RCPP Irrigation Hydro Navigation Guide


Funding Announcement

The ACRE3 program, in coordination with USDA NRCS-Colorado, announces the availability of funding twice a year typically in the Spring and Fall. Pre-applications are accepted on a continuous basis. 

RCPP Irrigation Hydropower Pre-Application
Download the form then open it in Acrobat, not your web browser
Submit completed pre-applications to cda_hydro@state.co.us


Pre-planning and Eligibility

Please review this section first. Here, you can find details about the latest funding announcement, find out if hydropower might work on your farm, learn about the different funding programs and eligibility requirements, and download a comprehensive checklist of all the application materials to help you track your application process.

Project Developers should view the Hydro Navigation Guide Resources to download the Agricultural Hydropower Technical Manual, hydropower assessment and design tools, a project planning checklist, and other resources for project developers and program partners.

RCPP Irrigation Small Hydro Program

The RCPP Pressurized Irrigation Small Hydropower Partnership Project provides financial and technical assistance to help agricultural producers upgrade their irrigation systems to more efficiently use water and save energy. This project promotes the conversion of flood-irrigated fields to sprinkler irrigation with integrated hydropower to promote efficient water-use and energy conservation while preserving the irrigator’s full water rights. The project provides financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and CDA’s ACRE3 program and provides assistance to apply for additional funding from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The ACRE3 program accepts pre-applications (Statement of Intent to Apply) year-around and encourages applicants to have the Site Assessment and Technical Report completed prior to the funding announcement due to time constraints of the program.

P.01 RCPP Hydro Program Flow Chart 

What Is Water-powered Irrigation?

Hydropower comes from the energy in falling water and can drive a center pivot sprinkler system by producing electric power to run electric motors or producing mechanical power to run a hydraulic drive system. It is important to note that hydropower is not compatible with irrigation systems fed by pumped well water.

Two types of micro-hydropower systems can be installed in irrigation systems: Hydroelectric systems generate electric power and are almost always connected to the local power grid, much like a typical solar PV system on the roof of a house. Hydro-mechanical systems use turbine pumps to run belt drives and don’t use or produce any electricity.

Some benefits of converting flood irrigation to a more efficient irrigation/sprinkler system include:

Precision in the application of irrigation water with sprinkler systems reduces evaporation and return flows and can deliver a larger yield. More efficient use of water allows for expansion of irrigated area into previously non-productive land. When droughts and other calamities strike, sprinkler irrigated systems out produce flood irrigated systems and allow for resiliency.

Could Hydropower Work On Your Farm?

A good candidate site for hydropower has the following characteristics:

  • At least 30 acres, currently or recently irrigated.
  • In addition to the water required for irrigation, there should be either excess head pressure of at least 35 feet (15 psi) OR excess flow of at least 400 gpm (0.9 cfs) for at least 4 months per year.


Site eligibility requires sufficient hydropower resources (pressure and flow rate) and road access to the site. Hydroelectric projects also require access to nearby power lines as well as various permits, inspections, and agreements that are not required for hydro-mechanical projects.

Once a Statement of Intent to Apply has been submitted, a site assessment and feasibility study must be completed to confirm eligibility of the project and score the project for viability and funding. 

Hydro-mechanical vs Hydroelectric

Hydro-Mechanical Systems: Hydro-mechanical systems use hydro turbines and belt drives to operate center-pivot sprinkler systems equipped with Hydraulic Power Units (HPUs) rather than electric motors. These center pivots do not need electricity to operate, making them ideal for remote locations where electric power is not available. T-L Irrigation, one of the top 5 irrigation equipment providers in the U.S., is currently the only company that makes this type of center pivot. Hydro-mechanical systems require high-quality hydropower resources to match the requirements of the sprinkler system. 

New power lines may cost $50,000 per mile or more to install. A hydro-mechanical system can eliminate this cost and the energy costs of operating a center-pivot sprinkler system. It typically takes one contractor about one to three months to design and install a new center pivot with a hydro-mechanical drive system after the feasibility study is completed.

Hydroelectric Systems:  Hydroelectric systems can be installed on pressurized irrigation pipelines to directly offset electrical loads on the farm using a grid-connected, net-metered system. Most utilities limit the size of commercial net-metered systems to less than 25 kilowatts (kW). Hydroelectric systems use hydro turbines to operate a generator that produces “wild” DC or AC electricity. A package of electrical equipment and controls smooth-out the wild electricity and make it safe to transfer to the local utility or operate on-farm equipment.

