WASHINGTON — Farmers and ranchers in Colorado are likely to be the chief beneficiaries of the small-hydropower development bill President Obama signed into law Friday, according to a local government spokesman.
A family farmer who wishes to irrigate water for his or her crops and plants will not need to worry if U.S. Bureau of Reclamation land allows generating water on canals and ditches that generate five megawatts or less a year.
Now all sites on existing infrastructure permit small hydropower projects, although the federal government retains the right to nix individual projects .
“We’ve added a purpose. The primary purpose was water (consumption). Now there is a second purpose: hydropower” Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said in an interview.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) sponsored the Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act. Obama’s signature culminated a two-year push for the legislation.
The House passed a more business-friendly version of the bill March 2012. After Tipton changed language in the bill to mollify environmental critics, the legislation sailed through the House in April. The Senate passed the bill August 1.
Tipton and supporters of the law said it will help create jobs. Treese qualified their prediction.
“It will create jobs to the extent that people take advantage of the authorization. It’s not guaranteed. There is no project waiting for the legislation as far as I know, but I know of businessman who say, I don’t want to build a project because I don’t want to go through the hassles (of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act),” he said.
The environmental potential of the bill has been described in greater detail.
It would allow developers of small canals and ditches to build their projects on 373 man-made existing sites on federal land without requiring them to conduct a second environmental impact report. Twenty eight sites are in Colorado. According to a 2012 Bureau of Reclamation report, small hydropower developers could generate more than 100 million megawatts in the Centennial State a year.
Friday, also Obama signed into law a related small hydropower development bill that Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) sponsored. That measure directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the possibility of streamlining the process for small hydropower development on private land.