Water Bills: S 2842

Statement of Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner

Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Department of the Interior

Before the

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on Water and Power

S. 2842

The Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act

July 8, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased to provide the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2842, the Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act. While we share the sponsors' goals of reliable and safe facility operations, the Department does not support S. 2842

Reclamation testified before this Subcommittee at an oversight hearing on aging infrastructure on April 17, 2008 and, at that time, I expressed Reclamation's commitment to working with our partners to assure the integrity and reliability of our Federal water and power assets. Aging infrastructure continues to be an important topic for any number of Federal agencies, but Reclamation's April 17, 2008 testimony emphasized the fact that a facility's age, by itself, is not the sole determinant of its reliability – rather, facility condition is a central factor in predicting the long-term functionality and maintenance need of Reclamation assets. Inspections and preventive maintenance play a critical role in assuring this functionality.

Since the April hearing, Reclamation has experienced a second canal failure on the Newlands Project in Nevada, this one on the V-Line Canal, near a wasteway leading back to the Carson River. While this incident did not result in residential flooding, it highlighted the limits of facility maintenance and inspections in preventing infrastructure failures to Reclamation and its customers. While public safety is Reclamation's highest priority, even the most thorough inspections, on tens of thousands miles of canals and laterals, will never be able to detect every possible defect.

The bill provides that DOI conduct annual inspections of canals, levees, tunnels, and other infrastructure that are under DOI's jurisdiction. While the Department supports the intent of the bill, it potentially imposes new costs upon DOI. The Bureau of Reclamation already conducts inspections of its assets. Furthermore, the Bureau of Reclamation's five-year Capital Improvement plan helps prioritizes assets based on their condition. The Bureau's Capital Improvement plan includes a composite score of the asset that takes into account a number of variables. In addition, the bill presents feasibility concerns because the Department's assets do not fit into "one size fits all" standards that are prescribed in the legislation.

Specifically, the bill's requirement in Section 3(c) to develop a National Priority List concerns Reclamation. First, development of objective criteria to rank facilities in terms of risk would be a significant undertaking, as would the annual review of facilities to reprioritize the list. Second, Reclamation already promotes preventive maintenance through regular facility reviews to identify operations and maintenance (O&M) deficiencies at an early stage. While these processes are thorough, they will never detect every deficiency, and with about 8,116 miles of canals in the Reclamation inventory, it is not realistic or cost-effective to provide sufficient information on each project facility as described in the bill. Through facility reviews, Reclamation makes recommendations for noted deficiencies on project facilities; cost estimates and recommended timeframes for related repairs or replacements are discussed and documented in these recommendations, and mutually agreed upon with the operating entities at the time of the review.

Section 4 calls for development and publication of Reclamation-wide standards, guidelines and regulations on O&M. The Department believes this provision would impose new costs and duplicate processes and practices that already exist or are currently underway at Reclamation. Reclamation maintains O&M-related directives and standards in its Reclamation Manual, as well as Reclamation-wide inspection requirements and procedures that are posted on Reclamation's Web site and available to our customers. Additionally, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Manuals and Reports on Engineering Practice No. 57, Management, Operation, and Maintenance of Irrigation and Drainage Systems, jointly developed by Reclamation and ASCE, provides additional information and standards related to the O&M of related facilities and systems. We develop and circulate regular Water Operations and Maintenance Bulletins, conduct an annual Water Management Workshop with our operating partners, and Reclamation produces and regularly updates the Facilities, Instructions, Standards and Techniques (FIST) manuals, which provide the most current guidance on the operation of hydroelectric and some water facility equipment.

Section 4 also presents a challenge to implement because the breadth of Reclamation's facilities, their geographic locations, and specific environments, do not lend themselves to "one-size-fits-all" standards and guidelines as described in the legislation. This would also present difficulties in differentiating between "structural deficiencies" caused by non-compliance with regulations and those resulting from normal deterioration due to the age of the facility that is beyond one's control.

It is worthwhile noting that the Department has developed an Asset Management Plan (AMP) and called on each Bureau to prepare bureau-specific AMPs summarizing their current asset inventory and articulating a strategy and plan of action for improving the management and condition of relevant inventory. These AMPs provide DOI and the bureaus with the necessary tools to make wise investments and manage assets in a cost effective manner.

Reclamation's Dam Safety Program prioritizes and ranks facilities using a risk management approach. The President's budget request for FY 2009 is over $90 million, up about $15 million from FY 2008 for evaluations and corrective (construction) actions. This program focuses on 375 distinct dam and dike structures, where safety conditions are more critical and where staff resources can be deployed for extended periods of time. In contrast, the language of Section 4(c)(1) would oblige Reclamation to study every distinct facility, regardless of risk, which would include canals, levees, laterals, pipelines, tunnels, drains, and other asset types far beyond the current resources of Reclamation's inspection and review teams.

Additionally, it is not clear whether the authorization in S. 2842 would extend beyond Reclamation to other Interior bureaus and agencies, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs irrigation and power systems, Bureau of Land Management earthen livestock impoundments, and Fish and Wildlife Service fishery and refuge facilities.

In addition, S. 2842 also authorizes $11 million for FY 2009 through FY 2013 for these annual inspections and related activities. The Bureau focuses its resources on the programs and projects that will best help it accomplish its primary missions of delivering water and power. Creating additional obligations may limit the Bureau's effectiveness in other key areas.

In light of these concerns, the Department cannot support S. 2842. At the same time, it is useful to note that the Reclamation already has a number of comprehensive programs for assessing the status and condition of our infrastructure.

Approximately two-thirds of Reclamation's facilities are transferred works; they are owned by the United States but operated and maintained by others pursuant to contracts. Under the terms of the transfer of operation and maintenance contracts and agreements, the operating entities are often required to perform O&M of the facilities at their own expense. Reclamation emphasizes the importance to our partners of maintaining adequate emergency and replacement reserve funds, typically required under contracts or agreements, to be able to address operation, maintenance and replacement of project facilities.

Other existing programs where Reclamation already is working to address aging infrastructure include the Review of Operation and Maintenance Program, the Safety Evaluation of Existing Dams Program, and monitoring Replacements, Additions, and Extraordinary Maintenance activities.

Additionally, in response to the canal breach in Fernley, Nevada, Reclamation has increased its attention to assessing canals located in areas experiencing urban growth. This incident emphasized the need for Reclamation to address the challenges that growth of urbanized areas in proximity to long-existing canals poses within our project lands. Vegetation and property encroachments are very real issues for the operation and maintenance of Reclamation canals and other facilities. These growth patterns have exposed residential areas to flood risks, and indirectly created a public safety burden on Reclamation and our partners like Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. In light of these new challenges, Reclamation held a Canal/Asset Management meeting in May with our stakeholders in Denver to discuss canal inspection procedures, impacts of urbanization on Reclamation canals and on ways we can help our operating partners address related infrastructure issues. Next for Reclamation is to utilize the input from the discussions at this meeting, in coordination with operating entities West-wide, to systematically inspect the remainder of the identified canals or reaches through urbanized areas.

We believe that these new tools, combined with the cooperation of Reclamation's local partners, will assure the continued safe operation of Reclamation's facilities. While canal breaches or delivery interruptions will never be completely eliminated, we are committed to reducing the probability and consequences of these failures West-wide.

We appreciate the committee's interest in these issues and look forward to working with the Congress to continue developing solutions that provide for the biggest net benefits to the Federal taxpayer.

This concludes my written statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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