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H.R. 3176: To reauthorize the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991




Statement for the Record

Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Department of the Interior

On

HR 3176

Before the

Committee on Natural Resources

Subcommittee on Water & Power

U.S. House of Representatives

October 10, 2013

 

The Bureau of Reclamation is pleased to submit the following statement for the record on behalf of the Department of the Interior in support of H.R. 3176, which extends Section 104(c) and Section 301 of the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991 (Drought Act) until the year 2018.  The Drought Act expired at the end of 2012, and this legislation is consistent with language submitted in Reclamation’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request.

 

To be clear from the outset, Reclamation addresses drought as part of its core mission, operating its infrastructure as an entity established at the turn of the last century to provide water in the arid West.  Reclamation was established as a water management agency, with its statutory framework gradually built upon individual project authorizations and financial partnerships with water users to insulate communities and rural economies against disruption in their water supplies and to provide the additional reliability of supply necessary to support business investment.  Dealing with drought conditions was then and continues to be a significant part of Reclamation’s mission.  Today, many of Reclamation’s activities address drought through the use of enhanced water management that helps guard against and to a certain extent mitigate the adverse effects of drought, for example, through conservation, increased efficiencies, coordinated operation of reservoirs, and science-based forecasting including the impacts of climate change.  

 

Reclamation’s primary approach to drought is to continue working with our stakeholders on a proactive basis to assess the implications of water shortages, develop flexible operational plans that account for expected periods of drought, and support projects that conserve water and improve the efficiency of water delivery infrastructure. 

 

Title I of the Drought Act provides authority for construction, management, and conservation measures to alleviate the adverse impacts of drought, including mitigation of fish and wildlife impacts.  This authority is most often implemented through drilling new private groundwater wells, which is the only permanent construction activity authorized under the Act.  All other Title I work must be of a temporary nature.  No new Reclamation projects are authorized under Title I; Reclamation does not own, operate, or maintain projects funded under it.  HR 3176 would extend the expiration date in Section 104(c) and do the same with the Act’s authorization for appropriations in Section 301.

 

Title I also provides Reclamation with the flexibility to meet contractual water deliveries by, among other things,  acquiring water to meet requirements under the Endangered Species Act, benefiting contractors at a time when they are financially challenged.  Additionally, Title I authorizes Reclamation to participate in water banks established under state law; facilitate water acquisitions between willing buyers and willing sellers; acquire conserved water for use under temporary contracts; make facilities available for storage and conveyance of project and nonproject water; make project and nonproject water available for nonproject uses; and, acquire water for fish and wildlife purposes on a nonreimbursable basis.

 

Title II of the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991 provides Reclamation with permanent authority to assist States, Tribes, and local governments with planning and technical assistance related to drought planning, preparation, and adaptation strategies.  This authority allows Reclamation to assist non-Federal entities to prepare for drought so that they are less vulnerable when drought inevitably happens.  This authority for drought-related Federal coordination and technical assistance does not automatically expire and will remain in effect without the authority that H.R. 3176 would extend. 

 

Like many problems, drought is best addressed proactively before it strikes, through collaborative planning, targeted investments and an emphasis on water conservation. One of the best ways the Department is able to proactively address the problem of drought is by prioritizing its time and resources on the WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow) Program. 

 

WaterSMART funds locally cost-shared water management improvements that today, along with other conservation activities, are saving an estimated 616,000 acre-feet per year – enough water for more than 2.4 million people.  The Department's current goal is to enable conservation of 790,000 acre-feet per year by the end of 2014.  We will continue to seek efficiencies in our infrastructure and advance more of these proposals from our customers to accomplish water-saving efficiencies that they manage, operate and own. It is anticipated that the WaterSMART's water and energy efficiency grants will reach its authorized appropriations ceiling in the next year.  Reclamation is committed to continuing this highly valuable program, which is significantly contributing to drought resiliency in the West, and has the capability to alleviate the reliance upon emergency measures such as those authorized by the Drought Act.  A requested amendment to Section 9504(e) of the Secure Water Act of 2009 (42 USC 10364(e)), raising the ceiling from $200 million to $250 million, is part of the Appropriations language section of Reclamation's FY 2014 Budget Request.

 

In the longer term, the Department is working every day to equip our agencies, partners and other resource managers with the data they need to answer the questions about water supply and use, to make decisions based on sound scientific support and the best available information, and to continue delivering water and power in the face of drought and our changing global climate.  We value our partnership with Congress to bring the best thinking to the challenge these problems present. 

 

While we consider ideas to make drought relief more effective through improved interagency cooperation and other changes, such as the President’s Climate Action Plan commitment to a multi-agency National Drought Resilience Partnership which will serve as a “front door” for communities seeking help to prepare for future droughts and reduce drought impacts, we believe reauthorization of Title I is appropriate.  HR 3176 allows Reclamation the flexibility to continue delivering drought assistance while respecting state water rights, and responding to stakeholders.  The Department supports HR 3176.