Statement of Michael L. Connor, Commissioner
U.S. Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
The WaterSMART Program and implementation of the Secure Water Act
March 16, 2010
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Mike Connor, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). I am pleased to be here today on behalf of the Department of the Interior (Department) to discuss the WaterSMART Program and the Department's efforts through that program to implement the Secure Water Act (Title IX, Subtitle F of Public Law 111-11). The WaterSMART Program (Sustain and Manage America's Resources for Tomorrow) will assist local communities in stretching water supplies, and is highlighted in the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget request released by the President. The FY 2011 Budget provides a total of $73 million for the WaterSMART Program, $62 million for Reclamation and $11 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The FY 2011 Bureau of Reclamation Budget provides:
- $29 million for water recycling and reuse projects (Title XVI);
- $27 million for competitive WaterSMART grants (formerly called challenge grants); and
- $6 million for water basin studies.
Through its WaterSMART program, the Department of the Interior has set an ambitious high priority performance goal of conserving up to 350,000 acre-feet of water by 2012.
The USGS also has $11 million in its FY 2011 Budget for its scientific endeavors under the WaterSMART program. I will discuss the Reclamation and USGS efforts related to the Secure Water Act and the WaterSMART program in detail later in this statement.
Water Security: Challenges Ahead and the Need for Coordinated Action
I want to start by briefly discussing the factors that led Congress to enact the Secure Water Act and that spur our commitment to use the levers we have available as a federal agency to confront water management challenges. The American West is now the fastest growing region of the country and faces serious water challenges. Competition for finite water supplies, including water for environmental needs, is increasing as the need for water continues to grow. At the same time, extended droughts are impacting water availability and climate change is likely to compound the situation. As our climate changes and the earth warms, the most immediate impact is on the hydrologic cycle. Warming impacts where precipitation falls, how much falls, in what form, and the rate of consumption. These changes directly affect the water supply available for drinking, irrigating crops, generating electricity, supplying industry, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and filling our lakes, rivers, and aquifers.
In the Western United States, these changes are not just anticipated for the future, but are being measured today:
- Average temperatures are rising, thereby increasing evaporation and perhaps increasing the severity of recent droughts;
- A greater portion of winter precipitation is falling in the mountains as rain rather than snow, reducing the winter snowpack;
- Winter low temperatures are rising, and the snowpack is melting earlier in the spring; and
- Collectively, these trends for precipitation and temperature are producing earlier runoff, making it harder to use the winter precipitation later in the summer (i.e. reducing the capacity for natural storage).
And the Western States are not alone in experiencing water supply challenges. In 2007, parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, traditionally water-rich states, had their lowest annual rainfall on record, and streamflows in many areas were at all-time lows. As recently as 2008, low precipitation in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and conflicting demands for water for metropolitan supply, agricultural demands, power generation, and ecosystem needs resulted in litigation costing those States millions of dollars. Neither the East nor the West is immune to water shortages. That is why a national program is so important.
It is interesting to note that the majority of irrigation withdrawals and irrigated acres are still in the Western states, but significant increases in irrigation have occurred in several eastern and southern states. According to a recent USGS report, "Estimated Uses of Water in the United States in 2005," Circular 1344, irrigation withdrawals declined by nearly 6 million AF in the 17 Western States from 1995 to 2005, while they increased by 4.5 million AF in the 31 eastern States during this decade. Irrigated acres in the 17 Western States increased steadily to a peak of nearly 49 million acres in 1980, and varied from 45 to 47 million acres since then. On the other hand, irrigated acres in the 31 Eastern States have steadily increased in each reporting year, gaining nearly 3.4 million acres between 1995 and 2005 when nearly 16 million acres were irrigated.
The science is quite clear that climate change will add to the challenges we face today in managing our water supply, water quality, flood risks, wastewater, aquatic ecosystems, and energy production. These new stresses are likely to be felt first in the fastest growing region of the nation - the West. The Western States accounted for 32% of the nation's population growth from 1990 to 2000, with some of the fastest growth in the driest areas.
The fundamental purpose of the Secure Water Act is to provide authority so that the Federal water and science agencies can work together with the States and local water managers to plan for climate change and the other threats to our water supplies, and take action to secure our water resources for the communities, economies, and the ecosystems they support.
The Department of the Interior's strategy for implementing the Secure Water Act includes collaboration among agencies to enhance climate change science, which will allow us to better assess the threats to our water systems and implement mitigation strategies. The particular areas of concern are:
- Water supply, including both surface storage and groundwater aquifers;
- Generation of hydroelectric power;
- Cooling water for thermal power plants;
- Water required for development of new energy sources;
- River flows to maintain ecosystems and water quality;
- Recreational use of lakes and rivers; and
- Protection from floods and rising sea levels.
