Agricultural fields near Grand Junction, CO.
Colorado Fields Agricultural fields near Grand Junction, CO. © The Nature Conservancy (Ken Geiger)


New Report Lays Out Agricultural Perceptions of Demand Management

Boulder, CO

  • Lindsay Schlageter
    The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy released a new report today that explores the perceptions of demand management by agriculture producers on the West Slope of Colorado.  The study was conducted by Kelsea MacIlroy, a Ph. D candidate in the department of Sociology at Colorado State University.

The report was commissioned by The Nature Conservancy to better understand concerns and opportunities from farmers and ranchers on the use of a voluntary program to reduce water use, or demand management, as one of the solutions laid out by the Drought Contingency Plans.  These plans were developed with the Colorado River Basin States in early 2019 to provide additional water management tools that will reduce the chances of large and unpredictable water shortages.

Demand management is the voluntary, temporary and compensated reduction of water use to keep more water in the river to help ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact.

“In order to determine what a successful demand management program could look like, we knew we needed a better understanding of the knowledge and attitudes from those who would be potential participants,” said Aaron Derwingson, Water Projects Director with The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program. “We hope the information collected in this report will help everyone engaged in the conversation about water supply risk and demand management.”

The report lays out three key findings from the research, which included interviewing 34 producers and 10 additional experts on Colorado’s West Slope in the Spring of 2019.  

  1. There is a lack of clarity, awareness, and understanding of demand management, which leads to confusion and uncertainty. 
  2. The terms used to describe a potential demand management (voluntary, compensated, temporary, and proportional/parity) are not as straight-forward as they appear but are surprisingly tricky and difficult to define.
  3. Conversations about demand management, especially on the West Slope, do not take place in a vacuum but tap into other pressures (past and present) on natural resource management and concerns about what the future holds.

“Research into the social and cultural aspects of water can help us see how people have different relationships with water and it’s management,” said Kelsea MacIlroy.  “Recognizing these differences can help address conflicts and find common interests. Research like this is important because it helps bring to light many of the things we already know, but either don’t acknowledge or don’t think matter.”

The report concludes that it is important to understand the social and cultural perceptions of demand management because they help shed light on why feelings of opportunity and resistance exist, how those feelings can be tied to current economic and political conditions, and where opportunities might be to find a path forward.

“The information we gathered is invaluable,” added Derwingson. “We’ve always worked hard to develop relationships on the ground to work together towards a common goal.  This will help us meet people where they are, focus on education and engage more people in exploring this extremely important tool.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.