Cash For Water Creates Win-Win For Ranchers, Consumers


by Rhonda Brooks, AgWeb  

Jul 30, 2020


Water is the lifeblood of hay production and using less is risky in southwest Wyoming, where ranchers are lucky to get one high-quality cutting of hay a year. But that is exactly what Eric and April Barnes decided to do, after being asked by Trout Unlimited (TU) to participate in a four-year, water-management initiative called the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP), implemented by the Upper Colorado River Commission.


Eric laughs and acknowledges he was “scared to death” to reduce his water use the first year and trust TU and the commission, but he’s glad he did.


“It opened my eyes that I could still make my hay crop, even with shutting the water off during a critical time of the year,” says Barnes, whose family runs a 300-head, Angus-Simmental ranch near Kemmerer, Wy.


Turning off the water after the first cutting of grass hay between July and October, allowed it to remain in Fontenelle Creek instead of being diverted into irrigation ditches.


The creek flows through the Barnes’ property, joins with the Green River, then merges with the Colorado River and empties into Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The beleaguered river system and lakes supply water to 40 million people in seven states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – and help support a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry, according to the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).


Nick Walrath says TU was supportive of the SCPP because it was voluntary for landowners to participate, offered them a strong economic incentive and supported the environment in the process. TU and The Nature Conservancy provided manpower to help applicants, such as the Barnes family, enroll in the program.


“We want to see producers here stay in business; they care about the habitat and keeping the fisheries viable,” says Walrath, TU Green River Project Manager.


The commission – thanks to funding from the USBR, the Walton Family Foundation and a number of municipalities – compensated participating ranchers and farmers between $150 and $200 per acre foot for the water they didn’t use. The program is just one example of the many ways various organizations and environmental groups have worked with farmers and ranchers recently in an effort to enhance water conservation.


A Step Of Faith: