In the face of extreme drought conditions, a tribal community is embarking on an uplifting new collaboration to conserve water while also generating clean power.
Together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona will soon break ground on installing solar panels over irrigation canals — the first project of its kind in the nation, as Recharge News reported.
The solar canal pilot aims to cover 1,000 feet of canal to start. If successful, this first phase will pave the way to cover more miles of the Community’s vast irrigation system, one of the largest in Arizona, per the news outlet. The first phase of this project has an estimated cost of $6.7 million and is slated for completion in 2025.
Funding for the project is a result of the Biden administration’s long-term effort to support innovative solutions to the two-decades-long “megadrought” harming the North American Southwest, a result of which is the Colorado River Basin’s drought crisis.
By generating clean energy locally, the Community can achieve greater energy independence and economic resilience, reducing reliance on external energy sources.
Beyond financial savings, the Community’s forward-thinking initiative promises other attractive benefits, like improved water access and energy independence. The canal-top solar concept also aligns with tribal heritage as innovators of sustainable water management practices in the region.
As a long-term drought persists in Arizona, creative thinking like this could provide a blueprint for other Western communities to safeguard precious resources. Solar canals appear particularly promising to replicate in sun-drenched states.
Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis expects the first pilot to “break new ground and further the Community’s role as stewards of our shudag [water] and … the community’s tradition of bringing innovation to irrigation systems throughout their lands.”
The mounting enthusiasm doesn’t stop with the two project partners. Quoted by Recharge, USACE Assistant Secretary Michael Connor praised the solar canal plan as “incredibly innovative work.”
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