Ensuring that the Colorado Continues To Meet Our Needs

Remarks Delivered By:
Robert W Johnson, Commissioner

Colorado River Water Users Association 61st Annual Conference

December 15, 2006


Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here with you. You know, they say that the more things change, the more they stay the samemaybe that should be reversed. I've been with you at this conference I don't know how many times, but this is my first opportunity to be here as Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Much of my life and most of my professional career has been spent around the Colorado River. It's a strikingly complex system in both its natural and social facets.

Our predecessors created a magnificent storage system that has cushioned us against the effects of the worst drought period on record. The same leadership and vision our predecessors demonstrated is needed today as we address issues on the Colorado.

We can't take the system for granted and assume that it will continue to produce for us without hard work on our part to stretch supplies and decide how we will allocate what we have.

I echo Secretary Kempthorne's comment about "the enormous positive impact that those of us in this room can have on the future."

The collaboration and cooperation of water managers and stakeholders throughout the Basin and diligent work by Bureau of Reclamation staff has created a record we should be proud of. Through completing agreements such as the Quantification Settlement, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, and the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, we are demonstrating that we can meet needs for agriculture, cities, and environmental requirements.

Over the past several years, we have made tremendous progress by taking the long view and figuring out how we can meet multiple demands on water supplies. We have to continue that progress, and keep pushing the boundaries of what we believe we can do in water management.

Shortage Guidelines and Coordinated Operations

The development of regulations for the operation and management of the Colorado under potential shortage conditions and coordinated operations of Lakes Powell and Mead remains a key priority in the Department of the Interior. We have always met the water allocations from the Colorado River for the seven basin states and Mexico, never had to reduce deliveries to Mexico or the Lower Basin states, but it is crucial for us to prepare for the contingency.

The consensus agreement among the Basin States is an extremely significant step in the right direction, and I commend you again for your success there.

We all know that this is no time to stop. Secretary Kempthorne talked about the importance of pushing through when you're in the Red Zone. To bring in another football analogy, I'm back in Washington, DC, and the Redskins' former coach George Allen had the slogan The Future Is Now. It is imperative that we continue to work hardnowto see our agreements through to their implementation to provide certainty for those who come after us.

When the Secretary directed Reclamation to initiate shortage guidelines for the Lower Basin and coordinated reservoir management for Lakes Powell and Mead, we developed proposals to enhance supplies through augmentation and water exchanges, increased conservation and shortage-sharing agreements, and new operational guidelines to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Our Upper and Lower Colorado Regions are jointly preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze these proposals and make recommendations for implementation to the Secretary.

The EIS will consider a "no-action" alternative and four action alternatives. We expect to publish a draft in February for public review and comment, publish the final EIS next September, and issue a Record of Decision next December.

We are also consulting with Mexico through the State Department in accordance with established diplomatic processes on potential shortages.

Managing for Excellence

As we prepare for the future, we are doing a lot of work right now to stretch water supplies and meet multiple demands, and I want to talk about some of those.

One thing that remains constant is Reclamation's core mission to deliver water and generate power. And to make sure that Reclamation meets the challenges of the 21st century as effectively as we can, we have set out on the Managing for Excellence action plan. My main priority as Commissioner is to get this plan fully developed and implemented.

Managing for Excellence doesn't provide the solutions themselves. What it does is to position Reclamation to develop solutions, to resolve issues as effectively as we can. We are using the framework of Managing for Excellence to facilitate work on our priority issues such as aging infrastructure and loan guarantees.

We've held three public meetings on our work to develop and implement this plansome of you have attended one or all of those meetings. I encourage everyone to get involved in this processit's your opportunity to help shape how Reclamation does business. We have tentatively scheduled our next public meeting for February 27 and 28 in Albuquerque.

I want to thank you for your support of this process and your efforts throughout. Some of you have been involved since the National Academies studyand even before that, in Reclamation's Customer Satisfaction survey of a couple years ago. Many have shown the commitment to attend the meetings, to sponsor your own meetings, and to provide input in many ways.

Long-Term Experimental Plan EIS at Glen Canyon

Our projects - whether new projects or operations at existing ones - must comply with environmental regulations. One of the significant actions we've undertaken recently is the new NEPA action at Glen Canyon Dam concerning the development of a long-term experimental program related to flows from the dam.

The Adaptive Management Work is providing us with the basis of information for an EIS to be completed in the next two years.

We will involve the public after the first of the year with scoping meetings set for January 4 in Phoenix and January 5 in Salt Lake City.

