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
U.S. Senate
S. 891
A bill to extend the water service contract for the Ainsworth Unit, Sandhills Division, Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, Nebraska

July 12, 2005

Madam Chairman, I am John W. Keys, III, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. I am pleased to present the views of the Department of the Interior in support of S. 891.

The Ainsworth Unit, a part of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, is operated and maintained by the Ainsworth Irrigation District, Ainsworth, Nebraska. The District receives its project water from Merritt Dam and Reservoir, located on the Snake River, which has its confluence with the Niobrara River just southwest of Valentine, Nebraska. The Ainsworth Irrigation District and Reclamation have an existing water service contract that will expire on December 31, 2006.

In November, 2002, the Ainsworth Irrigation District Board of Directors adopted a resolution to request title transfer of the Ainsworth project facilities from Federal ownership to the District. The District worked with Reclamation following the process outlined in the Title Transfer Framework document. However, on February 16, 2005, the District adopted a subsequent additional resolution requesting renewal of its existing water service contract and discontinuation of the title transfer process.

Reclamation encourages water districts to explore title transfer as the Ainsworth Irrigation district did. However, due to the unique circumstances that it faces, the District determined after a comprehensive analysis that title transfer was not the appropriate action for it at this time. Because the District anticipated title transfer for more than two years it was not, at the same time, preparing for contract renewal. This legislation would extend the existing water service contract for an additional 4 years to provide time for the current water service contract renewal process to be completed. Reclamation law requires us to have a contract in place in order to deliver water. That is why we support S. 891.

I am happy to answer any questions.