Statement of Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner
U.S. Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act
April 24, 2008
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. Thank you for the opportunity to appear today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2805, a bill to authorize the United States to enter into agreements with the Rio Grande Pueblos to repair, rehabilitate, or reconstruct existing irrigation infrastructure. While the Department supports the goals of this bill, we cannot support this legislation.
The Rio Grande Pueblo Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act would provide an assessment of the irrigation infrastructure of 18 Pueblos in New Mexico and provide grants to repair, rehabilitate, reconstruct, or replace existing infrastructure. In 1999 and 2000, Reclamation spent $100,000 in cost share with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an appraisal level study and cost estimate for irrigation infrastructure work on the 18 Pueblos.
Diversions of the Rio Grande River and many of its tributaries supply the water for irrigation. Irrigated agriculture remains the primary source of Pueblo-grown produce for family consumption and local sales, while also serving important cultural purposes.
Many factors now make Pueblo farming more difficult. Often, there is not enough flow available for Pueblo ditches to work properly. Despite the incorporation of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos into the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District's water delivery system, poor Pueblo irrigation facilities have, in some cases, hindered the delivery of water for efficient production on Pueblo lands.
Installing proper drainage, replacing inefficient ditches with pipes or concrete lined ditches, and having conveyance facilities capable of efficiently supplying water at both high and low flows would result in greater efficiency for the Pueblo. Work done to date between Reclamation and the Pueblos is primarily done through Public Law 93-638 contracts. These contracts are the preference of many of the Pueblos. Work done under this bill would be subject to Public Law 93-638. Section 5(a) of this bill describes cooperative agreements and grants with the Pueblos. Reclamation is concerned that it lacks the word "contracts," which could be problematic with issuing Public Law 93-638 contracts.
The scope of work that would be covered under the bill could vary significantly depending on the definitions for some key words included in this bill. Reclamation would request definitions for major impoundment structures (Sec.5(b)1), on-farm improvements (Sec.5(b)2), drainage facility (Sec 3(4)), and historically irrigated lands (Sec.5(b)3). The definitions for each of these could have different interpretations and could significantly change the boundaries, costs and workload associated with these projects. Section 4 also does not describe any cost share requirements for the study, which includes creation of the list and work with the Pueblos to gain their consent of the list.
Sections 4(a) and 5(c) direct Reclamation to conduct a study and compile a list of projects based on priority and with the consent of the Pueblos. The results of the study, priority list and any other findings must be reported to Congress within 18 months of the enactment. This time frame is not reasonable to conduct an adequate feasibility study, prepare cost estimates, comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, and perform a value engineering analysis, all of which are required by Reclamation. The bill would provide DOI with the authority to award grants to the Rio Grande Pueblos to plan, construct or repair Pueblo irrigation infrastructure. S. 2805 would authorize the Federal government to pay up to 75 percent of project construction/repair costs, and to waive the non-Federal cost share requirement if the Pueblo demonstrates financial hardship that would prevent the Pueblo from cost sharing. S. 2805 authorizes an appropriation of $60 million for the proposed projects and $4 million for the study.
The list mentioned in sections 4(a) and 5(c) must have the consent of the Pueblos. The legislation's wording does not specify whether all Pueblos must approve the entire list or each Pueblo is required to approve only its portion of the list. The outcomes could also vary depending on whether approval of the list would require unanimous consent of all the Pueblos, or only the consent of a majority of the Pueblos. Under Public Law 93-638, the Pueblos can request that they determine the priorities and overall list of projects to be completed. Reclamation would like clarification on the level of consent required from the Pueblos, individually and corporately.
Reclamation agrees that this legislation could help improve the efficiency of the Pueblo irrigation systems and could therefore serve as a water conservation measure along the Rio Grande. However, as described above, the bill as presently written contains many unclear provisions and leaves some important factors open to interpretation. The Department also can not support the addition of new projects which would result in the reduction of funding for other ongoing Reclamation projects. This concludes my testimony. I am happy to answer any questions.