It is highly apparent that large volumes of water can be conserved with what seems like simple but expensive technological improvements to the flow of water used for irrigation in California. Biting the bullet to finance such programs did not happen in shortsighted government and private funding before the drought that hit California in 2009.

In what has some appearance of political favors being fulfilled, the Interior Department and Department of Agriculture announced $9.1 million to fund collaborative projects for water delivery agencies and agricultural producers in California’s Central Valley.

“This cooperative effort is a concrete step forward in coordinating and leveraging federal actions to meet water supply needs while alleviating the ecological decline of the California Bay-Delta,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes. The money will fund five water/power delivery districts water savings, water management improvements and new supplies of water for ag irrigation projects. Money also goes to funding technical assistance to growers in the selected district for eligible on-farm conservation practices. There will be a sign-up/application period for the district’s eligible growers.

It was noted that the funding is a result of the 2009 Interim Federal Action Plan for the Bay Delta with involvement of the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Dept. of the Interior, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a part of the Department of Agriculture. The interim pilot program was launched to fund water use efficiency projects as California drought was pulling water away from agriculture.

Total water conservation of the five projects splitting $4.1 million in reclamation money has been estimated at about 17,550 acre-feet of water per year. The biggest water conservation (7,200 acre-feet) reportedly will occur with the Arroyo Canal Modernization at a total cost of $886,800 with federal reclamation funding of $434,975. With another project, the $1 million investment of reclamation funds will hardly save any water (300 acre-feet) by concrete lining 2.6 miles of earthen canal, which has a total cost of $2.8 million. The most expensive project at a total cost of almost $13 million saving 3,500 acre-feet of water per year will also only receive $1 million of reclamation funds; this is money to build a “state-of-the-art pressurized irrigation system replacing an open channel system.” 

With the $9.1 million total funding and $4.1 million going to construction projects, the remaining $5 goes to funding technical assistance to growers for eligible on-farm conservation practices through the NRCS.