The Hoopa Valley Tribe is getting a $103,000 boost from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of harnessing water power from Trinity River tributaries to generate electricity.

“We’re looking at a number of small-scale systems to decrease our consumption substantially and to increase our independence,” said Curtis Miller, environmental planner for the Hoopa Tribal Environmental Protection Agency and the author of the grant application. “We get a lot of power outages up here.”

In addition to providing electricity to the reservation, thus reducing its physical and economic reliance on outside sources, excess energy could be sold back to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., he said.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s reservation is bisected by the Trinity River, into which many smaller creeks and streams flow. These tributaries are the focus of the proposed hydropower systems, not the main river, as was reported in a DOE news release.

“We are not channeling water from the Trinity,” Miller emphasized. “We would borrow water from the tributaries — and then put it back.”

The feasibility study will assess the capability of a number of small, on-site hydroelectric systems. It will also identify issues related to construction and ongoing operations, including potential impacts on stream flow, natural resources, endangered species and the community.

“Our focus is on making sure that we maintain the environment, first and foremost,” Miller said.

The tribe will contribute nearly $17,000, much of it in in-kind goods and services, bringing the total funding allocated for the study to more than $120,000.

The award was one of 11 bestowed on Native American tribes for renewable energy projects. A total of $1.5 million was handed out for wind, water, solar, biomass and hybrid project studies and implementation. The Hoopa Valley Tribe received the fifth largest award nationally.

Although a DOE news release announcing the award was widely disseminated to the media on Tuesday, Miller said on Thursday that the tribe had yet to receive any notification of the honor.

“It’s curious; we haven’t even heard of it,” he said. “We’ll remain cautiously happy until we actually see something.”