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Managing a River of Issues

Remarks Delivered By:
Michael Connor, Commissioner
Colorado River Water Users Association
Las Vegas
December 17, 2010


Thank you, John, for the introduction and thanks again to CRWUA for giving us the opportunity to talk about Reclamation's activities in this most important basin. This is a very dangerous situation for me today, I get the opportunity to get upstaged by my two fantastic regional directors, here, and I also heard that Dave Murillo, our new Deputy Commissioner of Operations, was quite a hit yesterday in his comments. I don't know what he said but I heard it was very successful. So, I'll try to match those who work for me.

It's also a tough gig, because my goal today is, first and foremost, is to not step on the Secretary's message and to not contradict him in any way, shape, or form. And as Bob Johnson and I were talking yesterday, this was always one of the toughest gigs that he indicated that he had during his tenure, when you to speak before the Secretary. He'll give his all-encompassing perspective and vision for Colorado River issues, discuss some of the recent successes that we've had and some of the challenges in the future.

So, for me, I want to basically do a little reflection on the last 18 months, talk a little bit about the challenges ahead, I think that's a theme that all of us will be talking about, and take a more general perspective about our overall programs in Reclamation, how we're trying to use those to help address some of the challenges in the Colorado River Basin.

So as far as the reflections part of this, I've just got to start by saying, the number one reflection I've got is based on the last 18 months here during my tenure, is that I've figured out finally that I'm not as smart as I thought I was when I came into this job. But the good news is I will be quite a bit smarter when I leave this job than I was when I came in and that's for a number of reasons. It's because of the great leadership and vision that exists from all of those that I work for in the Department of the Interior and all of those that I work with here in this Basin, in particular. I feel very lucky and fortunate to work for Secretary Salazar and for Deputy Secretary David Hayes and for Assistant Secretary Anne Castle who are all extraordinary leaders, vastly experienced in water issues, and all tremendously committed to an overarching goal of ensuring stable and secure water supplies for all needs and for all future generations.

Now, that's what we call at the Department of the Interior a stretch goal. All needs in all generations; but that's our challenge, and that's what we're going to try and do.

Outside of the Department, even at the Federal level, we've also got a number of great partners. As many of you know, we've been working very closely with the IBWC and SELA, its counterpart organization in Mexico, on cooperative actions in the Colorado River Basin that would benefit both countries. Commissioner Drucina, of the IBWC, has been a great partner and I have to say a great friend in these efforts. And I talked to him earlier this week and he wanted me to convey, very strongly, his regrets for not being able to attend the conference this year. He had an engagement in Washington, D.C. at the State Department level that he just couldn't get out of and so he really wanted me to express his regrets.

I'd also like to acknowledge two representatives from Mexico that we have here today: Mario Lopez from Canagua, there's Mario, and Tonio Rascone who is the principal engineer with SELA, and they have also been tremendously helpful and constructive in all of our discussions and are great leaders in their own right.

Getting beyond the Federal level, a second group of strong and visionary leaders in the Basin are the Governor's representatives in the seven Basin States. Quite frankly, I've learned a great amount from these folks. I think they're simply the most creative and hardworking water managers in the country. And they are also -- for those of you who are concerned that this is too much of a love fest, here, I can assure you that your interests are very well represented, as they are also some of the toughest negotiators that I have ever come up against.

And then the third level is the Federal government and the State governments, we just could not be successful in trying to address, negotiate, put in place tools, programs, agreements without the willingness of local water user organizations, local water leaders and managers and tribal organizations. And that goes from the largest entities, metropolitan water districts, Southern Nevada Water Authority, CAP, to the smallest irrigation districts in the Basin and all of the tribes that make up the Colorado River Basin. Quite frankly, without a willingness to set aside differences and focus on areas of common ground, we simply would not be in a position that I think we are now, where we can address the challenges in front of us in this Basin -- not that we've addressed them to date -- but we are in a position to address them in the future.

And so I -- with that perspective, I would simply note that I -- last year I made a reference to the fact that Mark Reisner in Cadillac Desert over 25 years ago had noted that the Colorado River was the most litigated river in the world and, in fact, I thinks it's -- we've turned that paradigm on its head and it's become a model of collaboration and forward thinking and joint efforts to try and address the serious issues that we have.