This is not a supplement to the 1996 EIS and Record of Decision. That is an important distinction. It is an effort to define and analyze a long-term approach to experimental flows, studies and releases that will provide scientific data for decisions on Glen Canyon Dam operations and environmental goals and responsibilities downstream of the dam.

This action is also a key element of our settlement agreement to resolve a suit against the Secretary and Reclamation charging violation of the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, the Endangered Species Act, and NEPA.

For a number of years, Reclamation and the AMWG have been considering a temperature control device, or TCD, to warm the flows of the Colorado River for the benefit of the endangered humpback chub.

The AMWG has recommended to the Secretary that we proceed with NEPA compliance on the TCD, so we will fold that effort into the Long-Term Experimental Program EIS.

The technology exists to do this and, in fact, we retro-fitted Flaming Gorge Dam with a TCD back in the early 1980's. Many other dams built in recent years already have a TCD incorporated into them; one example is the Jordanelle Dam in Utah.

Efforts To Stretch Water Supplies

Drought continues to pose a significant challenge to water management basin-wide. Inflow to Lake Powell has now been below average in six out of the past seven years, and in one of those years - 2002 - we had the lowest recorded inflow of the last 100 years.

Provisional calculations of natural flow for the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, Arizona, show that the average flow over the last seven water years is the lowest seven-year average in 100 years of record keeping.

From October 1999 to October 2004, total system storage decreased from 95 percent of capacity to 46 percent. We re-gained some storage in 2005, but had a net loss in total system storage again this year.

We have had a pretty wet fall this year in the Upper Basin, though November was dry. Precipitation has been above normal since July, and record-setting rain added over six feet to Lake Powell in Octoberalmost unheard of during a month in which the lake typically drops in elevation.

That six-foot gain really helpedadding about 700,000 acre-feet in Lake Powellputting it at 51 percent full, and about one million acre-feet in the Colorado River Basin.

The snowpack and projected runoff look good now, but there's a long winter ahead of us and we'll have to see what happens.

The hydrologic determination will be important in regard to the Navajo-Gallup project, a key piece of the proposed Navajo Water Right Settlement on the San Juan River in New Mexico.

Public Law 87-483 requires that the Secretary shall not enter into long-term contracts for the delivery of water from Navajo Reservoir until he has determined that such water is available and has submitted that determination to the Congress for its approval of such contracts.

The proposed hydrologic determination, as to the availability of water for contracting from Navajo Reservation, is under review by the Department.

Following about a year of discussion with Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Commission has passed a resolution of support of the determination that sufficient water is reasonably likely to be available.

We are engaged in a number of efforts to conserve water and develop innovations to meet water needs.

Over the last three years, more than $2.5 million in federal grant funds have been awarded under the Water 2025 program to Lower Basin water districts and states. These grants have helped implement $11.5 million worth of projects that will help prevent future water crises and conflict on the lower river.

The Upper Colorado Region has seven projects within the Colorado River Basin that have been awarded Challenge Grants totaling $1.4 million. Total project costs are $4.1 million.

One major strategy to save water is to update facilities. I attended the ceremony two weeks ago for the Coachella Valley Water District's completion of the Coachella Canal lining project. The District finished lining the last section, 33 miles, of the waterway.

This project will conserve about 26,000 acre-feet of water a year. That water will be used by the Metropolitan Water District and for San Luis Rey Indian Water Rights Settlement Act obligations.

The All-American Canal lining project, which we believe is essential to management of the River, was stopped by a judicial order, but Congress has now directed the Secretary to complete it.

There are three suits pending. In the first, the federal district court in Las Vegas ruled that Reclamation complied with all federal laws on the project, but the decision is now under appeal, and the 9th Circuit federal appeals court has stopped the project while the appeal is pending.

We expect to have a decision from the 9th Circuit in the spring.

The other two lawsuits were recently filed in Sacramento federal court and California state court.

We fully support the completion of this project, and, through the State Department, we are working on diplomatic and legal fronts to ensure its timely construction.

Reclamation is involved in the planning and construction of water reclamation, reuse and desalination projects in the Basin.

We are participating in 12 Title XVI projects in southern California, two in Nevada (one of which is complete), and have three under study in Arizona.

In fiscal year 2005, the projects in southern California put to beneficial use more than 98,000 acre-feet of water. In Fiscal Year 2006, the output climbed above 100,000 acre-feet.

The projects in Nevada are planned to generate about 175,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water.