Hydroelectric projects require access to a power line and appropriate, non-residential electric loads, such as water pumps, electric motor drive systems, or on-farm electric heating and cooling systems. It typically takes several contractors about six to twelve months to design and install a new hydroelectric system after the feasibility study is completed.

P.02 Hydro-mechancial vs Hydroelectric


What Types Of Assistance Are Available?

Eligible applicants may receive technical and financial assistance to develop on-farm hydropower for pressurized irrigation systems, including new pipelines and sprinkler systems.

Technical Assistance

The RCPP irrigation hydro program can provide technical assistance to help farmers upgrade their irrigation systems to save water and energy. Technical assistance is available to help applicants with the following:

Evaluate on-farm hydropower resources and options (site assessment and feasibility study).
Implement water efficiency improvements and practices.
Select qualified equipment for hydropower, pipelines, and sprinklers.
Identify qualified contractors for engineering, procurement, and construction.
Apply for permitting.

Funding Assistance

The RCPP irrigation hydro program provides funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and ACRE3 energy grant program. Additional funding is available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). ACRE3 funding will be awarded after funding has been approved for EQIP and REAP (if applicable). When applying for funding through these programs, please note that funding payments are on a reimbursement basis and upfront costs of the project are the responsibility of the applicant. Please note that federal tax incentives for renewable energy cannot be used together with payments from a federally funded program such as EQIP or REAP.


The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to eligible agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. EQIP may also help producers meet Federal, State, Tribal, and local environmental regulations. EQIP has three payment rates within the RCPP program: regular EQIP, EQIP special initiatives, and EQIP historically underserved. 

To get started with EQIP, go to: www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted. Select “Service Center Locator” to find a local representative. Please request assistance through the RCPP hydro program.

This document describes EQIP project eligibility and criteria for the RCPP irrigation hydro program:

P.03a RCPP-EQIP Eligibility Criteria

EQIP payments are determined from the eligible conservation practices listed in the EQIP Practice Payment Schedule. Here are some examples of available practice codes:

430 Irrigation Pipeline – Micro Hydro Power Plant 442 Irrigation System, Sprinkler 449 Irrigation Water Management 430 Irrigation Pipeline – HDPE Pipe 587 Structure for Water Control – Cleaning Screens 533 Pumping Plant

While the minimum REAP grant request is $2,500 and competition is lower for requests under $20,000, we encourage applicants to consider that the amount of work required for small grants is nearly the same as that required for large grant requests. Before applying for a REAP grant, the applicant should look over the application and REAP checklist to estimate the number of hours that it will take to meet the application requirements both before and after the application is submitted.

This document describes REAP project eligibility and criteria:

P.03c REAP Eligibility Criteria

Additional Incentives, Policies, and Programs

Participation in the RCPP irrigation Hydropower Program precludes you from receiving renewable energy tax credits from the IRS.  However, several other tax incentives, financing options, renewable energy policies, and local programs may provide additional assistance with hydro projects.  The attached brochure provides information to help you take advantage of these other opportunities.

P.04 Renewable Energy Incentives and Policies in Colorado

REAP grants provide up to 25% of eligible project costs, including renewable energy equipment and installation costs. REAP grants and loans can be combined for a maximum of 75% of project costs.

Please note: When completing the REAP application, all hydro projects approved for the RCPP irrigation hydro program should always be categorized as Renewable Energy Systems for Energy Replacement (not for Energy Generated or Energy Saved) unless the estimated energy production exceeds the on-farm energy needs. In that case, the project should be categorized under Renewable Energy Systems for Energy Generation.

Payments are based on the approved payment rate and the extent of the practice implemented as shown in the sample Payment Schedule below.

2016 Colorado Environmental Quality Incentives Program Payment Schedule
Practice Scenario Unit Regular EQIP - East Slope Regular EQIP - West Slope HU EQIP - East Slope HU EQIP - West Slope Notes
430 Irrigation Pipeline HDPE (Iron Pipe Size & Tubing) Pound $1.52 $1.98 $2.29 $2.74  
430 Irrigation Pipeline Micro Hydro-mechanical Power Plant Horsepower $933.58 $1,103.32 $1,357.94 $1,527.68  
442 Irrigation System, Sprinkler Center Pivot System Acre $411.50 $452.65 $617.25 $658.40 $30,000 max
449 Irrigation Water Management Basic I WM = 30 acres Acre $18.96 $22.40 $27.57 $31.02  
587 Structure for Water Control Concrete Turnout Structure Cubic Yard $489.61 $578.63 $712.16 $801.18  
587 Structure for Water Control Concrete Turnout Structure - Small Each $1,583.80 $1,874.76 $2,303.71 $2,591.67  
587 Structure for Water Control Cleaning Screens Pound $6.02 $7.11 $8.76 $9.85  
Hydro-mechanical Turbine Up to 25% of installed cost of turbine
Technical Assistance (In-Kind) Up to $5,000 or as required (In-kind - CDA and NRCS Staff)
Other Project Costs CDA Discretionary Incentives

