Study finds temporary fallowing might help in drought - Gates Family Foundation

As part of our ongoing commitment to developing new ideas and tools for balanced management of Colorado’s water resources, the Gates Family Foundation is working closely with the Walton Family Foundation and others to address threats related to drought and over-allocation to the Upper Colorado River — and the communities that depend on it.

A new study by the Upper Colorado River Commission has found that a pilot project under which farmers and ranchers in the basin volunteered to be compensated for temporarily fallowing lands with the idea of boosting water levels in Lake Powell has drawn significant interest from water users and has shown that such an approach may be a useful tool, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports.

The Gates Family Foundation helped to underwrite The Nature Conservancy’s participation in the project, which is an $11 million System Conservation Pilot Program funded by four major Colorado River municipal water users, including Denver Water, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The project came in response to low water levels in Powell and Lake Mead due to drought and increasing demands. Water managers are exploring the idea of “banking” water to fend off a crisis.

Among the study’s findings: “Conservation may be a tool to improve reservoir conditions provided legal, technical and policy issues can be resolved.”

“I think that they’ve got quite a ways to go to make it a viable program, but I think they learned quite a bit for the money that they spent on this pilot,” said Paul Kehmeier, an Eckert farmer who participated in the pilot program.

Said Scott Yates of Trout Unlimited, another frequent partner of Gates: “As the basin faces a potentially dry year, with the prospect of further declining levels in Lake Powell, this report underscores the enormous potential of innovative, market-driven solutions to our water challenges.”