking could, when combined with other strategies, reduce the chance of a call on the river. If the upper basin is to create a demand management program, the parameters revolve around it being temporary, voluntary and compensated. 

The details are complicated, and study will begin through stakeholder outreach and research committees beginning this spring.  

Getting involved

Local Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable, alongside the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other stakeholders, will address questions, concerns and ideas regarding demand management over the next year, or longer. 

Balancing the current and future needs of our basin, honoring our agricultural traditions and participating meaningfully will be crucial. This is truly a turning point for water policy on the western slope and in the west. 

Visit for information on meetings and ongoing work. All meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is at 5:30 to 9 p.m. April 10 at the Craig Pavilion. There will be presentations on drought and risk to local water users. 

Jackie Brown is the chair of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable, Yampa and White River’s director to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and water policy advisor to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.  

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