Mid-Pacific Water Users Conference

Remarks Delivered By:
Brenda Burman, Commissioner

Reno, Nevada

January 17, 2018

Thank you for the warm welcome, Chris, and thank you for inviting me to speak today. I was looking for an opportunity to get to meet everyone, to get out here, to start talking about the priorities. This is working out perfect. I very much appreciate it.

Thank you. I'll echo the thanks to Jane Townsend, Debbie, the planning committee. This is a great opportunity for Reclamation to be working with our customers, our stakeholders, and so thank you for that opportunity and making this such a great conference. Every year I hear about it.

It is my honor and privilege to be talking to you as the new Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. It took a long time but I'm very glad to be here. Reclamation is a great organization with an important history. I think we have a vital role to play in the West in the future.

A bit of background, you've heard a very thorough rendering of my resume, but I think in general what you can say is I've been working on water and energy issues, really, since I got out of college. To me, they are the issues to be working on. They are our history. They are our future.

No matter where I've been in the past, I have to say almost all of my jobs, I either worked for Reclamation or I worked with Reclamation. I have just seen so much dedication... so much dedication to our mission in different offices throughout the West, and in particular here in the mid Pacific.

I've also worked with many of you. I see plenty of familiar faces out there. If we haven't met yet, please let's meet today. That's the whole point of being here. I'm here until tomorrow morning, so there'll be time during the day. I really look forward to that.

In DC news...I thought we'd have a little DC news. We are happy to welcome our new Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. That is Dr. Timothy Petty. He's going to do a great job. Tim and I worked together in the Bush administration. We were both Deputy Assistant Secretaries in Water and Science at that time.

Dr. Petty most recently worked for Idaho Senator Mr. Rich. He was a member of the Energy and Water Committee in the Senate, and so Tim has fantastic connections, and I think he's going to be really great to work with.

In DC, we have a lot going on right now. Congress is deciding our future. For the fiscal year 2018 appropriations we are waiting to see if we report to work next week. We are waiting to see if Congress funds us. It is looking, from all news accounts, but you can read, too, like there's going to be a CR until February.

I want you to know that if there is a shutdown we are prepared. Our critical infrastructure will go on. We are ready for that. We don't expect it, but we're ready.

Final edits, we're looking at our FY '19 budget right now. The President is formulating his FY '19 budget. That is most likely going to Congress on February 5th. We'll see how that goes. Lots and lots to do.

I've been Commissioner for about five weeks now, and so I like thoughts and ideas about the direction of Reclamation. Nothing is locked in. I am here to hear from you. I am here to get more ideas about...what are your thoughts? What are your insights? What are your opinions? Where should we be prioritizing?

That doesn't mean I don't have thoughts, though. I've got some general thoughts. I thought this was a great opportunity to come here to share my general thoughts of the outline that's forming in my head as I work with my leadership. Then you can give feedback and we can see how that works.

To me, when I've worked with Reclamation, what I've always thought about is the mission. Reclamation's mission is to deliver water and generate power in an economically and environmentally sound manner. What I'm here to tell you is we are going to double down on that mission. That is absolutely what we are going to focus on.

To do that, you have to be able to deliver reliable supplies. Reliability is key, but it's not easy. And so, when I talk about what I want us to focus on they're all related to how do we make our water supplies more reliable. How do we make them more reliable right now? How do we make them more reliable for future generations?

The first I want to bring up is infrastructure. I'll just say it. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. That is where we need to focus.

I think we need to ask ourselves, "Have we let down the next generation, or are we about to? Have we done the investments we need to, to look at building future storage capability on the system? Are we ready to meet future demands for water? Are we ready to meet the future conditions that we see?"

I think that's a big question for us. The droughts in California and in many other places in the West, these are long term droughts that every once in a while, are interspersed with big, wet years when we're lucky. California was very lucky last year. I think they all demonstrate that we need more storage.

Also, reinvesting in our existing infrastructure, modernizing our existing infrastructure I think is going to help us address the challenges we face to provide more reliable water supplies.

We're going to need to address stressors, the drought, flooding, invasive species. We're going to have to make sure that our aging projects are all maintained, that they're safe, and that they are ready to meet the capacity needs of the 21st century.

