Here’s a sure sign that your region’s in drought: you stop paying your utility for the privilege of using water, and the utility starts paying you not to use water instead.
Outlandish as it sounds, that’s what four major Western utilities and the federal government are planning to do next year through the $11 million Colorado River Conservation Partnership. Under the agreement, finalized late last week between the Department of Interior and the utilities Denver Water, the Central Arizona Project, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, farmers, cities and industries will get paid to implement two-year, voluntary conservation projects that put water back into the Colorado River. The goal is to demonstrate that so-called “demand management” can prevent water levels in lakes Powell and Mead from dropping too low for their dams to generate electricity.
“We want to demonstrate how we can live within our means on the river,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, whose city relies on Colorado River water piped east over the Continental Divide for about half of its water supply.
In the agricultural sphere, one candidate for funding under the partnership would be rotational fallowing agreements, where farmers band together, dry up some of their land and leave the associated water in the river in dry years. Yet after years of Western cities “buying and drying” nearby farms to lubricate their growth, agricultural groups are eager to see other non-fallowing options explored as well. (...)