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Federal dollars continue to flow to Western conservation projects

The coal plant sources its water by pipeline from the Green River, a tributary of the shrinking Colorado River.
Julia Simon for NPR
Some of the money will fund projects in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming.

News brief: 

The Interior Department announced about $300 million in new funding last week for conservation projects. The majority of the money comes from the 2021's bipartisan infrastructure law, and many of the investments focus on ecosystems and water resources in the Mountain West.

At a conference in Boise, Idaho, on April 21, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said these projects reflect an unprecedented federal commitment to protect the nation’s natural resources.

“So much can be said for the benefits we all reap when humans simply get out of the way and allow nature to take the lead,” Haaland said.

Specifically, $35 million will go towards fish passage initiatives, including removing outdated dams, culverts and other barriers to aquatic ecosystems. Projects in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona are among the recipients.

Another $140 million is for water efficiency and resilience projects. These funds are a part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSmart Program and specifically target 15 Western states affected by drought. Money will largely flow to towns and irrigation districts looking to improve their local infrastructure. Projects include lining canals with better materials in Idaho, using better irrigation techniques at golf courses in Colorado and building more turf fields in Nevada.

“These projects are expected to conserve over 230,000 acre-feet of water when completed. That's equivalent to 77 billion gallons of water – enough for nearly 1 million people,” Haaland said.

Also announced last week was $125 million to fund a wide range of ecosystem restoration efforts. This includes sagebrush steppe habitat rejuvenation in parts of Utah, as well as improving recreational access in New Mexico and fire recovery throughout the region.

These recent funding announcements follow several others since the infrastructure law passed.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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