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. 1211
To Undertake A Demonstration Program For Desalination Of Brackish Inland Groundwater In The Tularosa Basin Of New Mexico

June 17, 2004

Madam Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am John Keys, Commissioner of Reclamation. I am pleased to be here today to present the Department of Interior's views on S. 1211, a bill to undertake a demonstration program for desalination of brackish inland groundwater in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico, as well as to provide Reclamation additional authority to undertake desalination research through a variety of institutional arrangements, or outside the United States. The Tularosa desalination test and evaluation facility will be capable of processing at least 100,000 gallons of water per day at the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico. In the FY 2002 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, Congress directed the Bureau of Reclamation, in cooperation with Sandia National Laboratories, to evaluate the potential for developing such a desalination research facility in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. The facility study began in January 2002. Reclamation entered a phased design/build contract with Laguna Construction Company, Inc. in July 2003. Congress provided $4 million for the continuation of this project in fiscal year 2004. Construction will begin this month.

The Administration supports Congressional interest in pursuing avenues of research that look at potential long-term methods of augmenting scarce water supplies, including both technical and market approaches. We are interested in working with the Congress to determine whether the research program identified in S. 1211 meets the federal Research and Development Investment Criteria. These criteria were developed over several years through a process of intense, thorough consultation with the research community. They include four main elements:

  • Relevance;
  • Quality;
  • Performance; and
  • Criteria for R&D Programs Developing Technologies That Address Industry Issues.

Applying the criteria to the proposed research will help determine the appropriate federal R&D role, if any. As the Administration considers the appropriate level of federal involvement, there are a few provisions of the bill that we would like to work with the Committee on.

Reclamation's Science & Technology program, which plans and coordinates the bulk of our research activities, is our main program for identifying and implementing our research priorities. This program received a high rating during its recent evaluation under the Administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which rated it as "Effective". This recently revamped program should play a central role in the determination of which research priorities the Bureau should pursue. We are concerned that the bill as currently written does not make use of this well-established expertise. If we are to build, manage, and maintain the facility, as provided for in Section 1(a) of the bill, the legislation should also clarify that we will have more than a physical custodial role, i.e., our underlying program responsibility should be delineated, and that should include a central role in determining research priorities. Our process, in turn, is subject to the federal R&D Criteria sketched out above.

Additionally, while we welcome opportunities to partner with other agencies of the federal government, particularly where we have complementary missions and capabilities, we are concerned that, as originally drafted, our role under the bill could be reduced to a funding path through the Department of the Interior to other government agencies and laboratories. If funds are ultimately appropriated to Interior, we want to take more direct stewardship responsibility for the underlying work. We suggest that funds for other agencies should be appropriated directly to those agencies, for there is no compelling reason to funnel them through Reclamation.

The Administration suggests that the portion of the bill that would provide treated water to local communities at no cost be rewritten to say that any such sale of water must be for fair market value.

Furthermore, facility operation and maintenance should be based on user fees. Larger demonstration projects, in most cases, would be conducted off-site at urban and rural locations under field conditions, and are not contemplated in the construction of Tularosa.

While some facility users would be funded out of Reclamation's research budget, supplemental fees could come from the many other agencies currently funding desalination research, such as the Office of Naval Research or the Department of Energy when they perform work at Tularosa. In the future we would hope that additional agencies would join the list of desalination researchers using the facility.

We would be happy to work with the Subcommittee to further develop these concepts.

Madam Chairman, our thinking on desalination will continue to grow and mature as the research field does, and as the federal government further subjects desalination research to scrutiny under the federal R&D criteria. We welcome the opportunity to work closely with the Committee as that process unfolds, beginning with adjustments to S. 1211. Madam Chairman, this concludes my remarks and I would be happy to answer any questions.