The ACRE3 program promotes the development and implementation of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for Colorado’s agricultural producers and processors under the direction of the Colorado Agricultural Value-Added Development Board.  The Colorado Department of Agriculture may award ACRE3 funds to projects for up to 25% of eligible project costs, not to exceed $25,000 per project. The  ACRE3 program will provide technical services to agricultural producers to complete the project development process described in this navigation guide. This document describes ACRE3 project eligibility and criteria:

P.03b ACRE3 Eligibility Criteria


The USDA Rural Development (RD) provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  REAP grants can be used to purchase or install hydropower systems to reduce energy costs and consumption and help meet the Nation’s critical energy needs. REAP has two types of funding assistance:

Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Assistance Financing programs for secured loans up to 75% of project costs.
RCPP Program Checklist

As an aid for tracking the process through the RCPP Program, a checklist of all forms and items needed is attached.  Some items are universally needed for EQIP, ACRE3, and REAP; however, each program has its own forms as well.  The checklist includes all items needed for the applicant, service providers, and contractor.

S.01b RCPP Hydro Program - Master Checklist  

Helpful Tips

P.05 Helpful Tips About the RCPP Hydro Program 

Case Studies

Example projects have been prepared and several projects have been completed. Results from these projects are shown in these case studies to serve as a guide for applicants, service providers and contractors.

Application and Project Development Process

Presented within is a step by step process for the applicant, service providers, and partners to follow in completion of the application and project development process.  The RCPP Program Checklist is included and it is strongly recommended that the applicant print this and track completion in conjunction with the step by step process.  Note that not all steps will be completed by the applicant, service providers, and partners.

Step 1 - Preliminary Application

The first step in the RCPP Irrigation Hydro Program is for the applicant to submit a Preliminary Application.
S.01a RCPP Irrigation Hydropower Pre-Application 

Submit completed pre-applications to cda_hydro@state.co.us

S.01b RCPP Hydro Program - Master Checklist 

Step 2 - Site Assessment (Resource Inventory)

The Program Manager or a program partner performs a Site Assessment for the applicant. The purpose of a Site Assessment is to conduct a resource inventory to determine if a proposed project site appears promising enough to warrant proceeding to a Technical Report. The Site Assessment also helps to determine the best type of hydropower system to pursue: Hydroelectric or Hydro-mechanical system. Specific questions answered by the assessment are the site location, ownership, stream or body of water, water rights, road access as well as community or environmental issues.
S.02.1a Hydro-mechanical Toolbox 

S.02.1b Hydro-mechanical Toolbox Example 

S.02.2a Hydroelectric Toolbox 

S.02.2b Hydroelectric Toolbox Example 

Step 3 - RCPP Hydro Screening Criteria

NRCS will use the Hydro Screening to evaluate project eligibility and qualify the project to move forward with the technical report.
S.03a RCPP Hydro Screening Tool  

S.03b RCPP Hydro Screening Tool Example 

Step 4 - Technical Report

The Program Manager or a program partner performs a Technical Report to evaluate the potential project in more detail than the Site Assessment.  The purpose of the Technical Report is a feasibility study of the purposed project.  Both the Technical Report and the Site Assessment will become part of the EQIP, ACRE3 and REAP applications.

S.04.0 Hydro Project Info Sheet 

S.04.1 Hydro-mechanical Technical Report Template  

S.04.2 Hydroelectric Technical Report Template 

Step 5 - EQIP and ACRE3 Application

If the Site Assessment and Technical Report results meet program criteria, the applicant prepares and submits the EQIP application to USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  A full application is not required for ACRE3; however, there are additional documents required for ACRE3 at the time of application. 



Step 6 - Ranking Projects for Funding

The Program Manager and NRCS state leadership review the applications and technical reports rank projects for funding.

