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Biden administration announces $343 million for tribal water resources, Colorado River conservation

The Biden administration announced on Thursday that it would be investing $343 million in enhancing tribal water resources and boosting conservation efforts across the Colorado River Basin.

More than two-thirds of that total — $233 million — will be heading to the Gila River Indian Community for water conservation projects, which will help ensure the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River for water users across the basin, according to the Interior Department.

The funds come from a $15.4 billion allocation from the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act, which serves to bolster the West’s resilience to drought, a White House Fact Sheet stated.

“We have historic, once-in-a-generation investments to expand access to clean drinking water for families, farmers and Tribes,” Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said a statement issued ahead of an inaugural event in Phoenix on Thursday.

Within the $233 million sum is a $83 million investment in a Gila River Indian Community pipeline project that will expand water reuse, the Interior Department stated.

This pipeline will provide up to 20,000 acre-feet for system-wide conservation and a 78,000-acre-foot commitment to replenishing a dwindling Lake Mead, the Colorado River Basin’s largest reservoir.

For reference, typical U.S. suburban households use about one acre-foot of water annually.

The Gila River Indian Community has the single largest entitlement to water from the Central Arizona Project — a massive infrastructural feat that transports about 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River throughout Arizona each year.

The community received its share from a 2004 settlement that aimed to recover the tribe’s historic water rights. 

Within the $233 million for the Gila River Indian Community is also a $50 million allocation from the Inflation Reduction Act through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, according to the Interior Department.

This sum will help finance a system conservation agreement to help protect Colorado River reservoir storage volumes and will result in nearly 2 feet of added elevation to Lake Mead, the Interior Department stated.

The agreement also includes up to 125,000 acre-feet of system conservation water in both 2024 and 2025, with another $50 million investment for each additional year, the statement noted.

“In the wake of record drought throughout the West, safeguarding tribal access to water resources could not be more critical,” Beaudreau said. 

“These types of agreements will support tribal communities through essential water infrastructure projects and support water conservation in the Colorado River System,” he added.

Beyond the $233 million announced on Thursday for the Gila River Indian Community is another $110 million for other Colorado River conservation goals.

Up to $36 million is going to water conservation projects in the Coachella Valley, including a $12 million agreement for the district to conserve 30,000 acre-feet of water for Lake Mead this year, according to the White House Fact Sheet.

Another $20 million will help fund four small surface water and groundwater storage projects in California and Utah, including one near the Salton Sea, the fact sheet stated. Within this sum is $9.5 million to maximize the Imperial Irrigation District’s water management efficiency.

The last $54 million announced on Thursday is designate for repairs to the region’s aging infrastructure, with hopes of improving water delivery, the White House stated. That funding includes $8.3 million for the Imperial Dam.

In making these new investments, the Biden administration hopes to immediately reduce water demand, maximize water resources via infrastructure upgrades and ensure that Western communities have the tools they need to withstand the impacts of drought and climate change, a White House official stated.

“This builds on unprecedented investments and collaboration with basin states, tribes, water managers, farmers, irrigators, and other stakeholders to address the historic 23-year drought in the West,” the official added.

Source: The Hill

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