Environment | National

Bureau of Indian Affairs increases rates at some irrigation systems

The San Carlos Irrigation Project in Arizona. Photo: Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has finalized rates at irrigation projects and irrigation facilities throughout the nation.

The rates for the most part have not changed dramatically. But, generally, they are increasing across the board the irrigation systems overseen by the BIA.

"To fulfill its consultation responsibility to tribes and tribal organizations, BIA communicates, coordinates, and consults on a continuing basis with these entities on issues of water delivery, water availability, and costs of administration, operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of projects that concern them," a forthcoming Federal Register notice states.

Examples of rate increases include those at the Fort Hall Irrigation Project on the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho. Affected users will pay a basic per acre rate of $52, up from $49, and a minimum charge per tract of $37, up from $35.

Over in Montana, users of the on the Crow Reservation are seeing basic per acre rates increase to $26 from $24.80. And in Wyoming, per acre rates at the Wind River Irrigation Project - Riverton Valley Irrigation District, which affects users on and near the Wind River Reservation are going up to $26 from $21.

A handful of irrigation project rates aren't changing at all and, in one situation in Arizona, they are going down. But the BIA decided against increasing rates for the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and for the Duck Valley Indian Irrigation Project on the Duck Valley Reservation, which spans the Nevada-Idaho border. An explanation wasn't offered in the notice.

The BIA proposed the rates last August. According to the notice, which will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, no one provided the agency with any written comments.

The rates paid by Indian and non-Indian users of irrigation systems help address maintenance, repair and upgrades. But the funds aren't nearly enough to address a backlog that the BIA has estimated to be around $570 million.

A new law could finally improve conditions. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act) authorizes the federal government to spend $35 million a year to fix the irrigation systems. The initiative, also known as the IRRIGATE Act, was the work of Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and other members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Congress still would have to appropriate the funds before the BIA could tackle the backlog. The agency concluded tribal consultations on the Indian Irrigation Fund last month but the new Trump administration hasn't said how it will move forward.

The outlook isn't favorable, though. President Donald Trump has proposed a 12 percent cut to the budget at Department of the Interior, the BIA's parent agency.

Forthcoming Federal Register Notice:
Rate Adjustments for Indian Irrigation Projects (To Be Published April 6, 2017)

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