The flood of federal infrastructure spending approved by Congress has begun to make its way into rural Arizona — with the announcement of local projects.

Assorted federal agencies have begun to hand out grants to bolster broadband, cope with the ongoing drought and address the threat of catastrophic wildfire.

A handful of those projects will benefit rural Apache and Navajo counties. That includes a grant that will enable Arizona State University to design a recycling system for most of the communities in the White Mountains.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek) lobbied for the local projects through an approval system that gave local representatives input on rating projects. “The rescue plan has helped out and allowed the US to have the strongest economic recovery (from the pandemic) of any country in the world.”

The biggest round of new grants was announced by the US Bureau of Reclamation.

The Bureau announced $10 million in funding for measures to reduce wildfire risk as well as some $200 million to address the impact of the drought in the West.

The $10 million in grants to reduce the risk of wildfire through things like thinning projects and prescribed burns could support large-scale restoration projects like the 4Forests Restoration Initiatives (4FRI) — which has a host of ready-to-go projects.

The drought money includes $50 million to cushion the impact of water rationing on the Colorado River.

The seven states with rights to water from the Colorado River have agreed to conserve 500,000 acre-feet per year — with Arizona and Nevada absorbing most of the cuts. Reservoir levels have continued to fall, which could require another 500,000 acre-foot reduction this year.

The $50 million in added federal funding will cover payments for farmers forced to not plant crops for lack of water from the Central Arizona Project. That includes $14 million for tribes who have agreed to forego their share of the water.

The Central Arizona project’s 336-mile-long canal delivers about 1.4 million acre-feet of water annually, reaching all the way to Tucson. Most of the water currently goes to agriculture, but the canal also provides 40% of the water used by Phoenix. Pumps lift the water 2,900 feet along the course of the canal, making the system the largest electricity user in the state.

In addition, the US Department of Agriculture has announced some $19 million in new grants to rural areas statewide.

Local projects include:

• $1.8 million to build a 30-mile-long, high-speed fiberoptic trunk line that will provide access to high-speed internet to about 1,000 people in Northern Apache and Navajo counties on reservation communities.

• $153,000 to provide community workshops and training on the Hopi and Navajo reservations to help communities develop water and wastewater grant applications as well as training in operating drinking water and wastewater systems. An estimated one in three Navajo families lack indoor plumbing.

• $1 million to the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona to provide technical assistance, training and operator certification services to run water and sanitation systems.

• $160,000 to Arizona State University to design recycling systems for rural communities, including Pinetop-Lakeside, Heber, Overgaard, White Mountain Lake, Springerville and Whiteriver.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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