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S. 324 - Water Project Bills




Statement of Robert M. Hirsch

Associate Director for Water

United StatesGeological Survey

U.S.Department of the Interior
Before the

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

on

S. 324, "New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act of 2007"

April 25, 2007

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am Dr. Robert M. Hirsch, Associate Director for Water for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  I thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on S. 324, the "New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act of 2007."

The Department agrees that the goals of the bill are commendable and the needs that could be addressed are real; however, we have concerns with this bill, including the availability of funding for the work proposed in the context of overall funding for the Administration's priorities. To ensure appropriate flexibility in budgetary management, the Administration recommends that this bill be amended to authorize rather than require the study within a statutorily prescribed timeframe.  We would like to work with the committee to revise the bill to address these issues. 

S. 324, The "New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act of 2007"

S. 324 directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the USGS, to conduct a study on ground-water resources in the State of New Mexico. The role identified for the Department in this bill is consistent with the leadership role of USGS in monitoring and assessing ground-water resources.

As the Nation's largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency, the USGS conducts the most extensive ground-water and surface-water investigations in the Nation in conjunction with State and local partners. The USGS New Mexico Water Science Center currently operates 203 streamflow stations and routinely measures ground-water levels at 2573 well sites through cooperative programs with several Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies.  In addition to hydrologic monitoring programs, the USGS is providing hydrologic understanding to water agencies through the Cooperative Water Program by conducting several investigative projects that include describing the interaction of surface water and ground water in the Mesilla, upper Rio Hondo, and Middle Rio Grande Basins; planning geohydrologic studies in the Salt Basin; and evaluating water quality of the Rio Grande and Rio Chama.  In support of all water agencies within New Mexico, USGS technical specialists actively participate on work groups and committees addressing critical New Mexico water issues.  Currently, personnel are involved in the Technical Subcommittee of the Gila-San Francisco Coordinating Committee, the Española Basin Technical Advisory Group, and the Upper Rio Grande Water Operations Model Work Group.

The USGS has a long history of conducting ground-water assessments at a regional scale.  In the 1980s, 25 regional aquifer systems were studied in detail as part of the Regional Aquifer-System Analysis (RASA) Program, including the Southwest Alluvial basins, High Plains aquifer, and San Juan Basin in New Mexico.  More recently, the Middle Rio Grande Basin was studied extensively for 6 years as a partnership among Federal, State, and local sources.

Congress directed the USGS in their fiscal year (FY) 2002 appropriation to "prepare a report to describe the scope and magnitude of the efforts needed to provide periodic assessments of the status and trends in the availability and use of freshwater resources."  We are midway through a pilot project in the Great Lakes region and a small effort in the Lower Colorado River basin to develop approaches for national assessment that began in FY 2005 as part of the USGS Ground-Water Resources Program. The approaches developed to date could be applied to New Mexico and nationwide.  However, we note that a comprehensive study of a major aquifer system commonly takes 4 or more years to complete; and thus, the 2-year time frame for completing the overall study proposed by S. 324 would yield limited results. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the USGS concurs with the goals of S. 324.  The proposed effort would help ensure long-term water supplies for the citizens, businesses, industry, and natural features of New Mexico, and the expertise of USGS is highly relevant to the tasks contemplated by the legislation.  However, we are concerned with the funding requirements that accompany S. 324.  We note that there are no funds in this year's budget or the President's FY 2008 budget to implement the legislation, and any future funding requests would have to compete with other priority projects for funds. We also note there are some ongoing efforts to address the goals of the Act. Finally, individual major aquifer studies commonly require 4 or more years to complete, and thus, the 2-year time frame for completing the overall study proposed by S. 324 would yield limited results. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present this testimony.  I will be pleased to respond to questions you and other Members of the Committee may have.