Feds award $29 million in water conservation grants; one Colorado agency among the winners

The federal government awarded 13 Western states $29 million in cash this month, with a directive to go out and save more water and energy.

Just one of the 45 grants handed out by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART program went to a Colorado entity. The Grand Junction-based Grand Valley Water Users Association was awarded $178,884 to finish work improving a set of historical diversion structures that include the Roller Dam on the Colorado River, west of Glenwood Springs.

The dam, which began operating in 1915, is hard to miss driving along on I-70 as the highway parallels the Colorado River. The money will be used to modernize the measuring and monitoring systems on the dam and canal on a critical section of the river, which includes the 15-Mile Reach, where a number of endangered fish species have important habitat.

Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, attributes the win to his agency’s partnership with other West Slope irrigation districts, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. He said the partnership’s ability to contribute matching funds to the federal project was another key factor in the win.

This year, the GVWUA and its partners provided $220,000 in matching funds to win the WaterSMART grant.

“It’s not that there is anything special about us,” Harris said. “It’s that the stars at this particular time are in alignment.”

An earlier 2017 grant to the GVWUA provided $300,000 in federal dollars. The water users subsequently raised $500,000 in matching funds. All told, Harris said the improvements to the GVWUA infrastructure in recent years have reduced diversions from the Colorado River by 60,000 acre-feet. That’s enough water to serve roughly 120,000 urban households for one year.

The latest project, the second phase, will allow water users to reduce their diversions from the Colorado by an additional 4,000 acre-feet, thanks to improvements that allow more monitoring of the timing and amounts of diversions.

California and Utah were the big winners in the WaterSMART program this year. California was awarded $9.54 million for 12 projects, while Utah secured $5.4 million for 10 projects.

Colorado was second from dead last, with New Mexico coming in last, winning just one grant worth $150,000.

Josh German and Avra Morgan, program coordinators for the WaterSMART program, said the grant process is competitive and that Colorado water agencies, historically, have not demonstrated serious interest in the program.

This year 111 applications were submitted, and 45 were funded, German said. Grants are awarded using criteria that include points for the amount of water that can be saved, the potential to reduce conflict among water users, and use of hydropower, among other things.

“Conserving water has been and continues to be one of the main focal points of the program,” German said.

In place since 2004, when it was part of a grant making program called Water 2025, the WaterSMART program also offers grants to help pay for water marketing and new scientific tools that support better water management.

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

Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at wateredco.org.


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