Water for Colorado

Federal Funding Opportunities

Capturing Federal Investments to Benefit Rivers

This past year, a once-in-a-generation influx of federal funding came to western water. At a time when the region is confronting historic megadrought, record-low reservoirs, disappointing snowfall, catastrophic wildfire, and the overarching impacts of climate change, this infusion of funds from the federal government — and members of the Colorado delegation who supported it, both at home and in D.C. — is critical. 


Over the coming state legislative session and beyond, Colorado must work to capture these federal funds. 

But on what kinds of projects can these funds be spent? How will they benefit rivers and watersheds across Colorado? How can NGOs, water management entities, local and tribal governments, and state leaders work together to ensure these funds are maximized efficiently and effectively? Read on to learn more.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 

What is it?

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), otherwise known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in November 2021 .

How much $$ did it allocate?

A groundbreaking $8.3 billion for Western Water (of its overall $1.2 trillion) plus a $50 billion investment in the resilience of infrastructure and ecosystems to climate change.

How will Colorado benefit?

Colorado stands to benefit greatly from the influx of federal funds; however, the exact amounts, programs, and timelines remain to be determined.

There are dozens of potential water investments likely to benefit Colorado, including those through the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

The types of projects benefiting from this funding are far-ranging. Some examples include:

  • $250 million for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration

  • $1 billion for water reuse and recycling projects

  • $50 million for the Upper Basin to implement Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans

  • $100 million for multibenefit watershed health project grants

Again, Colorado will not be eligible for all money, but will certainly directly benefit from the funds allocated to local, state, and regional projects, all of which will improve water quality and infrastructure.

Can my organization, community, or tribe apply for funding?

Yes! While state, local governments, and federal agencies will be applying for and appropriating money to various local projects in Colorado, organizations, communities, and tribes can also apply for grants and other funding opportunities.

Much of the existing federal funding is available through existing programs such as the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Grant Program, Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds, and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. We encourage you to visit the Ten Strategies Website to explore Factsheets highlighting the funding available for states, tribes, and NGOs. The website also includes a searchable database of available funds, which will be updated as new opportunities arise.

Many programs in IIJA will be developed through internal agency processes, so communities can and should be proactive in reaching out with projects. The EPA and Bureau of Reclamation — agencies managing national implementation of the legislation — is also encouraging communities to reach out with ideas and concerns regarding equitable distribution of funds. The Administration will be hosting topic-specific listening sessions in the near future. Check back for updates on when these will occur and how you can participate!

What happens next?

State agencies such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Public Health and Environment can and will be applying for federal funds, which they can then allocate to state and local projects.

In many cases, to access these federal funds they must be matched with state or private dollars so it is critical that the legislature appropriates state dollars for this purpose.

While a clear timeline for all IIJA programs hasn’t been established, IIJA funding through several Bureau of Reclamation competitive grant programs are available now with more programming coming online in mid-Spring. It will be important for the public to contact their state and local representatives, letting them know the importance of addressing our water challenges and the need for state investment to leverage the federal funds.

American Rescue Plan Act

What is it?

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which passed the U.S. Congress in March 2021, directly awarding federal dollars to state agencies and legislative appropriations. 

How much $$ did it allocate?

$1.9 trillion to COVID recovery and economic relief, with $3.8 billion of those stimulus funds coming directly to Colorado.

How will Colorado benefit?

According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, ARPA “includes funding for Colorado through numerous avenues, primarily targeted grants to state agencies/local governments and flexible funding through Treasury’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF).”

State and local agencies may request funds for specific water projects, and have already begun to do so. For example:

  • A DNR submitted proposal of $15 million for Republican and Rio Grande Basin Groundwater Recovery
  • Another DNR submitted proposal of $23 million for state parks broadband, sewer, and water infrastructure
  • Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser has expressed support for using $100 million of ARPA funds to invest in Colorado water projects, and Water for Colorado likewise requested funding for  watershed health and river resiliency projects that might otaherwise go overlooked or underfunded.

Can my organization, community, or tribe apply for funding?

Unlike the IIJA, which allows non-state entities to apply for funding, ARPA requests and subsequent allocations are solely made through the state. That being said, communities, tribes, and organizations will have opportunities to provide input on state projects that request funding following federal allocations. 

What happens next?

The General Assembly will determine which requests get funding in the coming months.

What kinds of projects will this $$ benefit?

Projects across Colorado that help achieve the goals set forth by the Colorado Water Plan and increase our state’s resilience to climate change are in need of funding. While state stimulus funds, sports betting, and local taxes all benefit these projects, federal money can ensure essential projects get off the ground. 

Check out Water for Colorado’s project map below to explore where funding might go:

How else are we funding water?