Second. I'm thinking about this and this always comes up second, is how are we going to finance these projects? I think we need to work together. Customers, stakeholders, Reclamation, in finding the best ways to finance these projects. It's a different world. We understand it's a different world than it was 20, 30 years ago. It's a different world in terms of getting federal money coming from Congress.

I think we need to be creative. I think we need to think about ideas. Your ideas, creative ideas for bringing funding, like public private partnerships, like new ideas for alternative financing.

That doesn't mean we're forgetting our tradition. Our tradition is public financing. The water districts, the water district Reclamation model. We're not forgetting it but I think we need to have a larger portfolio right now.

We're open to all good ideas. We're trying to look broadly right now, so work with us. I think a lot of those ideas are going to be grass roots.

Third, I think you've seen a lot of this, maybe, in the newspaper. We want to streamline projects from how they are managed to the way we achieve environmental compliance. It currently takes way too much time to get a project in the ground, built, finished, ready. That's just not acceptable.

The administration, the president, his secretary, Reclamation, we're all looking at ways to streamline the process to actually get shovels in the ground and get things going. That applies to title transfer, as well.

We, at Reclamation, we need to look at our relationship with our customers. If we're not helping you we need to get out of the way. I've had some people come up to me and tell me the great working relationship they have with their area offices, with the regional offices. That is great to hear.

If there's places where we're the ones causing the backup, we're the ones causing the problem tell us how we can step out of the way. We need to be adding value where we are. Where we're not, you need to let us know. Those of you who are operating projects, when you're on site and you're on the ground you're the best equipped people to manage those projects. That is how we think it should be, whenever possible.

Thinking about title transfer. We intend to, where possible, make the process to transfer title of Reclamation projects more streamlined and predictable. I expect you've heard that in the past. It's a hard thing to address but we have a bunch of ideas and we've worked with a lot of you, I'm told, in the past.

We're looking at ways that you can look ahead and see how much is that going to cost. Is it going to happen? We hope that that comes forward soon.

Fourth, never forget collaboration. I think it's going to be a pleasure to continue working with our partners in the water districts, states, tribal communities, the NGOs, and our neighbors in Mexico and Canada.

Finally, we're going to ensure that we have a culture of safety and respect at Reclamation. Safety is going to be one of my absolute top goals. We cannot effectively serve our customers unless we're a good organization through and through.

Some of you might have heard we had...the department, they surveyed employees across the Department of the Interior last year. Those survey results just recently came back. They told us we have a lot to do. They told us that we have a lot to work on.

Secretary Zinke has been very adamant about having a zero-tolerance policy for any type of harassment in the workplace. I appreciate his strong leadership.

In Reclamation, we've put together a task force. We went out across the 17 states, between our area offices and regional offices. We got a good cross section. They've been working at putting together a plan.

We report back to the secretary at the end of January. A lot of things that we're going to need to do to make Reclamation a more positive place to work.

In other news, I'm sure you've heard the secretary is looking to realign department bureaus based on common ecosystems and watersheds. In essence, it's very similar to how Reclamation is organized right now, by watershed boundaries.

Nothing is set in stone yet but the objective of the realignment is to gain those efficiencies, to do teamwork, to be able to share resources across bureaus, streamline processes, get NEPA done quicker, do all of our regulatory compliance, kind of leverage all those things that we all repeat within our own different bureaus.

The idea would be that each bureau would have a common geographic boundary and they would operate under a joint control model. That's the outline that's out there. Secretary Zinke called in a lot of the regional leadership from all the different bureaus last week. There were a lot of ideas in that room.

I would say this is going to be a long term transition. Reclamation will keep its stakeholders apprised but more to come.

Mid Pacific and more local issues are dedicated. I've heard so many good things from you all and from others. Let's face it, they are dedicated to the mission and the work in the mid Pacific is unrelenting. It doesn't stop.

We talk on weekends. We talk during the week. Is a storm coming? Are you working through NEPA? There's so many things going on, all at the same time. I want to say your dedication is admirable.

