Interior Nomination - Johnson

Nomination of Robert W. Johnson, of Nevada, to be Commissioner of Reclamation 

Statement of
Robert W Johnson,
Nominee for the position of Commissioner of Reclamation
U.S. Department of the Interior
Before the
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
U.S. Senate
Nomination for the Position of Commissioner of Reclamation

September 14, 2006

Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee, I am pleased to be here today to offer testimony regarding my qualifications to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. President Bush has honored me by his nomination, and I am grateful for Secretary Kempthorne's and Assistant Secretary Limbaugh's support. I am also appreciative of the encouragement of my family, especially my wife Mary and my two children, Gabe and Carly. My wife Mary and son Gabe are here with me today.

I believe that my life experiences have prepared me to be here today and make me qualified to serve as Reclamation's Commissioner. I was born in Lovelock, Nevada, a small town located in northwestern Nevada. My father was a farmer, growing alfalfa hay and grain as well as raising beef cattle. The water that irrigated our crops came from a Reclamation project. My mother still lives on the farm, and my brother Dale also lives there with his family, continuing the family tradition of farming.

After high school I attended the University of Nevada in Reno. I earned bachelors and masters degrees in Agricultural and Resource Economics. As I was completing my masters degree in 1975, the Bureau of Reclamation offered me a job as an agricultural economist in Sacramento, California. I accepted and have been with the Bureau of Reclamation since that time. During my 31 year career I have worked in 3 locations and held 7 different job titles. In addition to working in Sacramento, I have served in the Commissioner's office in Washington, D.C., and the Lower Colorado Regional Office in Boulder City, Nevada. Most of my career has been in Boulder City, the most notable period of which has been the last 11 years serving as Regional Director.

During my tenure as Regional Director of the Lower Colorado Region, much has been accomplished. I have had a leadership role in developing and implementing the following significant changes in the management and operation of the Colorado River and the Reclamation projects in the Lower Basin:

  • Established customer oversight committees to review and develop operation and maintenance programs at Hoover Dam. These committees established complete transparency in project operations and resolved longstanding concerns of power customers.

  • Implemented benchmarking programs at all Lower Colorado River hydroelectric facilities, resulting in significant improvement in cost and efficiency of operations. All three facilities have attained "best in class" status among all the North American hydroelectric facilities participating in the benchmarking program.

  • Negotiated and implemented advance funding agreements with power customers at Parker and Davis dams. The funding agreements eliminated the need for Federal appropriations and established transparency through customer oversight committees.

  • Implemented interstate water banking regulations that allow off stream storage and exchange of Colorado River water in the Lower Basin on an interstate basis. These regulations enhanced interstate cooperation in meeting current and future water needs in all three lower Colorado River Basin States.

  • Negotiated settlement of Central Arizona Project repayment litigation, providing a framework for the settlement of Indian water right claims in Arizona. The settlement was subsequently incorporated in the Arizona Water Settlements Act passed by Congress in 2004.

  • Implemented five Indian water right settlements passed by Congress.

  • Developed and implemented Lower Colorado River Surplus Guidelines to define when water operations can provide surplus water to water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin in accordance with a Supreme Court Decree.

  • Oversaw the negotiation and implementation of the California Quantification Settlement Agreement. This agreement provides quantified entitlements for Colorado River water users in California and facilitated the reduction of Colorado River water use by California to its basic apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet. This agreement provided certainty to all seven Colorado River Basin States by reducing long-term uses of the river by approximately 800,000 acre-feet.

  • Developed and began implementation of the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Plan. This $600 million plus plan provides 50 years of ESA compliance for Reclamation, the Lower Basin States, and water and power customers on the Lower Colorado River. The plan is the first of its kind and is being used as a model in other river basins.

  • In conjunction with the Upper Colorado Region, we are in the process of implementing shortage and coordinated management guidelines for operation of the Colorado River system. When completed next year, these guidelines will provide certainty for Colorado River water users in all seven basin States and avoid interstate litigation of long standing issues between the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River system. These guidelines will also include innovative management tools for water users in the Lower Basin, allowing water exchanges, storage credits, and encouraging extraordinary conservation during periods of drought.