Introduction to WaterSMART
Given increased demands for water from growing populations and energy needs, amplified recognition of environmental water requirements, and the potential for decreased supplies due to drought and climate change, a water balance cannot be achieved without water conservation and water reuse. Federal leadership is critical to widespread acceptance and implementation of effective conservation and recycling techniques. The purpose underlying the Department's WaterSMART Program is to work to achieve a sustainable water strategy to meet our Nation's water needs.
Reclamation's WaterSMART Program includes WaterSMART Grants, the Basin Studies Program, including West-wide Climate Change Risk Assessments (WWCCRA), and the Title XVI Water Recycling and Reuse Program, which will be discussed at the end of this Statement. Reclamation will also partner with States, tribes and local entities under WaterSMART to develop incentives and best practices for implementing water conservation and water recycling projects. USGS will also play an important role through the USGS WaterSMART Availability and Use Assessment program. An interdisciplinary science approach will be used to implement this assessment.
The remainder of this statement will discuss the Department of the Interior's implementation of the Secure Water Act, including the relevant programs that fit within the WaterSMART framework. We have grouped the federal programs discussed to reflect the following overarching goals: Collaboration among Federal Water Agencies, Enhancing Climate Change Science, Assessing and Preparing for Threats to the Water Supply, and Implementing Mitigation Strategies.
Collaboration Among Federal Water Agencies
The Secure Water Act requires increased collaboration among the Federal water agencies. Reclamation is working closely with the lead science agencies in the areas of climate and water, namely the USGS and the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through the NOAA-led interagency National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and NOAA's Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) university centers to ensure that the best information and science is available for water management. As contemplated by the Act, collaboration will also extend to applicable State and local entities, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), academic institutions and tribes.
These partnerships will also build on collaborations that have already begun:
- Together with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), NOAA, and the USGS, Reclamation has formed the Climate Change and Water Working Group (C-CAWWG) to bring the water managers and climate scientists together to create efficient research and development (R&D) collaborations and information sharing across the federal agencies toward understanding and addressing climate change impacts on Western water supplies and water use.
- Reclamation, the USACE, NOAA and the USGS collaborated to write Climate Change and Water Resources Management: A Federal Perspective, USGS Circular 1331. This report represents the two primary water "operating agencies" and the two primary water "science agencies" collaborating to address the need for a comprehensive assessment of approaches for including climate change in water resources management.
- As part of CCAWWG coordination, Reclamation and the USACE are developing detailed descriptions of information and tools that water managers need from the science agencies and other researchers. Perspectives from both State and local water managers will also be sought and included in this report.
- Reclamation is working with the USGS and NOAA, including NOAA's RISA program to develop a Climate Change Training program for water managers. In discussions with water managers, a credible, consistent source of climate information and training is always one of the highest priorities identified.
- Reclamation is providing input to NOAA as it plans for the next generation of Global Circulation Models (GCMs) to define the types of outputs that will be of most value to water managers.
- Reclamation is participating in the Postdocs Applying Climate Expertise (PACE) Fellowship program with NOAA to sponsor research activities focused on water management needs. There are currently three active postdocs participating in this program -- two focused on water supply questions for the Colorado River Basin and one studying potential changes to extreme precipitation events.
Enhancing Climate Change Science
Reclamation will expand its research into the effects of climate change on the water cycle and how that may be managed for now and in the future. Some highlights of the research program and research underway include:
- Creation of a downscaled climate projection archive. This is an archive of GCM projections downscaled to spatial scales useful for water management analyses;
- Evaluations of global climate model projections to determine how flood frequencies may change in the 21st century;
- Evaluation of whether our ability to predict water supply is being diminished by climate change, and identification of possible new, more accurate methods; and
- Evaluation of how various hydrologic forecast models perform under climate change scenarios, leading to more informed choices among models.
The USGS Role
The USGS will bring its science to bear on water cycle climate effects through its participation in the Department's Energy and Climate Change Council, which is coordinating activities within and across the bureaus to develop and implement an integrated strategy for climate change and energy response by the Department. Close coordination between this Council and the WaterSMART Program is a Departmental priority. Finally, at Congressional direction, the USGS created a National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) to meet the climate adaptation science needs of resource managers. The USGS engaged Federal agencies, States, Tribes, NGOs, and others to design the structure and operations of the Center. Over the next two years, the Department will establish five of the proposed eight regional Climate Science Centers (CSCs) that will be staffed by USGS and partner scientists and information specialists to deliver basic climate-change-impact science. All of these measures will aid us in determining the effects of climate change on the water cycle.
