USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Reclamation Commissioner Estevan LópezThursday announced that more than $47 million in investments in infrastructure to address water conservation, energy efficiency, drought response, and agricultural operations is now available. The appropriations include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation (DOI) for local projects across 13 states in the west, including Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
“Nearly 40 million Americans rely on the Colorado River system for drinking water and to support livelihoods ranging from farming to recreation,” noted RMFU President Dale McCall, who attended the event. “This announcement from USDA and DOI about their plans to collaborate is common sense and an effective response to drought in the Colorado River Basin that transcends politics. These projects are vitally necessary for the sustainability of our economy, communities, families and agricultural heritage.”
The Bureau of Reclamation funding will support 76 local projects through the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART program. Funding from USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will support on-farm water delivery system improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP).
“By working with communities and producers to more wisely manage the water they have, we help ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, agriculture, economic activities, recreation, and ecosystem health,” said Secretary Vilsack. “As drought continues across the west, our farmers and ranchers are stepping up to the plate to partner with communities and strengthen efficiency to better conserve our water supply.”
The announcement is about much more than just making funds available. Vilsack said showcases the “ability of federal agencies to coordinate and cooperate.” The Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART improves water delivery systems; EQIP implements on-farm water conservation practices. Vilsack said the federal departments will work with state and local agencies and landowners to fully leverage the resources at hand.
“Water and energy efficiency are intricately linked,” Commissioner López said. “When we conserve water, we also conserve the energy it takes to move it. One way we can achieve these efficiencies is to bring federal resources to the table for local projects that focus on saving water. This program represents one more way we’re focusing resources on projects to provide resiliency in the face of drought.”
Interior’s funding is made available through competitive grant programs, which are part of the WaterSMART sustainable water initiative. The grants and selection process are managed by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which is the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier, providing one in five western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland and potable water to more than 31 million Americans across 17 western states.