And I will now take -- because I'm no longer in the U.S. Senate, I will now say that the Colorado River Basin is the greatest deliberative body in the world --

But it -- one that, fortunately, doesn't have a filibuster, either.

So, with that leadership and with that commitment that exists at all levels -- Federal, State, local, and even on a binational basis, we're making tremendous progress. And just really quickly -- I could go over the groundwater banking and interstate marketing that exists in the lower Basin now. The coordinated operations and shortage sharing guidelines of 2008, the MSCP and upper Colorado River, San Juan recovery implementation programs that will address ESA concerns and finds a strong foundation for environmental restoration efforts, the YDP, Yuma Desalting Plant trial run that we have ongoing right now, the Drop Two Brock Reservoir, its construction and its operation which is now underway which came in under budget and on time. The implementation of significant conservation measures that exist in the Basin -- both in the municipal sector and the agricultural sector and which is now the foundation for providing intentionally created surplus which is part of long-term efforts to address these possible shortages in the Basin.

And then, finally, we've had great success in a number of areas with Indian water rights settlements which certainly help provide water and infrastructure to tribes who have long gone without, but also provides certainly to all water users in the Basin.

And just to reiterate, after all of that, I do have to admit that it may not be that I am actually smarter when I leave this job, but I look smarter because I've learned, if nothing else, to listen to the great team that we have in place in Reclamation with Larry and Lori and their management teams and their staffs who are just top-notch. I think, overall we had this discussion yesterday with one group that we were meeting with -- we are a bureaucracy and we can be very frustrating at times, and we realize that. But, I think Reclamation at least has a reputation that we try and cut through a lot of that to reach solutions to problems, be able to implement those solutions in a timely manner, and we certainly have good intentions, and that's really the culture of the Bureau of Reclamation and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.

Overall challenges in the Colorado, I just want to touch on that a little bit, once again, as I mentioned -- it's a theme that's going to run through all of our discussions today. But before -- do we have the document? Yes. Before I got into challenges, I had a new note that challenges require tools and one tool is understanding the landscape before us with respect to the law, regulations, et cetera. So, all of you, I think, received in your packets this -- not the book. Fortunately, we live in a -- an advanced information age -- but the CD-ROM, the Colorado River documents 2008, which is at long last, an update to the 30-year old document, the 1978 Colorado River book document, so I think this will be a great tool, it's got new Congressional acts, other foundations of law, decisions, policy aspects, all which collectively make up, as we lovingly refer to as "The Law of the River." And so, I think it's a great tool, I hope everybody will make use of it. I would like to just point out and give credit to my predecessor, Bob Johnson, who got the ball rolling on this whole effort, and then Catherine Verberg -- I saw Catherine earlier -- who really took up the mantle and brought this document home. And who we drove a little bit nuts at the very end in saying, "Well, can't you add this? This just happened, this happened," and it's just this -- indicative that the ground is ever-shifting beneath us in the Colorado River Basin. But we've got this new tool to add to the mix and hopefully we'll add more in the future.

With respect to challenges in the Basin, I just want to kind of go over the big issues that we all know and are familiar with. Population growth has been slowed a little bit over the last few years with the situation that we're in, but once again, the Southwest and this particular river basin is the fastest growing area of the country the last decade, and as economic activity picks up we know it's going to return to that model. So, that's going to put further strain on our water resources. Unprecedented drought -- 11 years of it. Lake Mead is at 38 percent full and Lake Powell is 62 percent full. And these reservoirs make up 83 percent of the storage capacity that we have on the river.

We have ongoing environmental needs, we're making great progress with the MSCP and the Upper Colorado River Recovery Programs, but we have new challenges on a year-to-year basis with respect to new environmental issues and we also have the need to take care of our treasured icons like the Grand Canyon National Park. And all of these challenges that exist that put the strain on our water resources are going to have to be addressed in the face of a changing climate.

As of today, since the 1970s, we know that temperatures have increased already one to three degrees Celsius in the Basin. As a result, we have a higher number of frost-free days and we have longer growing seasons. We also have a well-documented decline in winter and spring snow pack and earlier runoff that's been well-documented. That's what we know, as is. And we already know those things are having an effect on how we manage water in the Basin.