Assessing and Preparing for Threats to the Water SupplyWest-wide Climate Change Risk Assessments (Section 9503(b)(1)-(3) of Secure Water Act)
Reclamation will use the research and development activities described above to undertake West-wide Climate Change Risk Assessments. These assessments will provide consistent projections for all of the major river basins in the West of how climate change will affect:
Temperature and precipitation;
Water supply; and
Water demand and consumptive use.
These assessments will also include reconnaissance-level analysis of how water project operations may be affected.
This information will provide a sound and consistent foundation for the Basin Studies and other planning activities that will formulate local and regional mitigation strategies to address climate change and other threats to our water supplies.
Basin Studies ($6 million in the FY 2011 Budget) (Section 9503(b)(1)-(4) of Secure Water Act)
Through the Basin Study Program, Reclamation will partner with basin stakeholders to conduct comprehensive studies to evaluate the impacts of climate change and define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the West. The Basin Studies will identify adaptation strategies to resolve basin-wide water supply issues, including changes to the operation of water supply systems, modifications to existing facilities, development of new facilities, or non-structural changes. The Basin Studies will build on the West-wide Risk Assessments to develop basin-specific strategies to help meet water demands. By encouraging input from basin stakeholders, the Basin Studies will also build capacity and collaboration in the process of identifying water management solutions.
In FY 2009, Reclamation provided funding to initiate the first three basin studies under this program, including:
- The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study ($1 million Reclamation, $1 million matching) covering portions of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming;
- Yakima River Basin Study and Associated Basin Restoration Implementation Plan, covering south central Washington ($1.3 million Reclamation, $1.3 million matching); and
- Modeling for the Future of the Milk and St. Mary River Systems in north central and southern Montana ($350,000 Reclamation, $350,000 matching).
The Colorado River study provides an ideal example of the collaborative process that we will employ under the Basin Study Program. The study encompasses the Colorado River Basin (upper and lower) and those areas of the seven basin states -- Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California (Basin States) -- that receive Colorado River water. Cost-share partners include each of the seven Basin States. The proposal is to complete a comprehensive review of water supply and current and long-term demands through 2060 within the Colorado River Basin; to assess options for resolving water supply imbalances; and to develop recommendations for future consideration to address current and projected imbalances. Paramount to the study is an assessment of the potential impacts of climate variability and climate change on water supplies and demands, including impacts on hydropower.
WaterSMART Water Availability and Use Assessment Initiative
To answer the question, "How much water do we have in the United States?" the USGS will put together a cohesive national picture of water availability and how it varies across our country through a new initiative called the WaterSMART Water Availability and Use Assessment. Many factors affect the amount of water that is available-- precipitation patterns, streamflows, groundwater availability, and land uses. Trends in availability are already apparent in many locations across the country. The WaterSMART Water Availability and Use Assessment Initiative will account for the changing amount, quality, and use of water resources across the Nation. It gives a standard way for the Nation to understand water availability using measurements or estimates of the different components of the water cycle, including precipitation, surface water, and groundwater. The key components of this initiative include:
- A nationwide system to deliver information about the water availability factors that every manager needs to know when dealing with availability questions - precipitation and evapotranspiration, surface-water runoff and baseflows, recharge to groundwater and changing storage in aquifers.
- Increased knowledge of water-use science - withdrawals, demands, consumption, and return flows.
- An investment in the science of ecological flows.
- A new grant program for State water resource agencies to assist them with critical work on their water use databases.
- A series of "focus area" studies where there is a desire on the part of watershed stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive three-year technical assessment of water availability with the best available tools. The USGS will work with watershed stakeholders and the various agencies involved in these geographic focus areas to scope and conduct these studies.
