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US agency turns to P3s for water projects

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation issued an RFI seeking private sector partners and will hold a public forum next month.

The US Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water resource management on projects primarily in the western part of the country, is exploring options for private financing and public-private partnerships.

The bureau, part of the US Department of the Interior, issued a request for information on Tuesday and will hold a public forum in Colorado on 9 May. The RFI aims “to provide an opportunity for industry input on the potential transaction structures” of P3s.

The initiative stems from a department-wide effort, launched in December 2015 as part of President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative, to identify innovative ways to partner with the private sector to conserve water resources. The department identified several reclamation projects with P3 potential and the bureau initiated the RFI and forum to pursue these possibilities.

The RFI identified five projects – water distribution systems in Colorado and New Mexico, a desalinisation plant in Arizona, a drought relief pumping plant in Washington state and a salinity control unit in Colorado – as leading candidates for private investment.

Established in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation has built more than 600 dams and reservoirs, including the Hoover Dam, along with power plants and canals in 17 western states. The bureau’s budget was approximately $1.2 billion in 2017. While the bureau has worked with private partners in a limited capacity in the past, private capital has never been utilised on the scale of the projects considered in the RFI, a USBR spokeswoman said.