Biden-Harris Administration Announces Up to $233 Million in #Water #Conservation Funding for #GilaRiver Indian Community #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

Click the link to read the release on the Department of Interior website:

Following a visit to the Gila River Indian Community, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau, Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, and Deputy Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner David Palumbo announced up to $233 million in historic funding and conservation agreements to help the Gila River Indian Community and water users across the Colorado River Basin protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System. They were joined by federal, state, local and Tribal leaders.

The visit is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Investing in America tour to highlight the opportunities that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are creating. Combined, these laws represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide unprecedented resources to support the Administration’s comprehensive, government-wide approach to make Western communities more resilient to drought and climate change.

“Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, we have historic, once-in-a-generation investments to expand access to clean drinking water for families, farmers and Tribes,” said Deputy Secretary Beaudreau. “In the wake of record drought throughout the West, safeguarding Tribal access to water resources could not be more critical. These types of agreements will support Tribal communities through essential water infrastructure projects and support water conservation in the Colorado River System.”

“Water is a sacred resource and crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities,” said Deputy Commissioner Palumbo. “The Bureau of Reclamation is hard at work to support projects that have long awaited this kind of funding — projects that are integral to protecting the Colorado River System and the communities that rely on it. By working together, we can ensure the longevity of the basin.”

The Gila River Indian Community will receive $50 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act via the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, which will help finance a system conservation agreement to protect Colorado River reservoir storage volumes amid persistent climate change-driven drought conditions. This conservation initiative will result in nearly 2 feet of elevation in Lake Mead for the benefit of the Colorado River System. The agreement also includes the creation of up to 125,000 acre-feet of system conservation water in both 2024 and 2025, with an investment of an additional $50 million for each additional year. This is among the first allocations for a system conservation agreement from the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program.

In October 2022, the Department announced the creation of the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program to help increase water conservation, improve water efficiency, and prevent the System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production.

In addition, the Department announced $83 million for the Gila River Indian Community’s Reclaimed Water Pipeline Project to expand water reuse and increase Colorado River water conservation. The project will provide a physical connection of reclaimed water to Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project facilities. When completed, the project will provide up to 20,000 acre-feet annually for system conservation with a minimum of 78,000 acre-feet committed to remain Lake Mead. Funding for the pipeline project comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and annual appropriations.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law including $8.3 billion for Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4.6 billion to address Western drought.

More information on the Administration’s all-of-government effort to support the Colorado River Basin is available via a White House fact sheet.

Gila River. Photo credit: Dennis O’Keefe via American Rivers

Click the link to read “Arizona tribe will receive millions in federal payouts for water conservation” on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

The Gila River Indian Community will conserve 125,000 acre-feet of water and receive $50 million from the Inflation Reduction Act in exchange. The tribe has the option to do so again in 2024 and 2025, receiving another $50 million in each additional year. That water will stay in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, where historically-low water levels threaten hydropower production within the Hoover Dam, and have raised concerns about the reservoir’s long-term ability to provide water to millions of people in cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Those payments would break down to $400 per acre-foot of water…

The tribe will also receive $83 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand water reuse efforts. It will fund a reclaimed water pipeline that, when completed, will add up to 20,000 acre-feet annually for system conservation with a minimum of 78,000 acre-feet committed to remain Lake Mead…Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, cautioned that funding sent to the Gila River Indian Community is not necessarily indicative that the federal water conservation program is working at a broader level.

“It doesn’t say as much as we might hope,” Porter said, “Because this program is competing with current commodity prices. I have asked a few growers who have the opportunity to participate if they will, and it’s clear that the high price of different agricultural commodities is getting in the way. The Gila River Indian community is in a unique position to participate.”


Current guidelines for the Colorado River are set to expire in 2026, and states are expected to negotiate a new set of rules for how it’s shared. As climate change shrinks supplies, state and federal governments have assembled a patchwork of short-term conservation agreements to chip away at demand and prevent catastrophe before then.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Nearly $585 Million from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Repair Aging #Water Infrastructure, Advance #Drought Resilience

Click the link to read the release on the Department of Interior website:

Today during a visit to the Imperial Dam, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau, Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton announced a nearly $585 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for infrastructure repairs on water delivery systems throughout the West. Funding will go to 83 projects in 11 states to improve water conveyance and storage, increase safety, improve hydro power generation and provide water treatment.

