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Hickenlooper, Barrasso, Bennet, Lummis, Romney Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Extend Colorado River Conservation Program 

Jun 18, 2024

Program supports Colorado River water users as they explore innovative strategies to manage a drier future

Bipartisan bill extends program through 2026

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper, John Barrasso, Mitt Romney, Michael Bennet, and Cynthia Lummis introduced the Colorado River Basin System Conservation Extension Act to extend the System Conservation Pilot Program, which was created to test voluntary water conservation measures to manage severe drought in the Colorado River Basin. The legislation extends the current pilot program through 2026 as Colorado River Basin states, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and stakeholders continue discussions on potential long-term water management once operational rules expire in 2026. The pilot program will help the Upper Basin examine water management strategies that can help water users manage a drier, more uncertain water supply future.

“We need to work together to address the Colorado River crisis, and conservation is one part of the puzzle,” said Hickenlooper. “Let’s finish the pilot program and figure out what works best for Colorado’s communities and our farmers.”

“Wyoming, along with other Colorado River Basin states, have worked together to conserve water in the Colorado River system. Programs like the System Conservation Pilot Project are critical to helping address drought issues across these states,” said Barrasso. “Our bipartisan legislation extends this program and provides our farmers and ranchers with resources to conserve water in the Colorado River and the lakes they depend on.”

“Over the last several years, the Upper Basin System Conservation Pilot Program has proven successful in increasing water efficiency and mitigating the impacts of historic drought,” Romney said. “Reauthorizing this important program will encourage water conservation in Lake Powell and other bodies of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

“As drought wreaks havoc on the Colorado River system, Colorado and Upper Basin states are doing their part and stepping up to conserve real water,” said Bennet.

“The west continues to lead the nation in our cutting-edge water conservation and management practices,” said Lummis. “Our ability to maintain that reputation hinges on preserving proven policies that mitigate drought threats, and I am excited to partner with my colleagues to protect Wyoming communities and ranchers from droughts by continuing this successful program.”

Hickenlooper and Barrasso’s bipartisan Colorado River Basin Conservation Act, which reauthorized the System Conservation Pilot Program through 2024, was signed into law in the Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus government funding bill. Last year, the System Conservation Pilot Program received $125 million, made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act, to enable the Bureau of Reclamation, in partnership with the Upper Colorado River Commission, to implement the System Conservation Pilot Program.

As governor, Hickenlooper helped negotiate the 2019 Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan which helped protect critical levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead and ensured continued compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

This legislation is supported by Colorado Water Congress, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Extending the System Conservation Pilot Program presents an opportunity to enhance the viability of places on which people, birds, and all living things depend,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director with the National Audubon Society. “We thank the sponsors of this bipartisan bill for moving quickly to reauthorize the program for continued progress and application of lessons learned. As climate change destabilizes the Colorado River system, investments in solutions like the SCPP are critical. Audubon is eager to continue working with the Basin States and the federal government on long-term, resilient solutions for the river.”

“The Nature Conservancy applauds the bill sponsors for working to extend the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) as the Colorado River Basin learns to adapt to a hotter and drier future. Our communities, water users, tribal nations, and wildlife all need more flexible tools to manage the River we all depend on in a way that builds resilience for the region. As we continue to test and learn from conservation programs like SCPP, we need continuity in the program while facilitating additional learning about long-term conservation programs,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program Director for The Nature Conservancy.

“As the principal voice of Colorado’s water community, the Colorado Water Congress is pleased to see the introduction of the reauthorization of the System Conservation Pilot Program through 2026. It has long been our policy for all Colorado stakeholders to consider all options available should a Colorado River Compact deficit be declared or deemed imminent. We support voluntary programs such as this to forestall the impacts of current and projected water shortages,” said Chane Polo, Deputy Director, Colorado Water Congress.

“The Upper Basin System Conservation Pilot Program provides an invaluable opportunity to build resilience to long-term drought and climate change through water conservation efforts in a manner that respects existing water rights administration and provides decision makers with additional breathing room to identify and agree on long-term solutions to address challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and all that rely on it,” said Alex Funk, Director of Water Resources with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We thank the bill sponsors for extending this critical program to preserve momentum around the deployment of innovative, voluntary approaches to water conservation that will provide multiple benefits for Colorado River water users, communities, and fish and wildlife.”

Full text available HERE.  


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