While I have had direct involvement in each of these successes, credit for accomplishment must be shared with all of the Reclamation staff, other Federal agencies, the Colorado River Basin States, Indian tribes, and the water and power users on the Colorado River system. This community of people is truly exceptional and has collectively accomplished much.

But the Lower Colorado Region of Reclamation is not the only place where difficulties have been surmounted with ingenuity and effective, collaborative approaches. Other regions of Reclamation have also accomplished much in conjunction with the water and power communities that they serve. The "can do" attitude of Reclamation employees is second to none; employees take pride in helping to meet the water and power needs of the West. Reclamation is committed to doing the job right, and I am enthusiastic about providing leadership to the agency.

Of course, as good an organization as Reclamation is, there is always room for improvement. No organization can rest on its laurels. As you and Members of the Committee know, approximately six months ago Reclamation embarked on a self-assessment of its operations and interaction with its stakeholders. This effort, called Managing for Excellence, builds upon a review of Reclamation by the National Academy of Sciences and is intended to position Reclamation to be a performance-driven organization. If confirmed as Commissioner of Reclamation, completing and implementing the Managing for Excellence program will be my top priority.

Reclamation is carrying out this self-assessment in full consultation with its stakeholders. It is too early and inappropriate for me to speculate on the outcomes of the review. However, if confirmed as Commissioner, I will ensure that the two important hallmarks of the program will be transparency and efficiency. Many of Reclamation's costs are paid by its water and power customers. Reclamation must fully account for all of its spending and demonstrate that its operations are carried out efficiently.

Other important concepts and priorities that would be part of my focus if confirmed as Commissioner include:

  • Respecting the basic tenet of the Reclamation Act that State law controls in the allocation and management of western water supplies.

  • Continuing the focus of the Reclamation mission on delivering water and power to Reclamation customers and maintaining adequate funding for project operations and maintenance.

  • Focusing on collaborative approaches to resolving water issues with a focus on avoiding crises.

  • Continuing a management philosophy that water problems are best solved at the local level.

  • Continuing to maintain a balance between centralized policy and decentralized operations and encouraging decisionmaking by field managers while maintaining accountability and appropriate oversight.

  • Maintaining appropriate consistency among Reclamation projects and regions, but respecting the unique circumstances that surround individual projects. One size does not necessarily fit all.

  • Focusing on the human capital of Reclamation, attracting and keeping highly qualified people and developing appropriate succession plans to provide long-term continuity.

Water will continue to be one of the most important issues facing the western United States. Population and economic growth in the western States has been rapid and is projected to continue with commensurate increases in the demand for water. Water needs for the environment and recreation will likely continue to grow also. Conflict over limited water supplies will be the norm.

Mr. Chairman, there are no easy answers to these problems. I am, however, confident that solutions can be found, and I believe that the Bureau of Reclamation can play a role in finding such solutions. The role of the Bureau in promoting collaboration between stakeholders in situations where water supplies are limited is more important than ever before, and we must work to make sure that the organization is properly positioned to assist with solutions to tomorrow's challenges.

In meeting this challenge, Reclamation must first respect its past. Irrigated agriculture was the cornerstone of the Reclamation program. Reclamation cannot abandon its agricultural water users and must ensure that the rights and obligations of all water users are respected. Second, Reclamation and the West must prepare for the future. The changing urban structure of the West and associated changes in the economy and public environmental values dictate the need for creative solutions in meeting new demands for limited water supplies.

Mr. Chairman, my background and experience make me well qualified to help lead Reclamation in finding the proper balance to solve these problems. Growing up on a farm using water from a Reclamation project has given me an appreciation of the perspective that irrigation districts and rural communities bring to the table when water conflicts occur. Similarly, living and working for the past 20 years in the desert southwest, where urban growth rates have outpaced all other parts of the country, has given me an appreciation of the difficulties that urban water managers face in meeting growing water demands. Managing a major river system has also given me an understanding of the complicated interaction between our projects and the environment, and the need to comply with the many aspects of Federal and State environmental laws and regulations.

I believe that I can provide leadership to Reclamation in positioning the agency to be a positive force in solving western water problems in the 21st century. I seek your support in confirming me as the President's nominee to serve as Reclamation's next Commissioner. I pledge that I will do my absolute best to serve the public interest in the management and development of western water supplies.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. 

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