Federal funding made available Thursday for a hydroelectric project on the South Canal is no mere drop in the bucket.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association was told it qualifies for a $1 million WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency grant through the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture.
The money will help fund the $6.8 million hydropower project being built at Drop 5 of the South Canal. The association also is receiving a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to fund the balance of the project.
“This is great for us,” water users association general manager Steve Anderson said Friday, one day after standing with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other dignitaries in Brighton, for the formal announced of WaterSMART funding.
“Environmentally, it (the project) is healthy for, one, more efficient use of water, and it reduces loading of salt and selenium in the Colorado River. It’s refreshing to see two different departments, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working together.”
The association’s Drop 5 project was one of 53 selected to receive a portion of $25.6 million in WaterSMART grants. When leveraged with local and other funding sources, these projects are expected to complete more than $128 million in efficiency improvements. Also on Thursday, the Bureau of Reclamation (a division of the Interior) announced it would provide $2.1 million to support previously selected WaterSMART projects.
The WaterSMART grants are intended for projects that conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, benefit endangered and threatened species, address climate’s effect on water, or prevent water-related crisis or conflicts, the USDA and Interior announced in a joint news release.
In total, the agencies are making more than $47 million in investments through the WaterSMART and other grant programs. The investments funds announced Thursday include $15 million from USDA and $32.6 million from BuRec.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s Drop 5 project will install a 2.4 megawatt hydroelectric facility on the irrigation canal drop structure. The project implements strategies that were identified in the 2012 Water SMART Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, in which the association was a stakeholder.
Construction is under way and the hydro facility could be online by the end of July.
Delta-Montrose Electric Association would be purchasing the power generated by the Drop 5 project, Anderson said. The co-op is a partner on other South Canal hydropower projects, as well.
“Drop 5 is under construction right now. The hydro plant is going to be wholly owned by the (water users) association,” Anderson said.
Other Colorado projects to receive 2016 WaterSMART grants were the Grand Valley Water Users Association, Cottonwood Water and Sanitation District in Englewood, and Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company.
United States Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner applauded the WaterSMART and other funding opportunities that were announced Thursday.
“Water is a precious resource that helps drive our state’s economy,” Bennet said in a prepared statement. “… These investments will help sustain water for agricultural production and many other uses.”
Gardner also said he was pleased. “It’s vital our local communities are given the resources they need to best serve Coloradans,” his statement said.
“With the funding opportunity, to date, the association has received (WaterSMART) grants of over $1.75 million,” Anderson said.
The previous funds were used to install automatic controls on the river diversion gates for the M&D and Ironstone canals.
Overall, the water users association has received more than $32 million in state and federal grants to reduce selenium and salt loading into the Colorado River. Selenium, a trace element, leaches from unlined canals into waterways, where it can harm aquatic life, including endangered species.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association has used its funding to line or pipe more than 100 miles of canals and lateral ditches. The work has removed an estimated 27,000 tons of salt and 3,000 pounds of selenium from the Colorado.