Community Agriculture Alliance: Where is all this federal water infrastructure money?
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Farmers and ranchers throughout Colorado have been asking about federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The money is there, it can be cumbersome to get to.
Over the next few years, a considerable amount of funding will be going to federally-owned Bureau of Reclamation Projects. In 2022, over $240 million is going to federally-owned projects for “extraordinary maintenance.” Both the Government Highline Canal and Pueblo Reservoir will receive part of this funding. There will be more calls for proposals for similar maintenance on federal projects. However, there are also some opportunities for non-federal infrastructure projects.
One opportunity is the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program, which has received increased funding for projects that can address any number of infrastructure issues. The WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants provide a 50/50 cost share funding to irrigation and water districts, tribes, states and other entities with water or power delivery authority.
This has been used in Colorado for projects that involve replacing headgates and diversions, updating power plants, lining canals, and automating ditch systems with SCADA. Just this year, the Maybell Ditch was awarded $1.92 million for their project to update their diversion and headgate. There will be multiple opportunities to apply for this funding every year.
There is also a new bureau program to construct new small storage between 2,000 and 30,000 acre-feet. However, the low federal cost-share (25%) for non-federal projects and other requirements make this program better suited for municipal water providers than agricultural.
Another federal program that received significant resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the National Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) PL-566 Watershed Program. The program can cover any number of infrastructure improvements from piping ditches, rehabilitating and building new reservoirs, adding SCADA to ditch systems, to co-locating solar power and broadband.
The federal cost share covers 100% of the design and 75% of the construction costs and a single PL-566 “project” can provide up to $25 million in federal funding. While this is the most generous opportunity out there, it takes considerable time (around three years) and requires an Environmental Assessment (EA) for construction to begin.
The Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) is working with Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Farmers Conservation Alliance on implementing PL-566 projects in the state of Colorado. The first steps involve organizing groups of irrigators, ditches, and special districts, preliminary conceptual design, and identifying projects and sources of matching funds.
This pre-development work will provide the foundation for submitting a competitive request to NRCS. After three to six months, the NRCS will either deny or accept the request based on a cost-benefit analysis. Then stakeholders can begin assembling the list of projects and the EA Process. Once the EA is approved, then construction can begin.
Right now, CAWA is working on pre-developing PL-566 projects in three counties (Rio Blanco, Delta, and Huerfano) and are looking at potential projects in another six counties. If you are interested in learning about PL-566, contact CAWA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Peterson is the executive director of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance
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