The future projections, as best as we know it, on the best available science, are that we're going to have a one- to two-degrees Celsius increase in average temperatures by 2040, and a predicted four-degree Celsius rise by the end of the century. We're going to have a possibility -- as far as the projections right now -- of maybe some level of increased precipitation in the Upper Basin, but a very strong likelihood of decreased precipitation in the Lower Basin. And based on all of these factors of changes in runoff patterns, of increased temperature, of changing precipitation patterns, we're expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of a six to twenty percent reduction in runoff by the middle of the 21st centuries.

Quite simply, these facts are very daunting, and no matter how much success we've had in trying to manage the river more efficiently and enter into agreements where we share resources, et cetera, the ones I just mentioned, the fact is that we're going to have to do more. But I think the good news is that there is no better group suited to address these challenges than those in the Basin.

And I have to say, I don't know if Pat Mulroy is here, but those of you who, like myself, got to hear Pat's speech to ACWA a couple of weeks ago, it was just a fantastic discussion about the issues facing the Colorado River, and it just laid out that there's absolutely no lack of understanding of the challenges that we're facing in the Basin. We all get that, and nobody lays it out better and makes that point than Pat.

She laid out the challenges, as a matter of fact, and she also made the clear case -- which I think is a very important one, that what happens in the Colorado River Basin affects not just the Basin, but it affects other basins, too. And in particular, there's a direct link, and line between what goes on in the Colorado River Basin, and how that affects the needs that exist in the State of California from the Bay Delta. And there are interconnections in other parts of the west.

So, we're all linked together. This is an incredibly important basin and we all have to sit together and work on our shared interests to address these challenges.

Finally, I just want to talk a little bit about the general programs that we have in Reclamation and how I think they apply to the Basin itself. And our overall goal, once again, is to promote -- and I sound like a broken record, but maybe that's what I learned in my time in Congress, to try and keep it simple with respect to talking points. And the talking points are, the goals of our programs -- or any activities that we do specifically in the Basin -- are to promote certainty and sustainability in the use of -- in reliance on water resources in the Basin. And that's to secure long-term access to water, for all water users; to make substantial progress in environmental restoration and to minimize conflicts over water as a result of environmental needs. And we want to maintain our ability to serve our power users in the Basin. Those are not all easy goals to maintain at any particular time, but that's the key. To find that balance, to promote that long-term certainty and sustainability that we're seeking. And the bottom line, for us, is that Reclamation wants to maintain that strong foundation for economic activity that exists by those who rely on the Colorado River Basin and that's in the agricultural sector, industrial sector, and that certainly is in the recreation and environmental sectors. There's just a lot riding on our ability to work within the limits of this Basin and promote those goals of certainty and sustainability.

So, first of all, Recovery Act -- that's been a big focus of our efforts over the last year and a half. We have obligated the funds as we were required to do under the Recovery Act by the end of September of this year; we successfully obligated all of our funds. We had $950 million, and $256 million of those dollars were committed to the Colorado River Basin for infrastructure, efficiency and conservation projects, environmental restoration, salinity control efforts and R&D efforts associated with the quagga mussels and other invasives. So, I think we made good use of those dollars that are having economic impact right now with the creation of jobs, and we think they were good policy choices to be able to set up to address some of the long-term issues that we have in the Basin.

Water SMART, once again, this is our program to promote the efficient use of water resources to promote that sustainability vision, conservation, efficiency, water markets, technology development and a better scientific understanding of our water resources are the hallmark of the WaterSMART program. That program was kicked off in this Basin in Las Vegas through a workshop that was led by Assistant Secretary Anne Castle, and it was just indicative this basin was chosen because we thought the WaterSMART program, in all of its variations, was very important for this Basin, in particular. We've -- over the last two years, through our WaterSMART grant programs, for those who could fit efficiency and conservation projects, we've allocated $38 million in grants to projects in this particular basin.

WaterSMART is also the framework for our climate change adaptation programs. Lori is going to talk a little bit about Basin studies, which got kicked off, here, in the Basin itself. And we're also working with our partners in Fish and Wildlife Service and a lot of stakeholders in the Basin that we're now reaching out to, to form our landscape conservation cooperatives, which are an attempt to bring in all of those with a stake in natural resources in a particular eco-region, Reclamation decided that we would undertake leadership and help stand up two of these in the Colorado River Basin. And our idea is that we will bring people together, we'll have a stakeholder group that defines work plans, and we will identify science needs and look at adaptation projects that can be ultimately implemented, not just in Federal lands, but also bringing in private lands, State lands, et cetera. That's the goal and the vision of the partnership.

