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**This blog was updated on November 28, 2023**
The Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona (WIFA) has awarded $87,141,347.52 to applicants across the state to achieve long-term water conservation. The total projected water savings from these activities is 1.25 million acre-feet to 1.88 million acre-feet (one acre foot is 325,851 gallons).
Here is a snapshot of the awarded Water Conservation Grant Fund (WCGF) conservation initiatives:
- 67 applicants awarded across 14 counties
- 28 advanced meters and water system upgrades efforts
- 16 turf/ grass removal efforts
- 12 agriculture system upgrades
- Seven groundwater recharge programs
- One program encompassing turf removal and efficient fixtures/ system upgrades
- One research project to audit a municipal water system
The WCGF came from the 2022 Arizona legislature’s investment of $200 million for water conservation efforts to save water and improve water reliability—a much needed boost for one of the driest states in the country. WIFA has since established an ambitious target to save 5 million acre-feet (more than 1.6 trillion gallons!) of water through the WCGF.
Here is what you need to know about the WCGF:
Who is eligible to apply for WCGF money?
Applicants must be a water provider (for example: a Tribe, city, town, county, irrigation district, private water company) or a nongovernmental organization that focuses on environmental conservation that partners with a water provider. The applicant also must provide at least a 25 percent funding match.
What type of conservation activities are eligible to apply for WCGF?
WIFA is accepting applications for a wide range of innovative projects (eligible for up to $250,000 in funding) and programs (eligible for up to $3 million in funding) all with the same goal: to save water now and into the future.
Categories of eligible conservation activities include:
- Advanced meters/ system upgrades: These upgrades include technology that provides enhanced metering in cities and towns to accurately and frequently gather water-use readings (which provides additional data for customers to make more informed choices and help identify leaks), and improvements to municipal water distribution systems.
- Agriculture system upgrades: Upgrades to agricultural irrigation infrastructure include efforts like converting from flood irrigation to more efficient drip irrigation systems or lining canals.
- Education/ research/ studies: These activities include programs designed to gather and share information on, and teach people how to reduce water use, increase efficiency, or increase water reuse.
- Efficient fixtures: These upgrades include updating leaking and inefficient fixtures—like toilets, irrigation equipment, and even larger water distribution system infrastructure—which can save tens of thousands of gallons of water each year.
- Groundwater recharge: Directs stormwater, reclaimed water (wastewater sent down the drain that has been purified), or surface water (river water like the Colorado River or the Salt River) to store it underground, improving the health of our groundwater levels.
- Turf / grass removal: These initiatives include removing grass and installing drought-tolerant and native plants in urban landscapes, through rebates for residents and businesses, or at public-owned spaces such as city parks.
- Vegetation management/ Invasive plant removal: These efforts focus on protecting watersheds through restoring and rehabilitating riverside landscapes, often by removing invasive species and planting native species, which can improve watershed health and reduce wildfire risk.
Are applications still open?
WIFA has received more than 200 applications. The final application window will close November 30, 2023.
What process does each application go through?
- Eligible applicants apply for a WCGF grant
- WIFA staff ensures all criteria is met
- WCGF Committee reviews selected proposals for recommendation
(I’m excited and honored to serve on the WCGF Committee, representing a conservation advocacy organization—the National Audubon Society.)
- Final approval is voted on by the WIFA Board of Directors
How do the WCGF Committee and WIFA Board decide which applications should be approved?
The WCGF Committee and WIFA Board of Directors have had lengthy conversations about the impressive applications up for review. We have grappled with the challenges of comparing water conservation efforts. Water conservation is multifaceted. No two projects or programs are the same, whether you look at who it impacts, where it is located, how much water it saves, or how much it costs.
Water conservation also has immeasurable co-benefits—like how removing grass lessens the application of herbicides; or the overall community education and benefit provided by growing native plants, which save water and are beautiful (and good for birds) as well.
Are there any standardized costs or water savings for water conservation?
To outline the various considerations for water conservation—as well as augmentation—projects, the Water for Arizona Coalition published the report Investing in Arizona’s Water Future. This report explores considerations for some of the most well-known conservation and augmentation projects. Don’t have time to read the full report? There is a two-page executive summary available.
In addition to funding efforts to conserve the water we have, is WIFA looking at new water supplies?
Yes. The same 2022 legislation that funded the WCGF also authorized the Long-Term Water Augmentation Fund (LTWAF), which is tasked with bringing new water supplies into our state. WIFA is in the early stages of developing the LTWAF program, identifying future water demands and opportunities to augment current water supplies and requesting information from stakeholders. You can read Audubon’s input here.
Are WCGF meetings open to the public?
They are! Check out WIFA’s Public Meetings if you want to tune in, comment, or learn more about all the work going on at WIFA to fund water systems around the state.