Statement of Michael L. Connor, Commissioner
U.S. Department of the Interior
Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
U.S. House of Representatives
the Downey Regional Water Reclamation and Groundwater Augmentation Act
July 21, 2009
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Michael L. Connor, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased provide the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 1738, the Downey Regional Water Reclamation and Groundwater Augmentation Act. For reasons described below, the Department cannot support H.R. 1738.
H.R. 1738 would amend the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act (43 U.S.C. 390h et seq.), commonly called Title XVI, to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to participate in the design, planning, and construction of the Downey Regional Water Reclamation and Groundwater Augmentation Project in Los Angeles County, California.
Reclamation this summer has begun meetings with the City of Downey to exchange information regarding this project and help them develop a feasibility study in accordance with existing Directives and Standards. A feasibility study has not been submitted by the City of Downey, and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act for this project has not been initiated. As such, Reclamation cannot provide a determination as to its merits.
As a threshold matter, I'd like to express the Department's general support for the Title XVI Reclamation and Reuse program. The 2010 budget proposal includes funding for Secretary Salazar's Water Conservation Initiative and Title XVI is an important element of that program. Also, on July 1, the Department announced the award of approximately $135 million in grants for specific authorized Title XVI projects. We recognize that water reuse is an essential tool in stretching the limited water supplies in the West.
However, given that there are 53 already authorized Title XVI projects and numerous competing mission priorities and demands on Reclamation's budget, the Department cannot support the authorization of new Title XVI projects at this time. As a practical matter, Reclamation is concerned that a proliferation of authorized projects would be detrimental to effective overall program management because there would be a dilution of available funding and a diminished ability of the Bureau to carry out and complete individual projects.
Reclamation will, however, continue to work with project proponents to evaluate the feasibility of their projects. To that end, Reclamation recently revised and improved its directives and standards that govern the review of Title XVI projects. By doing so, we believe that Reclamation can play a constructive role with local sponsors, as well as Congress, in evaluating the merits of proposed water recycling projects. Information regarding a project's feasibility should be fundamental to Congress' evaluation of new authorizations.
H.R. 1738 authorizes the appropriation of up to $20 million, or a maximum of 25 percent of total project costs. While the Department supports efforts to increase local water supplies and increase recycled water use in Southern California, this project would compete with other critical needs within the Reclamation program, including other Title XVI projects currently under construction, for funding priority in the President's Budget.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on H.R. 1738. I would be pleased to answer any questions at this time.