We also have a hydropower and renewable energy initiative. I think I talked before about the MOU that got signed earlier this year in which we're undertaking a number of activities. We've put out a study call the Revised Section 1834 report which is our working with a number of other Federal agencies -- Corps of engineers, Department of Energy and other stakeholders to identify new opportunities for new units at existing facilities -- new hydropower units at existing facilities. We've got a study out that I think we just extended the public comment on, so we're going to wrap with those comments, I think, in the January timeframe and get that study and report put out in final form early next year.

In the Basin itself, we identified four projects with the potential for about 23 megawatts of new capacity with just adding units at existing facility. We've also got a hydropower modernization initiative; it's an ongoing review of where we can get additional capacity from efficiency improvements. I think we've identified, to date, 10 megawatts in the Basin. And we're going to come out with a Phase II of that hydropower report that's going to look specifically at the opportunities for low-head hydropower for in-canal generation and other small hydropower development projects. I think I talked a lot with folks from the Basin at the National Water Resource Association Conference and I know there's a lot of interest there. So, we'll be working closely with a lot of our stakeholders and getting that report put together.

And, once again, our goal is to identify opportunities, some of the parameters for development and hope to get interest from you all in moving forward in projects that make sense.

Indian water rights settlements is another area of general efforts by the Bureau of Reclamation. We've had an incredible success over the last 18 months; we've had successes which I would just say are historic in nature. Under -- during the Obama Administration, the President has signed and enacted into law six new Indian water rights settlements; four more were just completed within the last 2 weeks in a bill that was passed by Congress that authorized four new settlements and provided guaranteed resources to the tune of about $800 million to implement those settlements. One of those settlements -- the White Mountain Apache Tribe settlement -- is one that will, once again, further help provide tribe -- the White Mountain Apache Tribe with drinking water supplies that it's not previously had, and it's -- once again, will resolve their claims which promotes that certainty in the Basin.

In that bill, the Congress also provided $180 million to move forward with guaranteed funds to begin implementing the Navajo-Gallop pipeline project which is the primary piece of the Navajo/San Juan water rights settlement. So, we're making progress in a great number of areas, addressing a real need, but also, once again, resolving issues and resolving conflicts in this basin. And that's been a high priority for the Administration.

Finally, aging infrastructure. It's one of our most critical issues to Reclamation, to all of you -- we've got to figure out how to get the tools in place to take care of this infrastructure which is, on average, about 75 years old -- it ranges from 50 to 100 years. We're looking to assess the condition of our facilities. We allocated $10 million of Recovery Act money to do an investigation of our facilities, particularly in urban areas where infrastructure failures may have a higher risk. We're going to come out with the results of that early next year. We're also trying to continue to work on the tools to address extraordinary maintenance issues that we have in reclamation facilities through the loan guarantee program, which we have an ongoing dialogue with the Office of Management and Budget about how to get that program up and running in a way that makes sense from a financial standpoint.

And also we're looking at the authority that was re-attained in the Public Law 111-11 that was passed in March, 2009, which is to look at opportunities to make use of the loan program that's there, that was authorized as part of that omnibus public lands bill. We've made use of that authority on a small scale, it's been very helpful and very critical for a couple of districts in addressing some extraordinary maintenance needs.

And then, once again, even our aging infrastructure, obviously invasive species are one aspect of that and we're going to continue to -- our R&D efforts, to try and address those items.

All of these items will take resources, if you didn't hear, we're still trying to figure out what's going to happen with our 2011 appropriations. We thought there was a chance for an omnibus appropriations bill, or at least a year-long continuing resolution. As of yesterday, I mean, the ground's constantly changing in Congress, but it doesn't appear that that's the case. So that will impact our ability to move forward and allocate funds as soon as we would like to, because it looks like they're going to do another short-term CR through the February timeframe. And we'll just have to work closely with you all to see how that impacts moving forward on some projects, but that's the lay of the land as it exists right now, and it creates new challenges.

So, with that, I'll wrap up. We've got great and strong leaders, we understand the challenges that are ahead of us. We still are working on collectively having the right tools and programs that we can use in the Basin and -- but I think there's reason for optimism.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Larry, I think, who's going to talk a little bit about salinity, and then Lori who's going to talk about the three or four things, specific, going on in the Colorado River Basin, and then we can move on to the Secretary.