The visit to the Colorado River Basin’s Imperial Dam – which is receiving $8.24 million in fiscal year 2023 – is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Investing in America tour to highlight the opportunities that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are creating.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is making a historic investment to provide clean, reliable water to families, farmers and Tribes,” said Deputy Secretary Beaudreau. “As we work to address record drought and changing climate conditions throughout the West, these investments in our aging water infrastructure will conserve community water supplies and revitalize water delivery systems.”

“President Biden is investing in America, and today’s announcement delivering much needed repairs to aging dams and other water infrastructure is part of our whole-of-government approach to making communities more resilient to drought,” said Senior Advisor Landrieu.

“These projects have been identified through a rigorous process and is a testament to the Bureau of Reclamation’s commitment to deliver water to future generations,” said Commissioner Touton. “As we manage through changing climate, we must look to the safety of our projects to ensure that we can continue to provide clean, reliable water to communities, irrigators, and ecosystems across the west.”

The projects selected for funding today are found in all the major river basins and regions where Reclamation operates. Among the 83 projects selected for funding are efforts to increase canal capacity, provide water treatment for Tribes, replace equipment for hydropower production and provide necessary maintenance to aging project buildings. Projects will be funded in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington.

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is delivering historic resources to communities to help advance drought resilience and strengthen local economies. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $8.3 billion for Reclamation water infrastructure projects over five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4.6 billion to address the worsening crisis. Combined these two initiatives represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the work of the Interior Department.

Today’s announcement builds on $240 million allocated through the Law in fiscal year 2022. The next application period for extraordinary maintenance funds is expected in October 2023.

Detailed information on Reclamation programs and funding provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is available on Reclamation’s website.

Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 2023 annual seminar recap — The #Durango Herald #snowpack #runoff

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Reuben Schafir). Here’s an excerpt:

The Southwestern Water Conservation District held its 39th annual seminar Friday [March 31, 2023] in Ignacio to address the topic of “seeking common ground in crisis.”

About 300 people were in attendance, including both chairmen of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes, ranchers, farmers and officials from agencies involved in water conservation at the federal level all the way down to local districts. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert was a surprise guest…The event’s schedule included panels on reusing treated wastewater, seeking common ground in the distribution of the river’s resources, and the connection been food and water for agricultural producers on the Western Slope, Front Range, and the upper and lower Colorado River Basin…From the Front Range farmers, like panelist Robert Sakata, the owner of a 2,400-acre farm nestled in the expanding urban boundaries of Brighton, to lower basin users such as panelist Bart Fisher, a farmer and former chairman of the Colorado River Board of California, the impacts of the historic drought are top of mind. The need to reduce water use has affected what they grow as well as the quantity…

“Buy-and-dry” programs have become a tense topic of conversation among farmers. The concept is to reduce water consumption by paying farmers annually for water to which they have a right but do not use. Although this can be done in any number of ways, the program’s epithet refers to the common method of fallowing – or intentionally not cultivating – land. Despite protections that ensure unused water rights will not be forfeited, as is historically the case, farmers are skeptical. From a financial perspective, the incentive is small. The upper basin program offers only $150 to farmers per acre-foot of water saved (an acre-foot is the amount needed to submerge an acre of land in 1 foot of water), while farmers can typically harness far more in profits from that water if they use it for irrigation.

“When you diminish agriculture significantly by fallowing, you diminish the economic engine of the community that supports agriculture,” Fisher said…

Harvesting a Thinopyrum intermedium (Kernza) breeding nursery at The Land Institute By Dehaan – Scott Bontz, CC BY 3.0,

Simon Martinez, the general manager of Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch, said he is more interested in testing out water-efficient crops…Like many farmers looking to save water, the Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch is experimenting with Kernza. The wheatgrass variant can significantly reduce water consumption compared to a crop such as alfalfa…Martinez hopes to test the new grain as potential cattle feed and intends on sowing 46 acres with the seed, likely this spring. Although the concept is experimental – Martinez said the crop has not been grown in the region and its exact efficacy as a cattle feed is unclear – success could mean a significant water savings for the farm. In addition to reducing the amount of water needed to irrigate, which Martinez estimated could near 50% compared to alfalfa, grazing the farm’s herd on Kernza would increase profits by enabling the farm to sell more of the alfalfa that it does produce. The perennial grain has grown in popularity as its viability as an alternative crop becomes increasingly intriguing to farmers. The outdoor brand Patagonia adopted it into the company’s line of sustainable foods and now produces pasta and beer with the grain. Martinez said he is unsure of how the experiment will go. But to test out the grain on 46 acres of the 7,700-acre farm is a small sacrifice…

West snowpack basin-filled map April 6, 2023 via the NRCS.

