Western Water Seminar

Remarks Delivered By:
Brenda Burman, Commissioner

National Water Resources Association

August 02, 2018

It is always a pleasure to be at NWRA. Mr. Thompson, Chris, Ian, the whole team. You always put on a really incredible conference. It's such a great opportunity to see old friends, to network, and to learn a little bit more about the issues we're all facing.

There's a cadence to every year. It goes with summer NWRA meeting. It goes with the November, December heading into the season NWRA meeting, and of course the spring DC trip where you are nice enough to invite me to speak this year.

I thought I'd mention a little history. We're here in Utah. What a great opportunity to get to spend some time here. I don't know if anyone's been talking about it but the National Water Resources Association was actually formed here in Utah. It was back in 1932. You were formed as the National Reclamation Association. That's how far back our partnership goes.

It was right here in Salt Lake. It was Governor Dern of Utah. It was Governor Meier of Oregon. They convened a meeting of western water leaders for the sole purpose of establishing a formal organization to bring irrigation and reclamation to the arid and semiarid west. 15 states collectively sent over 90 delegates. It was led by Utah, with 27, Idaho with 17, to participate in this historic conference. Right at that conference they had the Commissioner, who at the time was Dr. Elwood Mead, a name we still continue to hear about today.

He talked about the financial crisis that was facing Reclamation, the need for change in policy to facilitate future development, the need for infrastructure. Spurred on by that call, the western Governors came together and created the National Reclamation Association.

That's how long our history is, which I think's pretty incredible. I don't quite understand...The western governors are meeting this week, too. We had a conflict. We've got to get that working back together again.

As you said, we're old friends here. We're old friends and colleagues. If it's not with me, then it's with my incredible team of regional directors. We have Brent Reese here today. You're going to hear from him a little bit later. Lorri Gray up in the Pacific northwest; Terry Folk; Mike Black; David Murillo in the Mid Pacific office.

I would like to say I've got my deputy commissioner here, as well, David Palumbo: any questions, you know who to talk to. Together, we have all worked for a very long time together. We're familiar with each other's issues.

I hope you've seen Reclamation being as a very true partner. I've been in this job a little over seven months, thanks to the support of many of you here. It's been a very full seven months. Those seven months, I've managed to make it to all seven Colorado River Basin states.

In addition, I've been up to Idaho to meet with the water users. Montana, I've been to see Montana projects. The state of Washington – May and June I was in Washington and had the welcome hospitality of the Yakima Basin project and the Columbia River Basin project.

I was lucky enough to finally see for my first time Grand Coulee Dam, which is beautifully represented right here. That leaves seven states to go. You're on the list if I haven't been there yet; and we're working on that.

I've also been lucky enough, privileged, really, to represent Reclamation and the United States internationally. We've been in Mexico. We've been in Brazil. We've been representing arid water issues when we've been working with Israel, and Australia, and a lot of other countries who are facing the same issues we are.

I've said it before. You've heard me say it now more than once. I think it's worth repeating. Reclamation's mission is to deliver water and generate power in an environmentally and economically sound manner for the American people. That is absolutely what we are doubling down on doing. I trust that you're seeing that in my actions. I trust that you're seeing that in the actions of my staff.

Our job at Reclamation and your job as water managers is to bring stability. We're about the reliability because it's our stability and reliability that all of our communities are founded on.

That only holds if we're all doing our part. That's investing in our operation and maintenance. That's investing in new and improved modernized storage. That's getting ahead of our environmental responsibilities. Absolutely, that is advocating for water and power use. If we're not out there advocating for that, no one else is. It is our job. NWRA does a great job at that. I hope you see Reclamation doing a great job at that.

You have a number of panels that are going to be talking about issues coming up soon. I know Brent's going to be talking about Utah issues. I thought I would just mention some of our major issues going on. I'm happy to answer questions at the end, as well.

A number of you will be affected by the Columbia River Treaty. We are currently, the United States and Canada, for more than 50 years have had a very strong relationship and transboundary collaboration up in the Columbia River Basin. Under the terms of that treaty, it's time for renegotiation.

Those negotiations began in May. The US team is led by the Department of State. Then, we have members of the United States team. That's Bonneville Power, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Interior, and NOAA from Commerce.

Our key US objectives include continued careful management of flood risk. We're ensuring a reliable and economical power supply, better addressing ecosystem concerns. We're modernizing this treaty.

The objectives are informed by regional recommendations, BPA, Army Corps. Reclamation have been out there for several years to talk to folks about, what do we need to focus on? The Interior negotiation team is led by Tim Petty, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. He is backed up by Lorri Gray, Pacific Northwest Regional Director.

They're very familiar with your interests there. The next session is in British Columbia. That's coming up in about two weeks. Reorganization. I think I spoke with you about reorganization back in April. What I would say is it's moving forward. I think, by this time, you've probably heard the Secretary talk about.

