Mark Herbert

(CN) — The Biden administration unveiled an initiative Tuesday to tackle the pressing issue of water scarcity and drought resilience in the U.S. West, focusing specifically on the Colorado River Basin.

The plan sets an ambitious goal to conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of water by the end of 2026, utilizing resources made available through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to a White House press release.

This initiative is supported by a $15.4 billion investment aimed at confronting Western water challenges and bolstering climate resilience. The Biden administration said this funding stems from “landmark legislation” and is crucial for the sustainability and security of the nation's water resources amid ongoing climate challenges.

“Together, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provide the largest investment in climate resilience in our nation’s history,” the White House said in the press release. “This includes $15.4 billion for Western water to enhance the West’s resilience to drought and deliver unprecedented resources to protect the Colorado River System for all whose lives and livelihoods depend on it.”

Experts praised the move. "The infrastructure bill passed and has been doing wonders for the economy, infrastructure, and water, of course. The administration does not get nearly enough credit it deserves," said Shemin Ge, a biological sciences professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. "It's a much-needed and timely piece. Reading it all together, it feels incredible and overwhelming."

Highlighting the severity of the situation, the White House noted the Colorado River Basin recently experienced its driest period in over a thousand years. The megadrought added to the urgency behind the administration's efforts to safeguard water supplies for over 40 million people, hydropower generation across eight states, agriculture, and the livelihoods of 30 tribes reliant on this crucial water source.

In a direct effort to mitigate these challenges, the administration has announced three new conservation agreements in California that promise substantial water savings for Lake Mead. Supported by nearly $160 million from the Inflation Reduction Act, these agreements are part of an extensive effort to achieve more than 1.58 million acre-feet of water conservation in the Basin through 2026.

To achieve these goals, several projects have been initiated:

  • $362 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for eight water storage and conveyance projects, enhancing water supply reliability and climate resilience;
  • Six funding opportunities with approximately $230 million available for large-scale recycling projects, desalination construction, and more;
  • $763 million for seven rural water projects across the West, aimed at bringing clean, reliable drinking water to rural communities;
  • Up to $50 million available in 2024 through the WaterSMART Program for water and energy efficiency projects;
  • $83 million for the Gila River Community’s Reclaimed Water Pipeline Project, which will expand water reuse and conservation;
  • Up to $5.6 million for the Gila River Indian Community Solar-Over-Casa Blanca Canal Project, expected to conserve water and produce power by placing solar panels on top of irrigation canals.

The broader initiative includes a variety of water infrastructure projects, such as water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination, and dam safety. These projects are integral to the strategy to improve water supply reliability and climate resiliency across several states, the White House said.