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
to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to participate in the City of Hermiston, Oregon, water recycling and reuse project, and for other purposes
July 21, 2009
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Michael L. Connor, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased to provide the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 2741, the City of Hermiston, Oregon, Water Recycling and Reuse Project. For reasons discussed below the Department cannot support H.R. 2741.
H.R. 2741 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 permanent facilities to reclaim and reuse water in the City of Hermiston, Oregon. Current federal law limits the federal share of individual project costs to 25 percent of the total, or a maximum federal contribution of $20 million.
The City of Hermiston is located in north central Oregon and is one the largest communities within the Bureau of Reclamation's Umatilla Project Area. As part of their Wastewater Treatment Plant Improvements Project, the City of Hermiston is exploring the option of delivering reclaimed water to the West Extension Irrigation District to be used as agricultural water. Based on the city's current population, the reuse project would deliver an additional 1,132 acre-feet of water to the West Extension Irrigation District during the irrigation season. By 2026, it is estimated that the project would yield 1,685 acre-feet of reused water. The total estimated cost for this project is about $21.5 million.
H.R. 2741 includes authorization for design, planning, and construction of this project, of which the Federal cost share is limited to 25 percent of the total cost. No Title XVI related appraisal or feasibility levels studies have been completed for this project.
The City of Hermiston is part of an agricultural community and recent changes in the state of Oregon's recycled water regulations reduce the barriers to using such water for the irrigation of food crops. There have also been a number of discussions between the City of Hermiston and the West Extension Irrigation District's governing board and the district has taken a favorable view of the project.
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.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my statement. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on H.R. 2741. I would be pleased to answer any questions at this time.