Statement of John W. Keys, III, Commissioner
U.S. Department of the Interior
Before the
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
S. 2460
To authorize the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey, to provide assistance to the State of New Mexico for the development of comprehensive State water plans, and for other purposes.

June 17, 2004

Madam Chair, my name is John W. Keys, III, Commissioner of Reclamation (Reclamation). I am pleased to be here today to present the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) regarding S. 2460, which would authorize assistance to be provided to the State of New Mexico for the development of comprehensive State water plans, and for other purposes.

We share the views of the sponsor of this bill, Senator Domenici, that is, the importance of sound science for use by water resource planners. However, the Department is concerned about the financial resources that would be required for Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to carry out S. 2460 in the context of the availability of resources overall for Administration programs. Further, the provision for any assistance or grants to be made on a non-reimbursable basis and without a cost-sharing requirement is inconsistent with the funding arrangements that Reclamation and the USGS have for similar activities in other states. For these reasons, the Administration cannot support the bill as currently written.

The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting through Reclamation and the USGS, to (1) provide technical assistance and grants to the State for the development of comprehensive State water plans; (2) conduct water resources mapping in the State; and (3) conduct a comprehensive study of groundwater resources (including potable, brackish, and saline water resources) to assess the quantity, quality, and interaction of groundwater and surface water resources in the State. This would be accomplished through technical assistance and grants.

The technical assistance role identified for the Department in this bill is consistent with the USGS’s leadership role in interpretation, research, and assessment of the earth and biological resources of the nation. It is likewise consistent with the Reclamation’s leadership role in water resources research, modeling, analysis, assessment and management. However, the direction to provide these grants to the State on a non-competitive basis is not in harmony with the Administration’s efforts, such as through Water 2025, to use a competitive process to focus our existing resources in those areas where future water conflicts are most likely to occur. Even though some New Mexico projects would likely be very competitive in that process, the Administration would prefer that New Mexico’s needs compete on an equal footing with other meritorious projects that apply for assistance. Let me briefly describe the activities of the USGS and Reclamation in this context.

As the nation's largest water, earth, biological science, and civilian mapping agency, USGS conducts the most extensive groundwater and surface water investigations in the nation in conjunction with state and local partners. The USGS New Mexico District currently operates 209 streamflow stations and routinely measures groundwater levels at 1,658 well sites through cooperative programs with several local, state, tribal, and federal agencies. In addition to hydrologic monitoring programs, the USGS is providing hydrologic understanding to water agencies through the Cooperative Water Program by conducting several investigative projects that include describing the interaction of surface water and ground water in the Mesilla and Middle Rio Grande basins, evaluating modeling approaches in the Santa Fe Embayment and La Cienega areas of the Espanola Basin, and quantifying streamflow gains and losses in the Espanola Basin along the Rio Grande mainstem and its tributaries. In support of all water agencies within New Mexico, USGS technical specialists participate on work groups and committees each year. Currently, USGS personnel are involved in the New Mexico Brackish Water Task Force, the Rio Grande Environmental Assessment for Upper Rio Grande water operations, and the Department of the Interior’s Southwest Strategy.

Reclamation, as the nation's largest western water and hydro-electric power supplier and water management agency, conducts the most extensive river storage and delivery operations and related research in the seventeen western states in conjunction with tribal, state and local partners. Reclamation has provided technical and monetary assistance to two of the New Mexico state regional water plans, reviewed and commented on the draft State Water Plan, and provided water resource-related technical assistance through Reclamation’s Technical Assistance to States planning program. In addition, Reclamation is actively involved in several Indian water supply projects within New Mexico, and has developed and maintains state-of-the-art, internet-delivered decision support data on evapotranspiration depletions to the Rio Grande system, and conducts daily river system modeling for water accounting, contracted deliveries and endangered species support.

In summary, the goals of the bill are commendable, and the bill contains provisions that are within the scope and expertise of Reclamation and the USGS. However, it is the position of the Administration that funding for the activities in this bill be pursued through existing authorities and procedures, and not through specific Congressional direction that supersedes established processes, competitive or otherwise. Also, we believe that the cost-sharing provisions of this bill should conform to other similar programs undertaken by Reclamation and the USGS, such as Reclamation Title XVI program, which requires a 50 percent local share, or the USGS Cooperative Water Program, which requires a dollar for dollar match of federal and non-federal funds. Requiring these cost-shares not only stretches limited federal funds, but also emphasizes that States are primarily responsible for managing the water resources within their borders, and not the Federal government. Finally, we find that S. 2460 is sufficiently vague regarding the relative roles and functions of Reclamation and the USGS, which could cause significant delay in implementation, as well as the fact that the bill, as written, duplicates some existing agency programs and authorizations and sets a major precedent of providing federal funding for State water plans.

Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to present this testimony. I will be pleased to answer questions you and other Members of the Subcommittee might have.