In Arizona, we are involved in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area and Tucson Area water reclamation studies, as well as the Tres Rios Wetlands Demonstration Project. These projects are providing a critical new water supply for the state, helping reduce the demand on imported water supplies from both the Colorado River and the Sacramento Bay-Delta.

We are planning some time in the next few months to run the Yuma Desalting Plant for a 90-day demonstration period, at one-tenth capacity. This will provide us data on the potential costs of operating the plant at different capacities, and help us determine whether the design deficiencies revealed during the 1992-93 test have been resolved. In addition, the University of Arizona will monitor water quality in the Cienega during the test run to help assess potential environmental impacts of operating the plant.

Because of anticipated high operation and maintenance costs and potential impacts to the CiƩnega, we are studying other bypass flow replacement or recovery options as well.

Two demonstration programs are under way in the Lower Basin to evaluate tools that could improve the long-term coordinated operation and management of the river.

In June, we signed an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for the creation of "Intentionally Created Surplus" - or ICS - water in Lake Mead, water that has been conserved through an extraordinary conservation measure, such as land fallowing.

The District plans to create 50,000 acre-feet of ICS water in 2007 by foregoing the use of Colorado River water that was conserved through their existing land management, crop rotation, and water supply programs. Instead of taking the water that would normally have been released to them, MWD will leave it in Lake Mead, resulting in an "intentionally created surplus."

We also entered into an agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District, which intends to create 1,000 acre-feet of ICS water in 2007 from its on-farm fallowing program.

Future use of this water by MWD and IID is dependent on Interior's adoption of guidelines for recovery of the stored water; proposed guidelines are part of the shortage criteria/coordinated operations EIS.

We also initiated this year a system conservation demonstration program, which may reduce the impact on system storage of water releases to replace bypass flow.

The demonstration program will help determine whether voluntary conservation of water by land fallowing could be used as an interim or supplemental measure.

To date, MWD has agreed to forbear the use of 10,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water that would be conserved between August 1 of this year and July 31, 2007 through its fallowing agreement with the Palo Verde Irrigation District. The conserved water will remain in Lake Mead.

Drop 2 Reservoir
Congress passed a bill early this week that directs Reclamation to construct the Drop 2 Reservoir. The legislation will be forwarded to President Bush for approval.

Last year, we completed a study to identify potential alternatives for replacing lost storage capacity at Senator Wash Dam, reduce excess deliveries to Mexico, improve operational control on the lower river, and avoid mismatches in water orders and diversion from the river below Parker Dam.

The study determined that building a small reservoir near the All-American Canal was the best alternative to meet these objectives.

The reservoir will have a storage capacity of 8,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer of 2008, with completion scheduled summer 2010.

The reservoir will give us a way to capture Colorado River water requested by Arizona and California users but not used.

The financing of this project is a great example of collaborative efforts to meet current and future water needs on the river. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has expressed interest in paying for the project. In turn, they would be able to use the saved water for a period of time.

Aspinall Unit - Federal Reserved Water Right - Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
The recent court decision concerning the downstream Federal reserved water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has left quantification of this water right, senior to the Aspinall Unit, unresolved, which in turn creates uncertainty in modeling alternative Unit operations for the EIS.

The primary current EIS activity is development of a model to analyze alternatives. Reclamation and the State of Colorado plan to have the model ready to analyze a range of alternatives late this winter.

Animas-La Plata Project
Reclamation has awarded a contract for $17.6 million to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe's Weeminuche Construction Authority (WCA) of Towaoc, Colo., for completion of construction of the Ridges Basin Inlet Conduit. Reclamation expects the work on this contract to be completed in 2009.

We're making good progress, with construction of the Animas-La Plata Project, now 44 percent complete.

When completed, the project will provide the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the people of the four corners area with a reliable water supply without taking scarce water resources away from existing water users in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. Safety of Dam Lessons Learned from Watkins Dam Incident.

Last month we experienced an event at the Arthur V. Watkins Dam, a key feature of Utah's Weber Basin Project, that is instructive to all of us concerning safety of dams and the right way to respond to a real-life crisis.

The event really drives home the critical importance of Reclamation and our project partners working hand-in-glove on dam safety issues.

In this case, seepage of 100 to 200 gallons per minute was discovered flowing through a point in the 43-year old dam, resulting in erosion of foundation materials.

The incident was reported to the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, and they quickly notified Reclamation.

Within minutes, Bruce Barrett, the Provo Area Office manager, and Tage Flint, the District General Manager, were on site.

