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Four States Irrigation Council 53rd Annual Meeting Keynote Address

Remarks Delivered By:
John W Keys, III, Commissioner
Four States Irrigation Council 53rd Annual Meeting
Fort Collins, Colorado
January 11, 2006


It's a pleasure to be back with you at the Four States annual meeting. I'm on the road a lot, and have to say that this is one of my favorite meetings.

You've put a solid program together, and there is a lot of valuable information to be gained here. There are a number of Reclamation folks on the agenda who will provide you with details on some programs and issues you're interested in.

We have a lot of interesting, exciting things going on in Reclamation, and I will speak today on what we're doing to meet our new challenges. I'll mention some of the personnel changes shortly, but I want to take the opportunity now to recognize Mike Ryan, Reclamation's Great Plains Regional Director, and what a great job he's been doing. Mike will be speaking right after me.

Before I get into some details, let me talk about the weather for a minute. This season's climate pattern for the West so far has been just the opposite of last year'sextremely dry in the South and wet in the North. We have had several good storms across Montana and the Dakotas; at the same time, we have had almost nothing across Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, southwestern Colorado. We've had 83 straight days with no precipitation in Phoenix.

Arizona is at 16 percent and New Mexico at 40 percent of normal precipitation. But in the Upper Colorado region, we have 104 percent of normal snowpack above Glen Canyon, with 107 percent of normal runoff forecasted. Last year, we gained 50 feet in Lake Powell, and we could get 20 to 30 feet this year. Remember, though, we're still really early in the season.

New Challenges
Reclamation played a major role in the development of the most impressive water management infrastructure in the world, an infrastructure that is vital to bringing water and power to people of the West.

We're very proud of these achievements. But these are new times, and we face new challenges.

Our mission has evolved from the construction of dams to management and maintenance. As water management has evolved, Reclamation has transformed into a more comprehensive water management agency. Today, much of our focus is on improving the safety, security, and efficiency of the facilities we already have, as well as meeting environmental obligations.

The challenges we face today in maintaining and improving the system are as formidable as those challenges that we surmounted during Reclamation's construction heyday.

One priority is security. For 2006, we received $40 million for security, with a portion of the costs for guards and surveillance being reimbursable.

We did an on-the-ground exercise at Grand Coulee last October as part of our on-going security preparation. The exercise taught us a lot about readiness for terrorism. We feel more prepared and, therefore, more secure against terrorism, than ever.

A lot is changing, but some things remain constant. Since I was appointed Commissioner in 2001, my main priority has been carrying out Reclamation's core mission deliver water, generate power, do the things it takes to get that done, and plan for the future. I'm interested not just in the next few years, but in setting up the framework that will enable Reclamation to succeed many years into the future.

Budget Update
This is a time of generally flat or decreasing budgets. It's something we have to get used to. Federal dollars are scarce, and that's why strategies like cooperative work are so important. We have to think of new ways to do business to get done the things we want to get done.

A philosophy that guides our work is Secretary Norton's 4C's: Conservation through cooperation, communication, and consultation.

At the same time that budgets are shrinking, the public is expecting more and more from us. We have to be ready not only to do our jobs, but to take on the unexpected emergency. And we have to adapt to ever-changing circumstances so that we can do our jobs better.

We know you face these same challenges. That's why we are so determined to enact a loan guarantee program for irrigators west-wide. This would allow us, Reclamation, to co-sign a note for you so that you could finance some of those extraordinary costs that come so often with aging infrastructure. Co-signing means we place the full faith and credit of the United States on your side of the note. And we expect to get you the best interest rate possible.

Rural Water Legislation
An area that has been a tremendous challenge to our budget is rural water projects. Since the 1980s, Congress has authorized thirteen separate single-purpose Reclamation projects for municipal and industrial water supply in rural communities in Reclamation States.

These have all come at a time when security and law enforcement costs, operation and maintenance costs, dam safety costs, and other program obligations continue to grow and compete for scarce budget resources.

But, unlike the other eight agencies that have strict economic standards for rural water development, Reclamation has no program to set criteria for cost efficiency or economic justification. The projects have just been authorized by Congress without much thought to whether a project design is cost-effective or whether a project makes economic sense at all. That's why we, and Congress, need a Reclamation rural water program.

