Colorado River Basin to Receive Millions in Federal Funds for Water Resources, Ecosystem Health and Watershed Restoration

American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon and Trout Unlimited applaud $51 million in grants allocated through President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda for Water Resources, and $141 million through the America the Beautiful Challenge

Two recent announcements from federal officials at the Department of the Interior have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to projects across the country for water resource conservation and land conservation efforts, made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. On Wednesday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Michael Brain announced $51 million in grants for projects across 11 states as part of President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda. Nine of the 30 selected projects are located in the Colorado River Basin, and will collectively receive more than $13 million for water conservation, management, and restoration efforts. Additionally, earlier this week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation joined public partners in announcing $141 million in grants through the America the Beautiful Challenge to fund projects that conserve, restore, and connect lands and waters and build community resilience.

Conservation and sportsmen groups applauded the funding commitments, describing them as critically needed investments at a time when the region is grappling with stark challenges to its long-term water security, climate resilience, and sustainable land management. The Western United States as a whole, and the Colorado River Basin in particular, has faced dwindling water supplies amid chronic overuse and increasing aridification due to climate change. 

State and local funding played a crucial role in providing matching dollars that qualified these projects for the federal grants. For example, Colorado’s Proposition DD, passed by voters in 2019, has generated over $50 million for water conservation projects aligned with the state’s water plan. Nonetheless, funding gaps across the region remain, illustrating the need for significant, coordinated, and ongoing water-related investments in the Basin from federal and state governments.

“Funding for water resilience and conservation is sorely needed in the Colorado River Basin, a region being confronted by water challenges from all directions,”  said Fay Hartman, Conservation Director of the Southwest Regional Program at American Rivers, which is set to receive funds for its Uncompahgre River Multi-Benefit Project and for it’s Assessing and Prioritizing Aquatic Connectivity on U.S. Forest Service Lands project. “These projects will do immeasurable good for communities and ecosystems facing long-term threats to their water security, and we applaud the administration for taking this bold first step.”

“A hotter, drier future is bearing down on the West, and investing big in climate resilience and ecosystem restoration is our only path forward,” said Sara Porterfield, Western Water Policy Advisor at Trout Unlimited, which will receive grants for its Sage Creek Watershed Restoration project and its Middle Colorado River Agriculture Collaborative project at Elk Creek. “These federal funds are an important down payment on our future water security, but a coordinated and continued push for investments in bold resilience solutions is still needed to match the scale of the crisis.” 

“These investments represent real progress in the ongoing effort to adapt to the impacts of increased drought, fires and floods throughout the Colorado River Basin,” said Celene Hawkins, Colorado River Tribal Partnerships Program Director at The Nature Conservancy, who is a partner with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission on a project in partnership with the Jicarilla Apache Nation that received funding through America the Beautiful. “In order to affect real change in the Basin we need to work together, across differences, on solutions with multiple benefits. This on the ground collaboration becomes even more viable with the increase in federal funding available. It gives us all a real opportunity to test ideas, scale projects and spread knowledge.” 

“Audubon is thrilled that the Cocopah Tribe received this significant grant and we’re ready to continue supporting them in their efforts to utilize their water rights, recover some of the cultural and environmental resources that were lost due to the elimination of river flows in the river’s delta, and restore degraded Colorado River habitat for the community, native plants, birds and other wildlife.” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, which has supported the Cocopah Tribe on this project since 2019.

“Across the West, persistent drought is giving rise to innovative projects that benefit the environment and water users both,” said U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado. “These investments, funded by our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, support a resilient approach to managing climate change-driven aridification across the Colorado River Basin.”

“As drought continues to pose an imminent threat to states across the West, I’m proud to have helped secure over $10 million in critical investments for water restoration and conservation projects across Colorado’s Western Slope. As Co-Chair of the Colorado River Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to ensure our great state has the resources necessary to address these long-term challenges.” said Representative Joe Neguse (CO-02).

“Our long-term water security is among the most pressing concerns Arizonans face, and I’m pleased to see the critical watershed restoration work in Altar Valley and the Coconino National Forest recognized and supplemented with these new federal resources,” said Representative Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06) “These projects are great examples of the innovative sustainability efforts taking place throughout Arizona to safeguard our resources and build resilience.”

A full list of projects receiving funding from the WaterSMART grant announcement can be found here. Projects awarded through the America the Beautiful Challenge are listed here


Sean Keady, [email protected]

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