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Water and Power Bills: S 1929 / H.R. 3328




Statement of Robert J. Quint

Director of Operations, Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Department of the Interior

Before the

Subcommittee on Water and Power

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

S. 1929 & H.R. 3328

 

February 28, 2008

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Robert J. Quint, Director of Operations Bureau of Reclamation.  I am pleased to be here today to give the Department of the Interior's views on S. 1929 and H.R. 3328, the Sierra Vista Subwatershed Feasibility Act.  The Department does not support the proposed legislation.

 The legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Commissioner of Reclamation, to conduct a feasibility study of water augmentation alternatives in the Sierra Vista Subwatershed, located in southeastern Arizona, Cochise County, in the upper San Pedro watershed, near the City of Sierra Vista.  It provides for Federal funding of $1,260,000, with a local cost share of 55%, for a total estimated cost of $2,800,000.  In addition to local cost share for the study, a significant local effort will be required to resolve legal and institutional challenges in order to complete the study. 

 The preservation of two important Federal facilities, Fort Huachuca (Fort) and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), requires augmentation of the local water supply.  Fort activities and associated development near the City of Sierra Vista have resulted in a substantial groundwater overdraft that is expected to negatively impact the San Pedro River (River). A section of the Riverwas protected by Congress as the SPRNCA.  As the area's largest employer, the Fort greatly benefits southeast Arizona's (and the entire State's) economy.  Despite conservation and recharge measures, groundwater overdraft continues to grow.

 The Upper San Pedro Partnership (Partnership), a consortium of Federal, state, local and private groups, was established in 1988 to sustain the viability of the Fort and the River - Reclamation became a member in 2004.  Also in 2004, Section 321 of the National Defense Authorization Act recognized the Partnership and directed it to prepare an annual report on progress toward the goal to "restore and maintain the sustainable yield of the regional aquifer by and after September 30, 2011."  The 2011 date has motivated the Partnership to aggressively pursue feasibility authorization which could lead to implementation of an augmentation project.

 The Partnership hired a private consultant to investigate measures to offset groundwater mining, including conservation, recharge, and augmentation.  Reclamation examined alternatives found in the report and identified data gaps; then helped the Partnership follow a process that characterized the augmentation portion of the problem, analyzed alternatives and screened them to identify viable solutions.  Reclamation documented this process in an appraisal report completed in June 2007.  A total of 14 augmentation alternatives were evaluated, resulting in the Partnership selecting three alternatives for further analysis:  bringing Central Arizona Project (CAP) water to Sierra Vista, capturing and recharging stormwater, and reclamation and reuse of impaired mine water.  A feasibility study would be the next logical step for the Partnership to secure Reclamation assistance with augmentation implementation.  The appraisal report identifies significant legal and institutional issues that need to be addressed, by local stakeholders, in order to make progress.  Only the CAP to Sierra Vista alternative completely addresses the Partnership's goal for augmentation.

 The Partnership is not a traditional government entity in that its membership consists of representatives from Federal, state and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations and local businesses.  It has no legal authority to construct, operate, and repay capital costs.  Because of this, Reclamation cannot legally contract with the Partnership.

 Water management in the area is further complicated by the fact that all of the local water providers are private entities.  Alternatives under consideration would need to be implemented by an entity other than the Partnership.  In 2007, the State of Arizona passed legislation enabling the creation of an Upper San Pedro Water District.  The legislation establishes a temporary board, which is subject to a vote by residents to make it permanent. 

 Reclamation recognizes issues of Federal concern in the Sierra Vista Subwatershed, including protected Federal lands in the SPRNCA, species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Huachuca.  A feasibility level study of water augmentation alternatives could help evaluate possible ways forward.  Reclamation's appraisal report, however, identified water management challenges facing the basin, as well as legal issues associated with the alternatives.  For instance, extending the CAP to Sierra Vista would entail not only the acquisition of a CAP water right, but the extension of the CAP service area.  Extending the service area would require both modifications to State law and the CAP Master Repayment Contract.

 To address these issues and develop an augmentation project in a timely manner, Reclamation described a two-stage process in the appraisal report.  The first stage would involve development of the appropriate legal and institutional mechanisms required to implement a project, while a programmatic feasibility/National Environmental Policy Act study is conducted in which a preferred alternative or alternatives will be identified.   The completion of the first stage would allow the Partnership the time to develop the necessary institutions with repayment ability while providing more detailed design and cost information needed to make informed decisions.  The second stage of the process involves a detailed specific feasibility design and environmental impact study for an augmentation project.  This process avoids the expense of performing detailed, and costly, design and environmental work in the case that a project partner is not created or if other significant legal issues are not resolved. We note that the Partnership has worked through the issue of institutional repayment ability in the past by using either the City of Sierra Vista or Cochise County as fiscal agents.   

 If issues could be resolved and a partner identified prior to feasibility authorization, consideration should be given to conducting a more detailed feasibility study in a one stage process that could move immediately to construction.  Based on Reclamation's experience, the expected cost of conducting such a study would range from $5 to $10 million and take longer to complete than the programmatic first stage study.  However, if a project is certain to move to construction, the overall cost and time would be less than the proposed two stage process.

 Again, while Reclamation does not support the legislation given outstanding questions about institutional capacity and has not requested appropriations for the study this bill would authorize, we understand the tremendous importance to local stakeholders, the state and the Federal government of the resources involved.  We will continue to work with the Partnership on ways to deal with the groundwater overdraft that the Sierra Vista Subwatershed is facing

 Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.  Thank you for the opportunity to comment on S. 1929 and H.R. 3328.  I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.