Now there's good news on both issues. A loan guarantee program for irrigators and rural water reform are both contained in the same bill: S. 895 by Senators Domenici and Bingaman.

There's more good newsthe bill passed the Senate unanimously last November. Now all we need is for the House to pass it and send it to the President for his signature. We'd be glad to work with you on that.

Platte River EIS
Another important issue here is the Platte River EIS, and I want to update you on what's happening with it. Early last December, the Platte River Governance Committee finalized its proposal for a Recovery Implementation Program for the Platte River.

This is a major step forward in meeting the objectives of the Platte River Cooperative Agreement signed by the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the Secretary of the Interior back in 1997. Many folks in this room have contributed substantially to achieving this success.

The Program will provide ESA compliance for Reclamation's projects on the North and South Platte rivers for four endangered species that use the Platte River in Nebraska: the whooping crane, piping plover, last tern, and pallid sturgeon.

The Program will provide ESA compliance protection for water users and projects participating in the Program. The Final EIS for the Program is in agency and Departmental review right now, and we expect to release it in March. The states, water users, and Reclamation are in final discussions on the cost-sharing details, and expect to proceed with funding commitments this spring.

Reclamation has budgeted $3.5 million for this fiscal year to complete NEPA and ESA compliance documents for the Program and to support initial planning for specific projects. We hope to begin on-the-ground activities in fiscal year 2007.

Organizational Developments
I want to turn now to some of the internal business of Reclamation and the Department. Lynn Scarlett was confirmed as Deputy Secretary.

We in Reclamation are pleased that Mark Limbaugh, my former Deputy for External and Intergovernmental Affairs, is now the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science and our good friend and Reclamation supporter, Tom Weimer, has been sworn in as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget. Our new Deputy Commissioner for External and Intergovernmental Affairs is David McCarthy. David had been serving as our Chief for Congressional and Legislative Affairs.

I'm proud of the work we in Reclamation do. We have a top-drawer group of people. I believe we're doing a real good job. That doesn't mean that we can't get even better. And to get better, we're taking a hard look at ourselves, our organization, our operations.

To this end, we have instituted a reorganization of our Washington and Denver offices. The biggest change is that we've added a new Deputy Commissioner, for Policy, Administration and Budget (PAB).

That new Deputy Commissioner is Larry Todd. Larry will be responsible for a number of areasSecurity, Safety and Law Enforcement (SSLE); Program and Budget; Program and Policy Services; the Chief Information Officer, Human Resources, Civil Rights, and the Management Services Office (Finance, Acquisitions and Property).

While this is a new position to Reclamation, Larry isn't. Prior to the reorganization, Larry was head of SSLE. Larry has 31 years of federal service and was the Acting Regional Director for the Great Plains Region during 1998.

Bill Rinne remains as the Deputy Commissioner, Operations. His responsibilities will now include the newly-created Director, Technical Resources, who will provide oversight of the Technical Services Center and Research and Development. Bill will continue to have responsibility for Reclamation's regional directors; and, in the Washington Office, International Affairs and Native American Affairs.

And your former Great Plains Regional Director Maryanne Bach is serving as Director, Technical Resources. Maryanne will direct and coordinate the scientific, engineering and research services related to water resource management and development.

This new organization will improve the coordination of actions that need attention in Washington. The reorganization will enable me to be involved and informed generally while I focus on issues in the Department, OMB, Congress, and with you and other stakeholders.

The time to start dealing with problems is not when you're in the middle of them, and we will be ready. There is an old joke about a guy up on his roof during a rainstorm, working to fix a leak. A passerby asks, "Why don't you do that when it's not raining?" He answers, "When it isn't raining, the roof doesn't leak."

We want to anticipate problems, to get ahead of them before they develop. And we want the right people in the right positions to overcome the problems that come at us.

NRC Report
Over the past year, Reclamation has been working with the National Research Council of the National Academies to analyze Reclamation's organization and preparation to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We received the first draft of the report in late November and have been evaluating its recommendations.

