Come along as PBS’ This American Land, Fresh Water News track an historic research effort on high-altitude hay meadows in the Upper Colorado River

Colorado, along with its neighbors in the Upper Colorado River Basin, is pushing hard to determine if saving water to send to a special drought storage pool in Lake Powell is feasible and if it as an idea that can gain support from ranchers, cities, and the politicians who will likely have to sell it to the general public.

Last month the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to funding another year of study on the issue. The effort is known as demand management and is part of a broader Drought Contingency Plan in the Upper Basin that involves three key components, including the drought pool, the use of cloud-seeding to boost snowfall and resulting streamflows, and re-operating four federal reservoirs in the Upper Basin.

Backers see demand management as a new form of insurance against a crisis on the Colorado River, driven by nearly 20 years of off-and-on drought conditions, climate change and population growth.

But the demand management program is concerning to many farmers and ranchers, who control some 80 percent of the water in the basin, and have unanswered questions around how efforts to fallow hay fields and shepherd the water downstream to Lake Powell could affect their water rights, their livelihoods, and the economic health of their rural home regions. Now, more work is being led by a group of neighboring ranchers to answer some of those questions.

Come with Fresh Water News and PBS’ This American Land in the debut of our latest collaboration, where we take you out into the field to watch ranchers and scientists making promising strides in studying whether water can be taken off high-altitude hay fields and successfully quantified and measured. This $1 million research effort must also see how the hay crops fare under such conditions, and whether they’re able to recover in subsequent years when they have water again. The researchers are also studying the extent to which the nutritional value of the hay stands up to the new irrigating regime.

Though similar projects have been done on a small scale, this effort near Kremmling involves a massive effort, monitoring more than 1,000 acres of land and dozens of miles of irrigation ditches along the banks of the river. We invite you to join us in the field to learn more!

 

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