Implementing Mitigation Strategies
The science activities just mentioned are necessary to inform the management needs that exist with respect to water resources. Improved management, however, is an ongoing process and much more can be done now. With increased demands for water from growing populations and energy needs, amplified recognition of environmental water requirements, and the potential for decreased supplies due to drought and climate change, a certainty and sustainability with respect to the use of water resources cannot be achieved without water conservation and water reuse. Federal leadership is critical to widespread acceptance and implementation of effective strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
WaterSMART Grant Program ($27 million in the FY 2011 Budget)
WaterSMART Grants (previously Water Conservation Initiative Challenge Grants) provide cost-shared funding for the following types of on-the-ground projects: (1) water conservation and efficiency projects that allow users to decrease diversions and to use or transfer the water saved; (2) water marketing projects with willing sellers and buyers, including water banks, that transfer water to other uses to meet critical needs for water supplies; (3) projects that improve water management by increasing the use of renewable energy, by increasing operational flexibility (constructing aquifer recharge facilities or making system optimization and management improvements), or by addressing endangered species and other environmental issues; and (4) pilot and demonstration projects that address the technical and economic viability of treating and using brackish groundwater, seawater, impaired waters, or otherwise creating new water supplies within a specific locale. WaterSMART Grants leverage Federal funding by requiring a minimum of 50 percent non-Federal cost-share contribution. Grants are available to States, tribes, irrigation and water districts, and other entities with water or power delivery authority. Beginning in 2010, Reclamation can also provide cost-shared assistance to universities, non-profits, and organizations with water or power delivery authority for research activities designed to enhance the management of water resources, including developing tools to assess the impacts of climate change on water resources, and research that will increase the use of renewable energy in the management and delivery of water and power. Additionally, to ensure that the most effective conservation and reuse approaches are employed, Reclamation will begin partnering with States, tribes and local entities to develop incentives and best practices in water conservation techniques, water recycling and reuse methodologies, and land use policies.
Since 2004 through fiscal 2009, over $73.8 million in Federal funding (including Recovery Act funding) has been awarded to 167 Grant projects for improvements in 16 western states. We expect that these projects will conserve 540,000 acre-feet per year when fully constructed. Reclamation committed $40 million of its $950 million Recovery Act appropriation to the Grant Program, and as evidence of the Program's popularity, Reclamation received funding requests exceeding $350 million for that $40 million opportunity. We are continuing the Program in 2010, and will solicit applications for 2010 WaterSMART Grants within the next several weeks.
Based on Reclamation performance data, challenge grants have provided a yearly average of 87,273 estimated acre-feet conserved since 2004. Grant projects include such activities as converting leaky dirt canals to pipeline, eliminating water losses due to seepage and evaporation to result in substantial water savings; installation of measuring devices, including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems to improve control over water deliveries and to reduce operational spillage; installation of automation technology to allow more precise, remote control of water diversions and deliveries; and projects involving water marketing such as a pilot water bank in the Deschutes River Basin in Oregon aimed at facilitating the voluntary transfers of water among users.
Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program ($29 million)
Title XVI of P.L. 102-575, as amended (Title XVI), provides authority for Reclamation's water recycling and reuse program. The Title XVI program is focused on identifying and investigating opportunities to reclaim and reuse wastewaters and naturally impaired ground and surface water in the 17 Western States and Hawaii. Under the program, Reclamation makes available cost-shared funding for planning, design, and construction of water recycling projects, as well as research and demonstration projects.
For purposes of the Title XVI program, a water reuse project is a project (including the necessary facilities and features) that reclaims and reuses municipal, industrial, domestic, or agricultural wastewater and naturally impaired groundwater and/or surface waters. Consistent with State law, reclaimed water can be used for a variety of purposes, such as environmental restoration, fish and wildlife, groundwater recharge, municipal, domestic, industrial, agricultural, power generation, or recreation. Water reuse is an essential tool in stretching the limited water supplies in the West. Title XVI projects develop and supplement urban and irrigation water supplies through water reuse, thereby improving efficiency, providing flexibility during water shortages, and diversifying the water supply. Overall, Federal investment in Title XVI has totaled about $524 million through FY 2009, and resulted in an estimated 245,000 acre-feet of water made available in 2009, a figure that will grow as projects reach full build-out. This Administration has significantly increased the budget request for these projects in 2011. New criteria Reclamation is developing in 2010 will enable us to review and rank Title XVI project funding proposals, and fund them. Some of the issues that will be looked at include reducing existing diversions or addressing specific water supply issues in a cost-effective manner, addressing environmental and water quality concerns, and meeting other program goals.
The Secure Water Act authorizes Reclamation to conduct feasibility studies to study the feasibility and impacts of constructing infrastructure necessary to address the effects of global climate change on water resources. New infrastructure could include the construction of water supply or water management facilities, or infrastructure to benefit environmental needs or enhance habitat.
I have described initial efforts of an implementation process that will unfold over the coming years. Both the WaterSMART Program and the Secure Water Act hold the potential to enable tremendous strides forward in preparing both our water supply infrastructure and the people who manage it for meeting the challenges of tomorrow.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the subcommittee. I am please to answer any questions you may have.