Federal Program Provides Direct Payments for Colorado River Water Conservation

A water buyback program will pay farmers who reduce their water use in an effort to sustain the West’s reservoirs, which are at historically low levels.

1 minute read

October 16, 2022, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The federal government has directed part of a $4 billion investment in drought mitigation on the Colorado River to efficiency upgrades in the four Upper Basin states as well as direct payments to farmers who reduce water use. “Both programs join the raft of multi-state agreements and emergency conservation measures that appear designed to stave off catastrophe before 2026,” writes Alex Hager for KUNC. 

The program, which encourages farmers to forgo water deliveries and leave more water in the river’s rapidly shrinking reservoirs, “will pay $330 per acre-foot for a one-year agreement with a grower, $365 per acre-foot for two years, and $400 for a three year commitment.” According to Hager, “Reclamation previously tested system conservation efforts in a pilot program that ran from 2014 to 2019 in which farmers were paid to forgo some water. Wednesday’s announcement marks the first return to large-scale water buybacks since.”

Some farmers say the pricing is not sufficiently high to convince farmers to participate. “A group of farmers near Yuma recently proposed a water conservation plan in which they would be paid about $1500 per acre-foot of water saved, according to Axios.”

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