Of particular importance to the mid Pacific region, a few subjects I know you're familiar with and you're more familiar with than I am. The Bay Delta and the California Water Fix, the WIIN Act, and long term CDP operations.

Interior has a strong interest in a sound policy for California water and coequal goals for the Bay Delta, improved water supply and a healthy environment. We remain committed to working with all of you in reaching those coequal goals.

Reclamation will lead Interior's effort to contribute to California's water reliability and be at the forefront of the administration's efforts in this area. We're going to leverage Fish and Wildlife Service experience conserving native species and their habitats and work with USGS who can provide us technical expertise, and policy mutual monitoring, and science to support our decision making management.

The department also shares the goals of the state of California to deliver water in California with more certainty, eliminating risk to the water supply and improving the environment. The water fix has been suggested as a path to reach these goals. Many of you in this room have worked on it for a long time, I think over a decade.

There have been a lot of questions recently regarding how is the federal government going to participate in the water fix. I'm told that many CBP contractors have decided that they do not want to be part of the project at this time, though some are still interested. I respect that, but I would really like to understand it better.

We at Reclamation, we are continuing to work with the state and the stakeholders as the project is further developed. Last year, Reclamation sketched out how Water Fix could be integrated into the CBP operations.

Reclamation is currently working with the California Department of Water Resources to develop an integration agreement and to define how Reclamation and DWR might coordinate operations with the CDP and the State Water Project through the water fix.

Thinking about the WIIN Act, this will be our second winter season under the WIIN Act. The additional flexibility that that act has given us I think is going to be a key tool for operating the CBP and the State Water Project with new information that we have learned.

The 2008 2009 Biological Opinions were a long time ago. We've learned a lot since then. Under the WIIN Act, we will provide the maximum quantity of water supply as practical without creating additional adverse effects to listed species over the duration of the period of analysis of the biological opinions.

The mechanics of making that happen are still being developed in close coordination with our contractors and stakeholders. We are working closely with both our federal and state partners on how to implement this important new law.

Finally, in the last few weeks Reclamation announced the preparation of an EIS analyzing potential modifications during the long term operations of the CDP and the State Water Project. Our goal in this effort is to determine how to maximize water deliveries and power generation from the CDP in lay new developments, including the passage of the WIIN Act and the current conditions of endangered species and fish populations.

As you know, state and federal regulatory actions and other agreements have significantly reduced the amount of CDP water available for delivery south of the Sacramento San Joaquin River delta. This re initiation effort will evaluate alternatives to restore water supply in coordination with all of our authorized purposes on the CDP.

We are at the beginning of this effort. We are inviting all stakeholders to participate. We'll be holding public meetings. Those start next week. Please get involved. I believe comments are due February 1st. We'll be looking closely at all of those and working closely with you about what that should look like.

I just want to say again, Reclamation is a key partner in the West with a significant role to play. We're here to do it. We're here to do it working with you. We have the ability to bring parties together. We have technical expertise to help get projects done. We have the ability to construct and complete projects.

Reclamation can also harness other federal agencies to help get permitting done more efficiently. Our job now is to use those abilities to create progress and move forward on our mission of reliable water service.

I've heard some of you say that we are taking on too much. Maybe we are. That remains to be seen, but I'd much rather start off taking on too much than taking on too little. I think we're up for it.

We're listening. I intend to make Reclamation more accessible to you. We're going to be customer responsive. We're going to look to our contractors and stakeholders to tell us how best to do that.

My leadership team and I can provide direction internally, but we need to know what we can do better from the people who are actually operating the projects on the ground.

I'm not new to the mid Pacific region but I'm not an expert either. This is a complicated place on so many levels. Help educate me. That's what I'm here for. David and his team have already started on that. Like I said, there's been only a few weeks but I'm getting my briefings. I'm learning some of the details.

I have so much more to learn. That comes from you all. Please, consider me accessible. Consider David and his team accessible.

Thank you for inviting me today. I was looking for a good opportunity to talk to you about my priorities and hear from you to learn a lot. Through all of our initiatives and in collaboration with you, our partners, customers and stakeholders we are committed to providing a new standard of reliability at Reclamation.

Together we're going to make great things happen.

Thank you.