The Department of the Interior was formed in 1849. As our continuous bureaus joined, we all set our own boundaries. How much sense does that make? Shouldn't the American People be able to look at the Department of the Interior and figure out where everyone is?

You could be in Arizona and the regional office for the Fish and Wildlife Service is in Albuquerque. The Reclamation office is in Boulder City. Maybe you're working with Army Corps out of LA. The whole idea is: let's form common boundaries.

There's a draft map that's out there. I believe it's on our website. In many ways, it mirrors what the Reclamation boundaries look like. I would say the change there is the Great Plains region, which usually would cover the east front: the Arkansas, the Platte, the Republican, the Big Horn. Now Wyoming and Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico, under at least the draft map as it stands, would be in one region.

We're calling that Region 8. I'll be calling it Upper Colorado Region. You might be wondering, what happens if I'm on one of those systems that now there's a line down my watershed? We've been working with the Department. They absolutely understand that we don't need bifurcated management here.

We will absolutely be keeping management in one region. We'll do that by MOAs. We don't think it will be difficult. I'm happy to answer any questions about that. I do expect it's an any day thing, that we will see an announcement of a final draft of a final map. Look for that, please.

Title transfer has always been a big issue for NWRA members. We've been working with you for years on this. Reclamation sent up draft legislative language to Congress. That was February. Congress, Bob Lynch and many of you have been working with the House and with the Senate about what should that language look like.

We've been supportive of the bills we've seen there. We're hopeful it's moving forward. There's been a version that's passed the House. The Senate is working on it. I think there's a couple different vehicles, different ways it could go. It could go with WRDA. It could go by itself. We'll see how it works but we're very hopeful that that moves forward.

We've also been working with the administration, with CEQ, on categorical exclusions. That would allow that to move much faster as far as environmental documentation.

The WIIN Act. I don't how many of you are familiar and have been affected by the WIIN Act, but the WIIN Act passed Congress as part of WRDA back at the end of 2016. It's been a great ability for Reclamation. I think it focused in on us and overwhelmingly Congress is putting money away for storage.

Last year it was $66 million. This year, in the 2019 budget, it looks like they're going to put about $134 million. The '18 budget had $134 million. The '19 budget is likely to have $134 million. The past budget had $66 million. It works in an interesting way.

That money is appropriated but Reclamation can't just go out and spend it. We go through a process. We have to report back to Congress with some recommendations of which projects do we think are ready to move forward. That, of course, goes through the administration. It goes through OMB. We report that back to Congress and then they report it out. It has to be in legislative language.

The whole process takes about a year, which can be frustrating, but this is a real opportunity for storage. We are lacking new storage on the system. For most of our projects, there hasn't been new storage in 40 or 50 years. We are absolutely looking at storage opportunities. Just by the nature of how long they've been studying the issue, California is very ready for a number of these projects.

Other areas, too. This past year Cle Elum received WIIN Act money. The WIIN Act is a part of Title XVI. The WIIN Act created a competitive program for new Title XVI projects. We've seen Congress funding both the WIIN Act Title XVI projects and the traditional Title XVI projects. I know a number of you have opinions about how that's being done. Let's work with Congress. Let's get all of these projects funded.

Idaho storage. The WIIN Act also funded and authorized a team working with the Idaho Water Resources Board to look at additional storage with the US Army Corps of Engineers for reservoirs on the Boise River. I think there's a potential for 30,000 to 60,000 acre feet of new storage there.

We're encouraged. We're trying to work with everybody to see that that's possible.

Shasta. Shasta Dam is one of my top priorities. Way back when, in the 1980s, there was a proposal put forward. It was a colossal vision. It was let's raise Shasta Dam 200 feet. There was a lot of push back, a lot of consternation, a lot of people upset. "That can't possibly work." Reclamation, with direction from California's delegation and water users, has been studying, what are some more realistic possibilities for Shasta Dam? We've been studying that for 20 years. It's time to move forward.

The WIIN Act, Congress provided funding for us to get through preconstruction. What we're looking at is an 18 and a half foot raise. It's less than 10 percent than the original proposal. While I think there's a lot of muscle memory in California that...’Shasta, that's a horrible project.’ If you look at the very reasonable project that's being put forward, it's over 600,000 acre feet. That would be for fish and for water users. It would help stability there. We think it's a great project. We are very hopeful of moving forward with construction by the end of 2019.

Shasta's also been on the news. I'm sure a number of you have heard of the Carr fire up in northern California. It's been incredibly devastating to everyone who lives there. As far as our employees, we have a full count. All of our employees are safe, though six of them have lost their homes. We are looking into all the resources there for them. We're providing them help as far as all the forms you need to fill out.

It's been devastating. We had to evacuate our dams. We had to evacuate Trinity. We had to evacuate Shasta in the middle of the night. That means you leave your dam empty. You set a certain amount of water that's going to go forward. You turn off your power plant because you don't know what's going to happen.

