November 21, 2023 — In February 2022, the Turlock Irrigation District in California announced “Project Nexus,” a pilot project to build solar panel canopies over a portion of TID’s existing canals. Later that year, Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community announced in its October 10 news that “the Army Corps of Engineers informed the Gila River Indian Community that the Agency is looking to enter into agreements with the Community to fund a pilot project that will bring solar covered canals to the Reservation.” At that time, the Community’s Governor Stephen Roe Lewis described the project as an innovative approach to water conservation that will reduce evaporation losses in Community canals while generating solar energy.
The project is now becoming a reality, with a 2025 completion goal.
On November 9, the Gila River Indian Community, led by Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a pioneering solar-covered canal initiative on their Level Top Canal. The project was approved by the Community’s Council on November 1.
The initial phase involves installing solar panels over part of the I-10 Level Top canal, aiming to save water and create renewable energy for tribal agricultural use. The project, estimated at $6.744 million, is expected to generate 1 MW of renewable energy, significantly cutting energy costs for tribal farmers.
With the agreement in place, the Army Corps will start construction, targeting a 2025 completion. Governor Lewis, expressing gratitude at the signing ceremony, specifically thanked Assistant Secretary of the Army, Michael Connor, for his long-standing support. The Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Director Tom Buschatzke attended the ceremony, where he highlighted the project’s innovative approach to sustainable energy and water conservation. The initiative represents a collaborative effort to use existing infrastructure like the Level Top Canal for sustainable energy generation while reducing water evaporation.
The agreement, termed a “Project Partnership Agreement” (PPA), is a formal contract between the federal government and a non-federal entity, in this case, a Native American Tribe. PPAs typically involve water resources projects. They outline the shared responsibilities and cost divisions between the federal government and the non-federal partner.
Gila River Farms, March 2012, Chris English, licensed through Wikimedia Commons.