American West sees continuing investment in water management tools

The Department of the Interior announced a $29.7 million investment for Colorado River Basin water management as well as $13.3 million in grants.

The Department of The Interior, Washington, D.C., announced a nearly $30 million investment to help states in the Upper Colorado River Basin manage drought, as part of the “all-of-government approach” to make western communities more resilient to drought and climate change. This is the second year of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with $38.4 million distributed so far. 

“These investments will continue to help water managers and data analysts acquire and leverage the tools they need to provide improved long-term forecasts to help ensure thoughtful management of the basin,” says Nathan Bowen, Irrigation Association, Fairfax Virginia, advocacy and public affairs vice president. 

According to the department, the latest round of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help re-activate and install up to 60 stream gauges that are in critical reaches of the basin; it will expand eddy-covariance tower/weather station networks for improved accuracy and confidence in managing water resources; and it will be used for new monitoring technology to track water diversion, soil moisture and snowpack in the Upper Basin. 

“The Bureau of Reclamation is committed to ensuring the continued availability of water across the West, while at the same time enhancing the resiliency of our communities to a changing climate. There are approximately 1.5 million acres of irrigated agricultural land in the Upper Basin, and we are currently monitoring for evapotranspiration on less than 1 percent of that land,” says Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “This funding will provide critical data to help us more accurately measure water use from irrigated agriculture in the Upper Basin, enhancing drought planning now and into the future.” 

In addition to the $30 million investment, Reclamation also announced a $13.3 million grant investment for 51 applied science projects in 12 states. The projects selected to receive grant funding include the development of modeling and forecasting tools, hydrologic data platforms and new data sets to inform decision-making. 

The projects are being funded with $8.1 million from Reclamation’s Basin Study Program and $5.1 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for projects that improve nature-based features.  

”These grants support improved water management tools that will allow water managers to make more informed decisions, especially in terms of managing through drought and climate change,” says Calimlim Touton. “It’s especially promising to see all of the partnerships formed between universities and communities to tackle some of these scientific projects.” 

One of the grants includes $388,093 for Washington State University in partnership with the Columbia Basin Conservation District to make improvements to an existing United States Geological Survey developed model for the Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System in the Pacific Northwest. The improvements will allow the model to run on a monthly time step, instead of annually, and include irrigation demand estimates and climate scenarios that influence groundwater availability throughout the year, according to a release from Reclamation. The project will create and manage 47 new monitoring sites with co-located groundwater, soil moisture, and weather sensors that collect data on a sub-daily time step. 

Our industry is committed to advancing the long term sustainability of our nation’s water resources,” says Bowen. “These investments will help ensure we have the data and resources needed to ensure the wise use of water in the West. 

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