The close work of our agencies in dam safety and emergency planning meant that crews began corrective work within minutes  not hours.

The dam-failure erosion mode was stopped. Currently, the reservoir is being drained for additional review and determination of any long-term resolution beyond the sealing of the seepage points. Unfortunately, that requires draining about 100,000 acre-feet of water from a reservoir that was at 175,000 acre-feet, 83% full, when the incident began.

The mutual effort of the District and Reclamation  both sharing a complete commitment to dam safety and both working in the public spotlight  made this a success.

It is a success story that will continue through the winter and spring as we get a look at the upstream face of the dam and the reservoir basin at the upstream toe. It is a success story that will also continue as we come to a shared conclusion as to what long-term fixes may be required prior to refilling.

Our obvious hope is to complete the repairs before the next spring runoff. Both the District and Reclamation are committed to ensuring a safe dam for generations to come.

I want to commend Tage Flint and Bruce Barrett and their hard-working staffs for the way they handled this incident. It is a lesson not only in how to respond technically, but also, of equal importance, how to prepare for the day when crisis arrives and how to work as partners for public safety and the common good.

CRSP 50th Anniversary
Last October, Reclamation passed a threshold anniversary as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956 and the start of construction of Glen Canyon Dam.

It's worth taking a minute to reflect on how significant that Act has been, not only for the Upper Basin, but for the entire Colorado River Basin.

The reach of the Act is amazing. CRSP projects provide 30.6 million acre-feet of live storage and generate over 4.1 billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually.

It is also important to reflect upon the significance of the inclusion in the Act of "Participating Projects."

Here is another example of where visionary leaders set the course for long-term sustained growth in the Upper Basin.

The participating projects develop water in the upper Colorado River system for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, and other purposes.

They participate in the use of revenues from the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund to help repay the investment costs of irrigation features that are beyond the ability of the water users to repay.

Now we face the challenge of updating and maintaining the project. Major power operation and maintenance activities include the replacement of the turbine runners at the Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge powerplants along with replacement of the generator voltage regulators at Glen Canyon.

Our work will result in significant increases in efficiencies that will translate into increased hydropower generation.

Reclamation, in partnership with customers, including the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, is proud of how the project operates.

We have a long tradition of careful operations and maintenance; we have been cost effective; we are adapting the management at all four CRSP initial units to comply with all appropriate environmental laws and objectives; and we have involved the Basin States, our project customers and partners, and the public in critical decision-making.

I believe we continue to honor the spirit and intent of the Act by continuing to serve as the stewards of the River through our management actions.

Future of the River
We're making good progress on stretching water supplies and ensuring deliveries. We don't know what the future will bring, but we need to be prepared for whatever it brings. There's an old joke about a guy fixing his roof in the rain and a passer-by asks why he doesn't fix it when it isn't raining. He answers, "When it isn't raining, it doesn't leak."

The best time to prepare is before you reach a crisis point. Reclamation is working hard to ensure the Colorado River will be here to help meet the needs of the basin's future citizens for a long, long time. I know the Basin States and other stakeholders are working just as hard.

We need continued collaboration among the states and the federal agencies, and greater inclusion of other stakeholders, to address issues that will surely arise as the area's population continues to grow and needs continue to change.

We likely won't see a return to the days when water was plentiful, when one or two good years of runoff could fill up the reservoirs and wipe out the impacts of a drought. Reservoir levels are more likely to be chronically lower than historical averages. So we have to adapt and innovate.

We have challenging issues on the Colorado, and I am confident that we will, as we have done in the past, meet the challenges successfully.

I saw in the newspaper yesterday that December 14 was the anniversary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole in 1911. It struck me that what we are doing in pushing into new frontiers of river management is an exciting modern equivalent.

Our record of past successes makes me confident that we will be just as successful in the future, and just as successful as our predecessors in finding creative solutions to benefit for many years to come those who depend on the River.

The management of water and power seldom offers us instantaneous solutions, and changing ourselves to meet our challenges isn't usually easy. Creating the frameworks and processes that can help us to find solutions that lastthat's something that takes time and effort. A couple agreements we have recently reached took yearsthe Platte River Recovery program more than a decade and the San Joaquin settlement nearly two decades. And the work there is not finished. To quote Churchill, "It is not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning."

I'm proud of what the water management community has accomplished on the Colorado, and I'm confident that this community will continue to serve as an exemplar to those working in other basins.

I'm pleased to be working with you and look forward to continued success as we meet our challenges together.