S.06 RCPP Hydro Ranking Tool

Step 7 - REAP Application

Applicants may also apply for additional funding from the REAP program. The Program Manager can assist with the REAP application. REAP Application Checklist- Attached is the REAP specific application checklist. These REAP items are also noted in the RCPP Checklist for applicants convivence. Completed REAP forms will be submitted to:

Donald Nunn
USDA Rural Development State Office
Denver Federal Center Building 56, Room 2300
Denver, CO 80225-0426

The applicant completes only one of the three attached REAP applications depending on the project cost:

S.07.1a RD 4280-3A - Project Costs of $80,000 or less  |  S.07.1b RD 4280-3B - Project Costs of $80,000 to $200,000  |  S.07.1c RD 4280-3C - Project Costs of $200,000 or greater

S.07.4a RD 1940-20 -Request for Environmental Information 

S.07.4b RD 1940-20 Example 

S.07.2a RD REAP Scoresheet  

            S.07.2b RD REAP Scoresheet Example  

            S.07.2c RD REAP Scoresheet Instructions 

S.07.3a RD REAP - SF 424 Application for Federal Assistance 

S.07.3b RD REAP - SF 424 Instructions 

S.07.3c RD REAP - SF 424c - Budget Information 

S.07.3d RD REAP - SF 424d - Assurances-Construction 

Section 106 Review- For REAP Hydroelectric Projects Only

Step 8 – Permitting for Hydroelectric System Applicants

For irrigation hydropower, hydroelectric projects are only feasible because of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013. Before this Act was signed, the FERC permitting process could take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars for even the smallest hydroelectric projects. Among other things, the Act exempts certain conduit hydropower facilities from the licensing requirements of the Federal Power Act (FPA). This licensing exemption applies when the hydropower facility is added to a conduit, such as a pipeline or ditch, where the primary purpose of the conduit is not for generating electricity. The approval can take up to 60 days and installation of system should not take place until approval is received.

S.08.1a FERC NOI-Qualifying Conduit Hydro Application  

S.08.1b FERC NOI-Qualifying Conduit Example 

S.08.1c FERC NOI Process 

S.08.1d Instructions for Topo Maps and Google Earth Images 

Contact your state & local utilities to see if any permitting is required. 

Contact Your Local Rural Electric Cooperative

Contact Your Municipal Utility

Xcel Energy - How to Interconnect

S.08.2a Utility Net Metering Agreement Example

S.08.2b Utility Interconnection Agreement Example

S.08.2c DMEA Net Metering Policy 2014 

S.08.2d DMEA Net Metering Application  

Step 9 - Funding Awarded

Funding is awarded to successful applicants from EQIP and ACRE3. Some applicants may receive additional awards from REAP. Funding is on reimbursement basis. Upfront costs are the responsibility of the applicant. Successful applicants receive award letters and sign contracts with USDA-NRCS for EQIP and USDA-Rural Development for REAP. In lieu of a contract, successful applicants receive a purchase order that includes the terms and statement of work for ACRE3 funding approximately three weeks after receiving EQIP and REAP letters. Funding awards from ACRE3 will be determined on the amounts given for EQIP and REAP and typically will not exceed 70% of the total project cost.

Step 10 - Approximate Project Development Schedule

The following table summarizer an approximate project development schedule once funding has been awarded.

Schedule Start Date 9/28/15
Task Start Date End Date
FERC NOI-Notice of Intent to Construct a Qualifying Conduit 9/28/15 11/30/15
Pre-Construction Design 10/5/15 11/2/15
Equipment procurement & Manufacturing 11/2/15 3/21/16
Project Construction 3/14/16 4/14/16
Equipment Installation 4/4/16 4/14/16
Project Commissioning 4/18/16 4/20/16
Step 11 - Financing and Contractor Selection

Successful applicants arrange project financing and document funds availability. The Program Manager may assist applicants as needed in identifying financing options if needed. Successful applicants will also select contractors to complete design and construction. Hydroelectric projects are more involved than hydromechanical and involve civil, mechanical and electrical engineering and will need the certification from a solar engineer.

Step 12 – Final Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Closeout

The contractor completes the final engineering, procurement, construction, and closeout of the project.

Step 13 – NRCS Project Certification

NRCS certifies the completed project and issues the CO-ENG-12. Depending on the project, it may be required to run successfully for 30 days. Timing is crucial for this step as most projects cannot run once irrigation is shut down for the season.

S.13 NRCS Practice Certification CO-ENG-12 

Step 14 – Reimbursement Process

Once the project receives NRCS certification, the applicant submits for reimbursement and receives funds from EQIP, REAP, and ACRE3. The applicant is only required to submit reimbursement forms for programs in which funding was awarded.

EQIP Reimbursement Forms
S.14.1 NRCS-CPA-1245 - Practice Approval and Payment Application 
REAP Reimbursement Forms for Applicants Awarded REAP Funding 

Completed REAP forms will be submitted to:
Donald Nunn
USDA Rural Development State Office
Denver Federal Center
Building 56, Room 2300
Denver, CO 80225-0426

Contact the ACRE3 program Energy Specialist with questions about the program.