Acquiring new efficiency is increasingly difficult. A recent study of Falls Irrigation District promises significant water and energy savings–if $8.6 million can be raised and specialized parts can be requisitioned. 

This project is the first of its kind and will be an example for 10 other irrigation districts in the area that need rehabilitation. 

Mike Gross, Energy Efficiency marketing lead
Thanks to more than four decades of successful energy efficiency investments in the Northwest, conservation is the Bonneville Power Administration’s second largest resource behind hydropower. Now, after picking most of the low-hanging fruit, BPA and its utility partners are reaching higher to achieve their energy efficiency targets. This means tapping into the remaining efficiency potential while finding creative funding solutions and overcoming supply chain challenges. 

One untapped potential: irrigation districts. A recent study of Falls Irrigation District found significant water and energy savings could be achieved by modernizing its equipment. These savings could be replicated at other irrigation districts BPA serves, ultimately benefiting Northwest farmers. 

“This project is the first of its kind and will be an example for 10 other irrigation districts in the area that need rehabilitation,” said Mike Gross, Energy Efficiency marketing lead. “It’s thanks to Dick Stroh, Energy Efficiency customer service engineer in Idaho Falls, that BPA first identified the potential project. His work is a good example of how Engineering Services goes above and beyond to find creative solutions for our customers’ problems.”

Founded in 1949, FID is using the same pumps it used when it made its first water deliveries in 1958. The condition of the pump station, which lacks automation or the ability to adjust motor speed, results in over-pumping and water spills that lead to substantial water and energy waste. 

The project proposal is to automate the pump station, enabling the irrigation district to match supply to demand and reduce over-pumping. This would conserve 550 million gallons of water and 386,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually. For perspective, 326,000 gallons is enough to cover an entire football field one foot deep. 

Irrigation districts like FID are part of a unique subset of BPA customers, known as Reserved Power customers, who access power directly from the Federal Columbia River Power System rather than a local utility. BPA has set aside funds via the Energy Smart Reserved Power program to support Reserved Power customers with water and energy efficiency projects. Completing efficiency projects such as the FID overhaul is a benefit for BPA because it increases the amount of available power the agency can sell directly to other preference customers. 

Overcoming project challenges 

The hurdles FID is facing illustrate industry-wide challenges. Supply chain delays – including the delivery of a new transformer – are among the most daunting obstacles, requiring some creative solutions. 

That’s why Shawn Tischendorf, FID manager, opted for a refurbished transformer, reducing the delivery time to 25 weeks compared to 50 or more weeks. 

“We were grateful to find a refurbished transformer, shaving years off the project’s timeline,” says Tischendorf. “A 25-week delivery period isn’t that long considering the entire project scope.” 

The irrigation district still needs to acquire additional specialty equipment like pumps and motors before installation can begin. An additional challenge is that any part that can’t be sourced in the U.S. needs a special approval waiver from the newly created Made in America office. 

Currently, FID is purchasing and storing the orders it can fulfill in a warehouse. Since many of the specialty parts have a delivery timeline, the anticipated installation start date is October 2024. Once the materials arrive, completing the project could take anywhere from 6 to 18 months.

Funding this project is another issue. The irrigation district’s board, recognizing the long-term benefits of these upgrades, voted to go into debt to fund this project. But the hefty $8.6 million price tag needs significant support. In addition to funding from BPA, FID is applying for multiple grants. 

“Our biggest challenge is lining up the grant funding and combating rising material costs due to inflation,” says Tischendorf, adding that project costs have jumped by over $1 million since the initial project plan. “My team has spent a lot of hours writing the grants and applying for them.” 

To date, the project has received two Idaho Water Board grants totaling $2.2 million and a $3.7 million grant from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Smart program. A potential grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is pending. Navigating the requirements of all the grants is a challenge in its own right, with complicated cost-share rules and formulas.

Still, FID and BPA agree the project is worth the effort.

If BPA can help get this project to completion, it would achieve big energy savings for FID, serve as an example to other irrigation districts, and build on our legacy of energy conservation.  

Since 1980, BPA has acquired about 2,500 average megawatts in energy savings, enough to power 1.79 million homes for a year.

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