Gila River Indian Community Enters into three Major Agreements with Department of the Interior to Address Drought Conditions on Colorado River
April 21, 2023
Communications & Public Affairs Office
SACATON and PHOENIX, Arizona. - During a morning visit to the Gila River Indian Community, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Boudreau, Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, and Deputy Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner David Palumbo announced up to $233 million in two historic infrastructure funding and conservation agreements to help the Gila River Indian Community and water users across the Colorado River Basin protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System. The visit to the Community included a visit to the Community’s innovative Managed Aquifer Recharge site #5 at Olberg Bridge as well as to the site for its innovative solar-covered canal project. While at the solar--covered canal project, Deputy Commissioner Palumbo presented the Community with the executed grant for funding a substantial portion of the project costs.
The Community’s LC System Conservation Agreement is the first major system conservation agreement executed by Reclamation under the LC System Conservation Program announced in Oct. 2022. Pursuant to the agreement, the Community has committed to provide up to 125,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River entitlement as system conservation for each of the next three years, at a fixed price of $400 per acre foot, for a total of up to $150 million. This is the largest commitment of water to the LC System Conservation program to date and represents a major milestone for the Department in its efforts to stabilize the Colorado River System. The cities of Phoenix and Tucson, the other two large entitlement holders to water from the Colorado River served by the CAP System, also announced major commitments to the LC System Conservation Program in agreements that are to be finalized in the coming days. The funding for all these agreements is being provided through the Inflation Reduction Act.
The Infrastructure agreement announced today is for a shovel-ready project that the Community developed over the course of the past year. The project will allow the Community to more flexibly use its water resources and conserve even more water to Lake Mead. The Reclaimed Water Pipeline Project, or RWPP, will construct a 19.4-mile pipeline to move A+ reclaimed water supplies the Community has through its CAP exchange agreements with Mesa and Chandler, which were part of its 2004 settlement. This will allow the Community to use this A+ effluent in a more flexible way and free up the remaining amounts of Colorado River water currently delivered to the Community through the CAP system.
Recognizing the urgency of going beyond system conservation and investing in long-term system efficiency infrastructure, the Community has developed this project in record time and worked very closely with Reclamation and its design and supply team to be in position to commence construction immediately, and to complete the project before the end of 2024. The Community and Reclamation worked cooperatively to confirm cost for the project at $83 million, which will be funded through funds made available by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Community estimates that the RWPP will reduce the Community’s on-Reservation use of Colorado River water on a long-term basis by up to 20,000 AF each year. The Community has committed to make up to 200,000 AF of this water savings available to Reclamation over a 10-year period, with a minimum of at least 78,000 AF to be left in Lake Mead as system efficiency water over that period.
In addition to the two major agreements announced by the Biden-Harris Administration today, the Community also received from Reclamation the executed grant for funding its portion of Phase I of its solar-covered canal project. Phase 1 of the solar project will install solar panels over approximately 1,000 feet of canal, which will produce approximately 1 megawatt of power. This project is an essential pilot project that has helped to shape the consideration of this innovative drought response tool. Working closely with Reclamation, the Community has been able to design the project and confirm that it can be constructed without additional ROW acquisition or environmental review, greatly accelerating the project timeline.
Reclamation is funding a portion of the project, with the remainder being funded through the Tribal Partnership Program within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is currently completing its validation study, which will be complete by the end of April. Thereafter, the Community will enter into a project agreement with the Corps and expect to begin construction on this project by June 30 of this year. Construction can be completed before the end of this year. The Community is already looking to Phase II of this innovative new concept, which not only produces green energy, but protects canal water from evaporation loss, and represents an accelerated pathway for bringing transformational energy supplies on line. The Community will use part of the funding from Reclamation, which is a reimbursement for design costs already incurred by the Community, to fund the Phase II feasibility study and design, helping to accelerate that project timeline as well. Phase II is currently contemplated for a sixteen mile stretch of the Casa Blanca canal, with potential power of up to 100 megawatts at full development.
“Today is another historic day, not only for the Community, but for our State and for the entire Colorado River basin,” said Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis. “These three agreements, taken together, represent a future of how we can work together to confront the urgency of this moment. They are a true model of how this Administration is working with all parties, especially tribes, to find, foster and fund innovative solutions that will have a long-term impact for the Colorado River. The agreements will provide significant benefits for the Community, but we have all worked hard to ensure that they serve a broader purpose as well,” he said. “By focusing on local suppliers for our RWPP, we are ensuring that the benefits of this impressive investment will create jobs for the benefit of us all here in the State. And, in a broader sense, I hope that our agreements will provide an example of how the invaluable resources provided through the BIL and IRA are and can be put to positive use in conserving water to Lake Mead, not just through system conservation, but more importantly, through investments in long-term infrastructure efficiency projects. This is our genuine priority, and the Department embraced our concept from the outset and worked diligently with us to make this a reality.”
Governor Lewis concluded: “But I want to emphasize that today is not about just the Community, but about all those in our State and region who are stepping up to confront our common urgent problem. I am so proud that our neighbors in Phoenix and Tucson are also very close to finishing their agreements. This demonstrates that Arizona as a whole takes the issue of conservation and efficiency very seriously and that we are prepared to share the burden of fixing this problem together. We all, of course, also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our Arizona delegation, especially Senators Sinema and Kelly, who worked so hard to pass both the IRA and the BIL, and to the Biden-Harris Administration for its commitment to solving this problem with tribes and not for us.
“As they say, actions speak so much louder than words, and our announcements today should resound loudly and proudly across our state, our region and entire country.”