For Western Towns New Water Infrastructure Spending Can’t Arrive Soon Enough

The new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will invest $1 billion over the next five years in water recycling programs for the Western United States. As reported by the Watereuse Association, this is historic investment over the roughly $65 million per year water recycling initiatives had previously received through the Bureau of Reclamation.

For many towns, it can’t come soon enough. As reported by the Colorado Sun, small towns like Dove Creek, CO, are holding on but only just in the face of the megadrought.

Typically, the town of 600 residents’ water supply is syphoned off from the irrigation canal that flows six months of the year during the irrigation season to bring water from the McPhee Reservoir to 29,000 acres of farmland. Dove Creek fills a storage reservoir throughout the season so that when the canal shuts down in the Fall, it has enough water to see it through the winter into the following year.

But in 2021, the canal was shut down months earlier due to the depleted water levels at the McPhee Reservoir being 40 feet below average and Dove Creek was on track to run out of water by March.

Similar water scarcity issues plague much of the West as irrigation, ranchers, and communities fight to maintain a delicate balance. In August 2021, surface water supplies in California from the critical Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were effectively cut off for 10,300 water-rights holders and 4,500 Central Valley farms.

The new funding promises to be “a glass of cold water on a hot day” for many a community but Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau, strikes a cautious note. Writing in The Fence Post, Johansson reminds readers that in 2014, 67% of California voters approved a potentially landmark water bond measure, Proposition 1. The Water Quality Supply and Infrastructure Act allocated $7.1 billion in bonds for modernizing the water system with vastly expanded surface and groundwater storage, upgraded conveyance, public water system improvements and investments in ecosystem protection and restoration. And yet seven years on Johansson laments, “not a water’s drop of infrastructure has been built” due to litigation, infighting and a lack of political will.

Dove Creek will be hoping that the scope of the new federal funding will bring renewed focus and attention to their water needs.  Having rejected pumping water from the Dolores River and purchasing water from a nearby water company as too expensive, the small farming town was able to persuade their water district to reopen the canal and send 120 acre-feet of water to the town to get residents through the winter. With funding, the town would look to expand its storage reservoir capacity and revisit the Dolores as an alternative source to keep their community afloat.

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