I will deliver an action plan to Secretary Norton by February 28th detailing how we propose to address the NRC's recommendations for making Reclamation the best agency for you that it can be. The report underscores the value of the President's Management Agenda and Secretary Norton's 4 C's approach in helping guide Reclamation in meeting future challenges.

We need your participation and input as we explore, not only how to address the NRC's findings and recommendations, but how to merge those ideas with the wisdom we've collected from customer and employee surveys and other studies of our planning and engineering programs.

I take this report extremely seriously. Reclamation participated fully in the Academy's research, and I am grateful to the many customers, stakeholders, and employees who generously took the time to speak with the NRC.

The Reclamation Leadership Team and I are excited to have the opportunity to shape the Bureau of Reclamation's organization and business practices to meet our mission challenges, as well as the needs and expectations of our customers and stakeholders.

We want to make sure that we're prepared for all challenges, including the unexpected. We're focused on our core mission, but that doesn't mean we ignore the extraordinary situation, and there's no better example than Reclamation's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
I was down there a couple times, and, I tell you, it's really devastated there. It will take a long time and a lot of work to recover.

There are still 115 Interior Department people, 35 from Reclamation, in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi working under Emergency Support Function - 3, Public Works and Engineering.

One thing Reclamation provided was our Emergency Unit for Water Purification to provide water to the Biloxi Regional Medical Center, and this is a great story. The unit was developed as a result of desalination research under the Water 2025 program. Its design purpose is to pull water out of the desert, and it helped people in a completely different, unforeseen situation. Such is the power of research.

The responders deserve a huge commendation for their work. Some of these folks are people who themselves were suffering the effects of the stormstheir homes destroyed, families to care for; yet they were there, helping others to get through.

Those storms ended, but their impact will be felt well into the future. We are looking at immense clean-up and repair work. Budgets have already been stretched tight, and the recovery efforts will stretch them tighter. We may have to find creative ways to carry out our mission because of the new constraints the storms have imposed on us.

Pressure on Resources
We continue to face the challenges from nature that we always do. We've had some good precipitation in some areas recently, but others are getting little precipitation. And we don't want to get over-excited by the good precipitation, because there can be good years within a prolonged drought period.

Drought isn't the only cause of water shortages. Droughts come and go in the West. One of our greatest fears is that, when droughts break, existing supplies will not be enough to meet demand, even in the normal years. So we need to consider many ways to stretch our water supplies through conservation, technology, other innovations. Our Water 2025 program is designed to do just that. Under Water 2025, we've invested $15 million in challenge grants over two years to sponsor projects returning nearly $60 million in water system improvements that conserve and free up water for beneficial use.

They include accurate measuring devices, remote-controlled gates, even voluntary water banks. But Water 2025 is more than just a challenge grant program. It's a new way of thinking about how to avoid conflict before the crisis hits. We all need Congress to provide permanent authority for Water 2025. I need your help in getting that done.

When we talk about new technology, I get asked sometimes, "What will the dam of the future be like?" The dams probably won't look a lot different on the outside. The technology of the inner workings will be improved. A good example is the clamshell gates that Reclamation's Hydraulic Lab developed to refurbish Arrowrock dam in Idaho. This kind of rehabilitation is a major focus for Reclamation. The average age of a Reclamation project is 50 years; some of our projects are approaching 100 years.

Probably the biggest difference in projects of the future will be the perspective with which we approach them. Whether we're talking about new projects or maintaining existing ones, we're talking about cooperative efforts. The days of the large federal project are probably over. That doesn't mean that there won't be projects; it means that localities will have to look beyond the federal government as a sole source of funding. There is still an integral federal role, but as a cooperating partner. The idea of cooperative projects is here to stayit has to be. Neither the federal government nor the localities can go it alone.

Conclusion
I often say that the only thing permanent is change. We can't sit around waiting for change to happen to us. We have to guide it. We need to think of new ways to do business. And one new way of doing business goes back to the old idea of working in partnership.

The people who work at Reclamation have always been dedicated to getting the job done. We'll do whatever it takes, and that is the reason why we are looking at ourselves, seeing how we can get better. We recognize the good work of our partners and know that what we do together has a lot more power than what either of us can do alone. We appreciate the strong working relationship with Four States, and I'm looking forward to what we'll continue to accomplish together in the years to come.

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