The Hey Joe Canyon trail, a narrow off-road trail that weaves along the bottom edge of Labyrinth Canyon and the Green River, as seen from an EcoFlight above one of the areas that will be impacted by the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges Travel Plan on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday $147 million in federal grants to help underserved communities dogged by water scarcity issues. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Money designed in part to improve water supply in the Colorado River Basin

In another move to build water resilient systems in the West and particularly in the Colorado River Basin, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday $147 million in federal grants to help underserved communities dogged by water scarcity issues. The funding will support 42 projects in 10 states.

In eastern Utah, nearly $6.6 million was granted to the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation which operates the Ute Tribe Water Systems, providing water service to tribal members.

This area in Utah’s Uinta Basin is where communities rely on the water from the Colorado River’s largest tributary, the Green River, which is also fed by the Duchesne and White rivers.

“As communities across the West continue to face the impacts of ongoing drought, the Biden-Harris administration is making record investments to safeguard local water supplies and build climate resilience now and into the future,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “By working together in close coordination with states, tribes and other stakeholders, we can provide much needed relief for communities across the West that will have a lasting impact for generations.”

In terms of the Ute Tribe Water System, it relies on two shallow springs that the Interior Department said are subject to productivity fluctuations determined by local hydrology. The current system lacks storage capacity during certain seasons or drought periods with the springs becoming insufficient to meet demand, necessitating water hauling to tribal members.

Decreased production of the springs has also resulted in low water pressure issues, prompting mandatory boil water orders from the Environmental Protection Agency. To enhance water supply reliability and quality, the tribe will construct three new domestic water supply wells, a water treatment facility, transmission and distribution pipelines, and a 90,000-gallon water storage tank. This infrastructure will provide up to 168 acre-feet of water per year.

Additionally, the project not only benefits the water system that currently serves over 3,000 tribal members but will also extend its services to residents in the Farm Creek Loop Road area who currently rely on private wells that periodically run dry.

Boosting the Colorado River Basin’s health

“With new resources provided through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are investing in locally led projects to help build drought resilience,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “These projects focus on improving water management strategies, infrastructure and efficiency to mitigate the impacts of drought on communities, agriculture and ecosystems.”

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $4 billion in funding specifically for water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin and other areas experiencing similar levels of long-term drought. To date, the agency has announced 202 system conservation agreements under the Inflation Reduction Act for an estimated 1.7 million acre-feet of Colorado River system conservation through 2026, totaling $716 million.

Outside the Colorado River Basin, the agency granted nearly $455,000 for Tooele County to construct a domestic water supply system in unincorporated Ibapah to serve local tribal and non-tribal communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change hazards, lack of indoor plumbing, legacy pollution and socioeconomic vulnerabilities.

The bureau said the Ibapah community currently grapples with severe limitations in accessing clean and safe drinking water, relying on trucked water, bottled water from the grocery store, and personal wells that are prone to failure. The inadequate water supply not only poses public health and safety hazards but also hampers the local fire station’s emergency response, resulting in delayed responses and increased property damage.

To tackle this, Tooele County will construct and equip a well and a distribution system to provide domestic water supplies of up to 10 acre-feet annually, according to the bureau. The project will increase water supply reliability, alleviate the impacts of drought, enhance firefighting capabilities, improve public health and safety, enhance climate change resiliency, and stimulate economic growth in the community. The project’s need was determined by the road department, fire department, facilities department, the county manager as well as the city council.

Deseret News Reporter
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues. In 2019 she received a silver medal in the prestigious Kavli competition by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Amy’s family lives in Weber County with their horses, chickens, Irish Wolfhounds and Jack the cat.

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