Turning Off Irrigation To Save Water In the Green River

Nov 30, 2015

The conservation project would leave more water in the river for fishing and recreation, as well as help drought-stricken states downstream.
Credit Green River Recreation Department

It’s been a decade and a half of drought for Western states, many of which depend on the Colorado River for water. That includes Wyoming where the main branch of the Colorado—the Green River—originates in the Wind River Range.

The Upper Colorado River Basin states have decided to try a water conservation program long used in the Lower Basin states that pays water users to let their excess water flow back into the river.

Colorado River Program Director Steve Wolff says this is the second year for the 2-year pilot program. Last year, five people in the Upper Green River Valley were chosen to participate and turned off their irrigation water from June through September so that water could stay in the stream for fish and downstream users.

“All five people that participated in 2015 have submitted new application for 2016 so must have been in general happy with it,” Wolff says. “The word spreads out, [like], what’s your neighbor doing? So we’ve got a lot more in this year.”

Colorado River Program Director Steve Wolff says the program could allow more water to flow into the river for fish, and help refill Lake Powell which has dropped to 45% of capacity. He says this is the second year of the $2.7 million dollar program.

“Basically, folks agreed to turn off head gates—not irrigate from about mid-June through the rest of irrigation season, end of September. So they’re not using that water, that water stays in the stream and theoretically moves on downstream and it’s conserved within the system.”

This year 31 people have applied. They’ll make their decision about which projects to fund at a meeting in Denver next month. Wolff says if the program can get enough funding, they’ll expand it in the future.