The fire came through. We had security watching roads. We were helped with the sheriff. We lost towers. We lost our ability to send our power out onto the grid.

WAPA's been an incredible partner. WAPA, local sheriff's department, Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service. Everyone's come together. We have power restored, at least partially, at all of our dams. We're hoping even today to get more fully online at Shasta.

Just for those communities up there, they've been cut off in a number of ways from the grid. When we can get Trinity up and going, we're their only power source for them for a number of days. It makes you stop and think. Make sure you have those emergency plans with all your employees. It's invaluable when something like this happens because no one expected it.

We had a fire up there. The winds weren't bad. We knew it was hot and dry. It just blew up. It blew up immediately. That's when all those practices come in handy. I'm glad to day that our Reclamation employees are safe. We do believe that we're restoring full water use and our power system.

I thought I'd talk about the 2019 budget. I know you had a federal affairs group this morning so maybe you've already talked about it. Congress was very generous with us in the fiscal year '18 budget. Hundreds of millions of dollars more than the president's budget had asked for. That was very generous and we're trying to put those funds to work on tangible projects that we can see.

Similarly, FY 2019 budget, which has passed the House and passed the Senate, they are looking at about $1.4 billion. The bills are very similar. That is something we can work with.

Those are moving forward. We were hopeful they might even pass in July, but I believe...We read E&E the same way you read E&E. From what we're hearing from folks on the Hill and from the reports is we think that will be after Labor Day. We're very encouraged that that's moving forward. Appreciate everyone's support as far as on time funding for Reclamation.

When you sit on a continuing resolution for half a year, you don't get new starts. You're not sure how much you can spend. It goes back to the stability certainty. It allows us to invest. I thank everybody for their help on that.

The funding, the 2019 bill, it funds a number of our priorities. It has Indian water rights settlements funded at about $100 million. The Bay Delta Restoration Fund, CALFED is looking at $35 million. The CVP Restoration Fund is at about $62 million this year.

Several Reclamation activities will also benefit from all of these different projects and all this funding. The Senate bill funds an additional $108 million, $109 million for desalinization, WaterSMART, science and technology, Native American affairs programs.

You've come to me. You've said these programs work. Congress is funding them. We will do our best to get those right out on the street. As far as WaterSMART and Title XVI, those have been out for comment. That just closed just a couple days ago.

Drought contingency plans, Colorado River. The Colorado River has been a big subject these last two months. You've seen us in the paper. The basin states have come together and the major water users. This is a big deal. The panel that's coming right after me is going to give you all of the details of how we're working through that.

I thought I'd give a little bit of the background. As most of you are aware, the Colorado River system, we're in our driest 19 year period on record. That's one of the worst drought cycles in the past 1,200 years in the paleo record.

Our two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. They have a combined storage of about 50 million acre feet. Today, we're less than half of that. The seven Colorado River Basin states, Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming. By the way, I'm visiting six of them in my current travel period.

All those states have come together with the major water users because we know we have a chance of reaching critically low elevations. We've seen, for the first time, we know in 2020 our projects say that it's more likely than not. It's about a 52, 53 percent chance that we will hit shortage. The Secretary would be the first to declare a shortage on the Lower Colorado River.

That's a big deal. It's been voluntary water conservation that has kept us out of shortage so far. That's been the states. It's been the water districts. It's been Mexico. It's been Reclamation. It's been Indian tribes. Together, we've all put 20 feet in Lake Mead in the past several years. That's kept us out of shortage.

If you follow these things, we've kept ourselves out of shortage by everything from one to seven feet each year. 20 feet in the reservoir, that's what's done it. It's overwhelmingly been cooperation.

We know, given the hydrology, that we need to do more now. That's why we're pulling together and we're looking at drought contingency plans. The upper basin is working on its plan. The lower basin is working on its plan. You'll hear about the lower basin plan in just a minute or two.

I would say overwhelmingly what we know about the Colorado River is we need to do more. We're going to do more this year. This is a priority of the Secretary. It's our goal that by December we are, as seven basin states, as the water, the Colorado River community. We've pulled together. We will be declaring that we have completed drought contingency plans.

That was just a smattering of what's going on. I know you have specific topics you're going to be talking about all day. I would say I'm confident that we are on a road to success here. We are absolutely doubling down on our infrastructure, on how we're going to be reliable. I know you're trying to do the same things.

The actions we're taking today are what 40 years from now, they're going to look back and say, "Who took care of our water supply?" the same way we look back and say, "Who took care of our water supply?"

It's up to every single person in this room. It's up to us at Reclamation to make sure that we are the reliable, stable, water supply. We are planning for the future. We know that that's our job.

Thank you all very much for our historic partnership, for our continued relationships. Thank you for facing those challenges that we all have together.