Federal Water Tap, May 5: Irrigation Expansion and Water Project Proposals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture brought a bounty of farm data to the public market on Friday when it released the 2012 agriculture census.

Published every five years, the census is a trove of information down to the county level on production practices, farm economics, and rural demographics. Being a water news site, Circle of Blue is interested in the irrigation trends.

On the whole, irrigation is declining in the dry West and making inroads in the humid East.
Since 1997, irrigated acreage is down 11 percent in California, 20 percent in New Mexico, and 25 percent in Colorado. Over the same period, irrigated acreage shot up 49 percent in Mississippi, 71 percent in Indiana, and 212 percent in Tennessee – albeit each from a much lower starting base.

Irrigation also adds value. Only 14 percent of farms are irrigated, but they account for 39 percent of the market value of farm sales.

Hydropower Potential
By squeezing every bit of dynamic energy out of sections of rivers that do not currently have dams or related facilities, the U.S. could, on paper, increase by 82 percent its hydroelectric generation capacity, according to an analysis for the Energy Department by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

That figure excludes land with federal environmental constraints, such as being located in a national park. The assessment does not recommend that these sites be developed for hydropower. It acknowledges that more-detailed studies would be necessary for any investment decision. Nonetheless, nearly 40 percent of this potential energy is located in the rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest, already the largest hydropower region in the country.

Importing Desalinated Water from Mexico
A municipal water district near San Diego filed an application with the State Department to build a pipeline for transporting water from desalination plant in Mexico into the United States.

All pipelines that cross international borders must be approved by the State Department. Otay Water District hopes to receive water from the project, which could provide up to 40 percent of its supply, by late 2017.

Arkansas Water Projects
The U.S. Department of Agriculture agency that supports rural access to water, energy, and telecommunication wants to give money for two irrigation and wildlife projects in eastern Arkansas that will reduce unsustainable groundwater use.

Under a cost sharing-program, the federal government is already picking up 65 percent of the cost for the Bayou Meto project and the Grand Prairie Area project. Loans from the Rural Utilities Service, amounting to $US 40 million total, would be applied to the state and local share.

Colorado River Basin Water Permit
An application for water from a large Colorado River Basin reservoir was deemed “inactive” by the Bureau of Reclamation, which has not heard recently from the project’s developer, Colorado entrepreneur Aaron Million.

Million wanted to send 165,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to cities along Colorado’s Front Range, via an 806-kilometer (501-mile) pipeline through the Rockies. Submitted in 2007, the proposal bounced between two federal agencies – the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – both of which stopped reviewing the project because Million did not provide them with enough information to evaluate it.

“During that period we basically never heard from him, nor have we since,” Malcolm Wilson, chief of water resources at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado office, told Circle of Blue, noting one brief conversation with Million a few months ago.

To reactivate the water application, Wilson said Million would have to restart the federal environmental review process, “which is a very expensive proposition” that Million would have to bear.

2013 River Review
The U.S. Geological Survey released a review of runoff in the nation’s rivers during the 2013 water year, which ran from October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013.

The report ranks river runoff by state, season, and hydrological unit. In general, flows in the East were higher than normal, while rivers in the interior West ran drier.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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