A Tribal community is teaming up with the US Army for a first-of-its-kind project in the country to cover a canal in solar panels to conserve water while generating power in drought-hit Arizona.
The Gila River Indian Community has signed an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – a branch of the military that manages civil infrastructure on American navigable waters – to put the panels in place.
The Community claimed in a press release this month that the project will be the first of its kind to break ground in the US.
The first phase of the project will cover around 1,000ft (305 metres) of canal to show the “feasibility of the concept”, with the goal of later expanding the project to include more of the Community’s irrigation system, which it said is one of the largest in Arizona.
Water conservation is a key concern in Arizona, which has recently experienced an “extreme long-term drought” in certain regions.
A study last year found that the wider American West has spent the last two decades in what was described as the most extreme “megadrought” in at least 1,200 years.
The cost of the first phase of the project is estimated to be around $6.7m and it is expected to produce around 1MW of renewable energy.
Work on the first phase is expected to be completed in 2025, while feasibility and design efforts for the second phase have already begun, said the Community.
Community governor Stephen Roe Lewis said the project will “break new ground and further the Community’s role as stewards of our shudag [water].”
Is also in "keeping with the Community’s tradition of bringing innovation to irrigation systems throughout their lands,” he added.
USACE assistant secretary Michael Connor said the project was “incredibly innovative work” that would help both clean energy production and water conservation.
Canal-top solar projects have been attempted before, most notably by Indian engineering firm Sun Edison. However grand plans to cover 19,000km of canals in Gujarat state in solar panels reportedly only resulted in a few small projects before the company went bankrupt.