Statement of Kira L Finkler, Deputy Commissioner for External and Intergovernmental Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
Avra/Black Wash Reclamation and Riparian Restoration Project Act
April 27, 2010
Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Kira Finkler, Deputy Commissioner for External and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on H.R. 325, the Avra/Black Wash Reclamation and Riparian Restoration Project Act. For reasons I will discuss below, the Administration cannot support the bill.
H.R. 325 would amend the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act (Public Law 102-575, 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 needed to reclaim, reuse, and treat groundwater and wastewater in the Black Wash Sonoran Desert ecosystem, west of the metropolitan Tucson area in Arizona. The project is being implemented by Pima County.
Pima County is expanding the 1.5 million gallon per day (mgd) wastewater treatment facility to a capacity of 5 mgd. Currently, treated effluent is not reused. The proposed project would provide tertiary treatment and establish procedures to recharge the reclaimed water in ponds and the Black Wash. The treated effluent that was previously evaporated would instead recharge the aquifer, and state law would allow this recharge to be measured and stored as credits to be pumped at a later date. By recharging the water in the channel of Black Wash, riparian and wildlife habitat will be created, preserved and protected. The project includes plans to provide baseline ecological reconnaissance for monitoring of diversity and ecological health of the site.
Reclamation has been working with Pima County to review the technical, regulatory and contractual issues involved in the project but discussions have been preliminary. To date, the steps necessary to prepare a feasibility report that meet the requirements for feasibility of a Title XVI project have only briefly been discussed. Because the technical studies are not complete, the feasibility, environmental impacts and cost effectiveness for this project cannot be determined.
H.R. 325 would authorize the project under Title XVI for Federal funding not to exceed 25 percent of the total project cost or $14 million, whichever is less.
While the Department supports efforts to increase local water supplies and increase recycled water use, this project would compete for funds with other needs within the Reclamation program, including other Title XVI projects currently under construction. In general, the Department supports the Title XVI Reclamation and Reuse program. The 2011 budget proposal includes funding for the Department's WaterSMART Program, and Title XVI is an important element of that program. Specifically, the 2011 budget proposal includes $29 million for the Title XVI program, a 113% increase over the 2010 enacted level.
As part of this total, the Department is requesting $20 million for Title XVI projects to be selected using criteria to identify activities most closely aligned with Title XVI statutory and program goals. On March 15, 2010, Reclamation posted an announcement inviting comment on draft funding criteria for Title XVI projects. After these criteria are finalized with comments received up through April 16, Reclamation will review and rank Title XVI project proposals received based on those criteria subject to appropriations in fiscal year 2011.
Separately, in July of 2009, the Department announced the allocation of approximately $135 million in grants for specific authorized Title XVI projects using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA. We recognize that water reuse is an essential tool in stretching the limited water supplies in the West, and I believe the FY 2011 Budget request on top of the ARRA funding has demonstrated the emphasis placed by this Administration on this Program. 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 or extensions of existing authorized cost ceilings at this time.
Reclamation will, however, continue to work with project proponents to evaluate the completeness of feasibility studies of their projects.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on H.R. 325. I would be pleased to answer any questions at this time.