November 6, 2023 — On Friday, the Biden-Harris administration announced a $63.4 million funding initiative aimed at bolstering water conservation and environmental protection efforts for the Colorado River System. This investment, part of the wider “Investing in America” agenda, seeks to ensure the system’s stability and sustainability, especially given the ongoing challenges posed by climate change-induced drought.
Strategic Water Conservation Efforts; Arizona Agreements.
The funds, originating from the Inflation Reduction Act, will be channeled through the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program. During an event in Phoenix, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, alongside other federal, Tribal, and state leaders, announced the implementation of seven new conservation agreements in Arizona. These agreements are expected to save up to 162,710-acre feet of water in Lake Mead through 2026.
The agreements are a response to the persistent drought conditions and are designed to support voluntary conservation measures to protect reservoir storage volumes in the Colorado River. This action expands upon the administration’s previous announcement to save at least 3 million-acre feet of water by the end of 2026, which aligns with the expiration of the current operating guidelines.
Secretary Deb Haaland emphasized the administration’s commitment to using “every tool and resource at our disposal” to boost water conservation in the West. Commissioner Touton highlighted the importance of collaboration among various stakeholders to address the drought crisis effectively.
The new conservation agreements will involve various water entities in Arizona, including the Yuma Mesa and Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage Districts, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Cibola Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, Spanish Trails Water, and Cathcart Farms. The agreements set “up to” annual conservation volumes for these entities, ranging from 57 to 23,275 acre-feet per year.
Financial Incentives for Conservation ($330-$400 an acre-foot).
Entities that participate in these agreements will receive compensation for the water they conserve. The three-year agreements offer $400 for each unused acre-foot of their Central Arizona Project water allocation, while a one-year agreement offers $330 per acre-foot.
Broad Investments for Long-term Sustainability.
These agreements are part of a larger strategy to conserve water in the Colorado River System. The Inflation Reduction Act has provided a total of $4.6 billion to combat drought across the Western United States, with a portion of these funds used to compensate for 2.3 million acre-feet of the 3 million acre-feet conservation goal set by the Lower Basin states.
In addition, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is investing $8.3 billion over five years in various water infrastructure projects, including those for purification, storage, and safety.
Projected Water Savings and Infrastructure Improvements.
The Department of the Interior has detailed investments across the Colorado River Basin states that promise significant water savings upon completion of funded projects. These include:
- $281 million for 21 water recycling projects, expected to yield 127,000 acre-feet of water capacity annually.
- Up to $233 million for water conservation efforts, including significant investments for the Gila River Indian Community.
- Over $73 million for repairs on water delivery systems.
- $71 million for 32 drought resiliency projects.
- $50 million to enhance water infrastructure and data collection in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
- $20 million for new small storage projects.
This comprehensive funding approach underlines the administration’s strategy to enhance water security and adapt to climate-related challenges facing the Colorado River System.