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Statement of Grayford F. Payne, Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Administration and Budget
Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Department of the Interior
Before the
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
U.S. Senate
on
S. 802
Lake Thunderbird Efficient Use Act of 2011

June 23, 2011

Madam Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am Grayford Payne, Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Administration and Budget at the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). I am pleased to present the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on S. 802, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to allow the storage and conveyance of non-project water at the Norman Project in Oklahoma. For reasons I will discuss below, the Department supports this bill.

Lake Thunderbird, located on the Little River in central Oklahoma, was constructed as part of the Norman Project for municipal and industrial water supply, flood control, recreation, and fish & wildlife purposes. The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District (District) operates the Norman Project under contract with the United States. The District holds all Project water rights and currently provides water to the member cities of Norman, Del City and Midwest City.

The Lake Thunderbird watershed experienced a major drought between 2005 and 2006 which resulted in unprecedented low lake levels. Shortly thereafter, the District and Reclamation jointly determined that the stored water supply in the lake would require augmentation in the future to meet demands of the member cities during potential reoccurring drought periods.

S. 802 would facilitate a proposal by the District to purchase raw water from the City of Oklahoma City in times of drought and store it in Lake Thunderbird to augment the yield of the reservoir. The water would come from Atoka Reservoir in southeast Oklahoma, which is owned and operated by Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City conveys this water approximately 100 miles through the existing Atoka pipeline which crosses the Lake Thunderbird watershed just upstream of the reservoir. The District and Oklahoma City would tap the Atoka pipeline and construct a short pipeline to Lake Thunderbird. Because the purchased water does not originate within the Lake Thunderbird watershed, Reclamation does not have authority to approve this action. If S. 802 were enacted, Reclamation could approve a water service contract and provide the means for the action to move forward.

The Department supports this legislation because: (1) Reclamation has confirmed an immediate and critical water need exists; (2) studies conducted in 2010 indicate that Lake Thunderbird can be used to store up to 4,600 acre feet of non-project water, if and when space is available, with no adverse impacts to operations, the environment, recreation, and the local economy; (3) the action would be carried out solely by the District at no cost to the Federal government; and (4) based on a well attended public meeting in 2009 and on comments received on the environmental compliance document, the proposed action is generally supported by interested parties and no known opposition exists.

Madam Chairman, this concludes my written statement. I am pleased to answer any questions.