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State Considers Best Way To Get Credit For Conserving Colorado River Water

US Fish and Wildlife Service-Mountain Prairie Region

States in the Colorado River’s upper basin, including Wyoming, are considering ways to start saving any water conserved from efforts like avoiding irrigation in hayfields or watering lawns. It’s a novel idea being considered in the wake of low snow packs this year in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah that have caused Lake Powell to receive less than half its usual flow. That flow is needed to satisfy water allocations promised to states downstream. 

Lower basin states like California already use water banking, stashing unused water in Lake Mead until needed. But Wyoming’s State Engineer Pat Tyrell said it’s trickier when you try to bank water downstream than upstream because there’s no way to brand that water as Wyoming-made. 

“We’ve got to have a way to keep our name or somehow keep control of some water that we’ve conserved, otherwise why would we do it? That’s kinda the crux question,” Tyrell said.

He said one method to bank Wyoming’s share of Colorado River water might be to store it in state reservoirs.

“What we don’t know is where exactly would it be kept,” Tyrell said. “Would it be in Fontanelle. We already have contracts on 120-acre-feet in Fontanelle. Would it be in Flaming Gorge or would it actually be in Lake Powell?” 

He said it’s also unclear whether the water banking would apply only to the Green and Little Snake River systems that feed the Colorado, or to all Wyoming streams. Such details are currently being worked out for a draft bill to be released at the September meeting of the Joint Agriculture Committee.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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