Money for Reclamation in the Stimulus Package

James Wimberly was worried that Reclamation will get $1.4B in the Stimulus Package, so I went to look at what that money was for:

$1.4 billion in funding for the Bureau of Reclamation. … The funding provided includes: an inventory and analysis of existing infrastructure, especially canals that could potentially impact population centers; maintenance or replacement of Reclamation owned and operated infrastructure; drought preparation and emergency response activities; improving energy efficiency at Bureau of Reclamation owned facilities as well as for maintenance and rehabilitation of Bureau of Reclamation owned and operated hydropower facilities; tribal and nontribal rural water projects; water reclamation and reuse projects; construction of water delivery projects.

I don’t know whether the list provided is in priority order, but if it is, someone did a good job on this allocation to Reclamation. All of the items on the list sound useful to me.

One of the under-appreciated truths in water infrastructure right now is that fixing bottlenecks in canals is worth about ten times more than increasing supplies (pg 20). Maintaining and replacing infrastructure is reasonable; there are a lot of leaky canals and gates out there. Some of those water projects went in a hundred years ago. Drought preparation is overdue and emergency response gets more important as climate change brings more intense floods than we’ve seen before. Improving Reclamation’s energy efficiency is a non-negligible climate change mitigation measure. Water projects use a lot of power. Tribal water projects generally have solid social justice underpinnings. If a tribe is just now getting a water project upgrade, it is likely they’ve been shafted for a couple hundred years. Water reclamation is code for re-using wastewater.

Construction of water delivery projects, all the way last on the list, is the first time anything that could be construed as “building new dams” shows up. Reclamation has earned distrust and monitoring, and I hope that they get careful scrutiny from the House Subcommittee on Water and Power. But on its face, this is not a knee-jerk, water buffalo style “build more dams” prioritization. In fact, the mention of canals limiting deliveries to population centers is a surprisingly knowledgeable and sophisticated appreciation of the problems. Good work, obscure staffer who wrote this portion of the bill. Now make sure that Reclamation spends the money the way you wrote it!

(If you were looking to be cynical, you could worry that “canals that could impact population centers” means the Peripheral Canal in California, which is the subject of very active conflict. Even so, this language doesn’t mention by name Reclamation’s prospective dam in CA, Temperance Flats. If you want to give the new House and Interior Department the benefit of the doubt, this list can support that reading.)

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