With future weather predictions becoming increasingly unpredictable, farmers are endorsing an array of solutions. Although this year’s ample snowfall does little to reverse the long-term impacts of the historic drought, water aficionados in the Four Corners are nonetheless grateful for the supply.

Once-in-a-century #runoff predicted for #ColoradoRiver as officials warn, “Don’t squander it” — @WaterEdCO

Wahweap Marina on Lake Powell at low water. Lake Powell will recover some storage thanks to the spectacular runoff predicted for this year. Jonathan P. Thompson photo

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Calling this year’s forecasted Colorado River streamflows a “a once-in-a-century” event, water officials are warning decision makers not to squander the river’s surprising 2023 bounty.

The drought-strapped Lake Powell could see new supplies of more than 10 million acre-feet this year, 2 million more than had been forecast just one month ago, according to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.

Due to drought, and climate-driven reductions in mountain snows, Lake Powell hasn’t been full in 20 years and plummeted to just 23% full last year. It holds roughly 26 million acre-feet when it reaches maximum storage capacity. One acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons.

“It’s a tremendous gift. Our challenge is to not squander it,” said Chuck Cullom, director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which represents the four Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Arizona, California and Nevada comprise the Lower Basin.

Cullom’s comments came March 31 at a seminar by Colorado’s Southwestern Water Conservation District in Ignacio, Colorado.

Screenshot of the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center streamflow forecast April 7, 2023.

With the new streamflow forecasts, reservoirs are expected to recover dramatically. Upper Colorado River water officials say the water needs to be held in the Upper Basin to improve the health of the system and to help cope with future drought years and reduced mountain snowpacks.

Even with the unexpected surge in new water supplies, Powell is only expected to recover slightly this year. Another bad year could throw the river back into crisis, officials said.

The seven-state Colorado River basin has been mired in a drought for more than 22 years, a dry spell widely believed to be the worst in more than 1,200 years. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the largest reservoirs in the nation, have dropped to record lows, threatening water supplies to millions of people and jeopardizing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s ability to generate low-cost, renewable hydropower for thousands of electric utilities across the West.

In 2019, in response to the ongoing drought and an alarming drop in storage levels at Powell and Mead, all seven states agreed to an historic set of drought contingency plans, which include cutbacks in use in the Lower Basin, as well as emergency releases from Utah’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Colorado’s Blue Mesa in the Upper Basin, to bolster Powell.

Those emergency plans were activated in the summer of 2021. Since then roughly 600,000 acre-feet of water has been released from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa, with the majority coming from Flaming Gorge.

Just a few weeks ago it wasn’t clear that any of the actions taken would be enough to keep Powell and Mead from dropping into crisis territory, where power generation would stop and deliveries out of Lake Mead to Lower Basin states would not be enough to satisfy demand.

But now, because of the surprising depth of mountain snows, suddenly there will be water and Reclamation has pledged to hold as much of it as it can in the Upper Basin to restore levels in Flaming Gorge and elsewhere, Cullom said.

In the coming weeks, the seven states have critical decisions to make about how the system will operate for the rest of this year, including how much water will be released from Powell and from Mead.

Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, which oversees the river across a 15 county region in western Colorado, said he is grateful for the watery surge, but he said the Upper Basin states will push hard to limit releases from Powell and Mead this year and in years to come.

Climate stripes through 2022. Credit: Ed Hawkins

“We have to recognize that the water supply has changed underneath our feet. Yes, this year is a good year, and we appreciate that. What we have to remember is that one good year means the weather was good. It doesn’t mean the climate is going to go back to what we experienced in the 1970s or before,” Mueller said.

“The current guidelines have been focused on crisis management … We can’t continue to do that if we are going to get out of this problem,” he said, referring to the drought contingency plans and current guidelines for reservoir operations.

Manuel Heart is chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southwestern Colorado. The tribe is a major agricultural producer in the region. In 2021, the tribe received just 10% of its Colorado River water allocation due to the drought. Fields went dry and workers were laid off.

Now, along with other Colorado River farmers and ranchers, the tribe is looking for ways to adapt to a drier climate.

But this year, Heart said he is enjoying this remarkable wet season.

“Our prayers got answered this year,” he said.  “It’s good to see the mountains the way they are supposed to look. I like to see the rivers flow and our lands green.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

Navajo Mountain March 2023. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.