NWRA Keynote Address

Remarks Delivered By:
Brenda Burman, Commissioner

National Water Users Association Federal Water Issues Conference 2018

April 09, 2018

Thanks for the kind introduction, Tom, and the great lead in remarks from your president, President Thompson. It couldn't have been a better introduction to what I want to talk about today.

First of all, I want to say it is wonderful to be at NWRA, this is such an incredible organization, and to watch the ups and downs of this organization. From my experience with it, which is 15 years at least, I would say you are at the high point. This room shows that.

This is the Washington, DC, meeting. It gives a chance for those who are very concentrated on policy to be here and be talking about the same subjects. Kudos to Ian. Kudos to Chris and to your leadership. This is a really fine organization. Thank you for inviting me. I'm proud to be here this morning.

I am also proud to be the first woman Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. Reclamation is a fine organization. I'm joining a great team. I have great deputies. I know you all are working with us out in the regions and the area offices. I want to hear all about it. You're the ones that are on the ground and can tell me how it's going.

I always appreciate hearing that sort of thing. You heard a little bit from Tom. My whole career has really been centered on water and energy. I think that's the history. That's the absolute best of history and the economy of the West, it's water and energy. I think that's our future.

Just following up on the comments of President Thompson, I worry. I actually worry at night that maybe we aren't living up to what our forebears did. It's our job to make sure that the infrastructure is there 50 years from now. Sometimes, it feels like we've skipped a generation. We are absolutely going to be focused on water reliability and energy reliability.

Reclamation has been an integral part of the West. You know us. We operate 338 reservoirs. We deliver water to more than 31 million people, though I have to say I've seen a quote for 40 million people and 31 million people. We're running that down right now. Let's just say it's several tens of millions of people.

We deliver water to 10 million acres of farmland, that's 60 percent of the United States vegetable crop and about a quarter of the fresh fruit and nuts crop. We have 53 hydroelectric plants. That's over 40 billion kilowatt hours. That's enough energy to provide three and a half million homes, their energy for the year. We're proud of that, and obviously, we need to do more.

I talked about the economy, how much an acre-foot brings to the economy. Our latest economic research showed that Reclamation's activities have contributed more than $48 billion to the US economy. We've supported more than 387,000 jobs. That's due to the people on the ground, people like you who are bringing water to farms and to families.

That's what our job is, is to make sure that we're bringing you the reliable supplies that allow you to do that. Our mission is to deliver water and generate power in an economic and environmentally sound manner for the American people. That is absolutely what we're going to do this year. We're going to double down on our mission. I hope you're seeing that already.

Looking at what do we have facing us. We have increased populations. We have aging infrastructure. We have invasive species. We have listed species. These are all forces that are out there and that we need to overcome to have our reliable water and reliable energy.

A little bit about hydrology, you know your own situation, but I just wanted to talk about it from a general standpoint. We've seen this year a very north to south pattern. In the north, we're seeing above average and average precipitation. Down to the south, it gets sort of dismal.

You look at New Mexico and Arizona with snow water equivalents that are below 50 percent. California did not have a miracle march this year, but California at least had a couple good storms in March. California is not in its best situation, but it's certainly looking better than it did in February.

Colorado River, Lake Mead. Lake Mead is currently at 1,088 elevation, that's 41 percent of capacity. But it's expected by the end of the year to be down to 37 percent of capacity. We're expecting it to be two feet above shortage.

There will be no shortage in 2018. But there's a 17 percent chance of shortage in 2019. That's daunting. That's something we all need to be watching out for. Under the 2007 interim guidelines, shortage condition on the lower basin means that Arizona will reduce its deliveries 320,000 acre feet, Nevada will reduce by 13,000 acre feet, and Mexico would reduce by 50,000 acre feet.

That's not easy for anyone. We know that that hits farmers first. That's something that we're all trying to work together to avoid. In the upper Colorado, snow pack to the middle of Rio Grande is the lowest on record. What do you do with that? I think you consider yourself lucky that we've had a pretty decent year in 2017, so we have some carry over storage.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District expects turning full operation until late August, at which time they will operate to supply Prior and Paramount lands. Operations are now under a new biological opinion and flow in the middle of the valley could be lower than it has been since the silvery minnow was listed.

All in all, a tough situation for everybody. We can see it right up there. In the upper Colorado, with the exception of the Green River basin, all the other basins in the upper Colorado region are experiencing lower than average snow pack.

Great Plains, much of Great Plains is in that northern tier. The last five years, the Great Plains has been severely dry, where it seems very wet. This year, we're looking at above-average precipitation. We're worried about flooding in some areas.

The region is developing their April through July runoffs right now for the major river basins. Today, it looks like we'll have adequate water for demands.

The Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest up in the Washington area, we've had a wet pattern that emerged in March and is continuing. We do not think we have any flood operations this year. We're looking for it.

If you start going south into Oregon, we're much more dry, down to the Klamath Basin where we were hoping that the storms this weekend could make a difference.

In Mid Pacific, as I mentioned, California was lucky to see some precipitation in March. 2017 was the wettest year on record for California.

Because of the lack of storage in the California water system, they are on year to year operations, the Central Valley Project, the State Water Project. As of February, we still have not given an allocation to some of our water users.

We are able to, because of hydrology in March to give a 20 percent allocation to some of our junior water users. What happens when you're on your wettest year on record, and then the next year you don't think you can deliver to your contractors? That shows we need more storage. That's part of that water reliability.

Moving on and looking at our budget. I hope a number of you smiled when the fiscal year, '18 budget came out in March. It was a generous decision by Congress on how to fund us. We received a full package of $1.47 billion. That is $372 million above the President's budget, and about $172 million above what was maxed in '17.

What happens with that is Congress directed how they expect some of that money to be spent. That's in report language. What happens now is we go work with the department and we go work with OMB about how that money could be spent. By law, we send a spending plan to Congress.

It is not set yet that we will have all of that funding. That is something we'll go duke it out with the administration. You can count on us fighting for the projects we need and fighting for projects that are going to bring us reliability.

The FY '19 budget was out in February. It gives us gross budget authority for about $1.05 billion. The administration was looking at what is a fiscally responsible budget. Those can be very difficult decisions.

What it meant was our discretionary programs were cut back. That's just what gets cut back first. That doesn't mean that the discretionary programs are not a priority for us. That's just what has to come first. Please, everybody, work with us on the FY '19 budget. We've got about six months before Congress starts to work on that, but we will see.

Congress, the WIIN Act. Congress was also generous with WIIN Act funding. In FY '17, they passed $67 million for storage under the WIIN Act. The way the WIIN Act works is it's a new, interesting way of doing things. They pass funding in one year. For example, this year, FY '18, they passed $134 million for storage.

You don't get to spend it right away. What you do is, we send a recommendation to Congress about how that money should be spent. Then, practically speaking, the next year, they list the projects, they have to list them by name. It's not an automatic decision by Reclamation. It has to go through a series of steps before it can be spent.

We were glad to see that we did have several named projects this year, including Shasta Reservoir, that we are moving forward with on pre-construction opportunities. Next year should be a very interesting year. We'll have a lot more money to spend, and we'll be making those recommendations to Congress based on what we hear from you all and what we hear from the West.

We talk about aging infrastructure. For us, we've put that in the category of what can be done in the next five years, what can be done longer term, and we've called out our major rehabilitation and replacement units, MR&R. We have looked out over the next several years, and we see $2.8 billion of extraordinary maintenance activities that are needed.

We see $614 million in deferred maintenance activities, and we see $358 million in dam safety needs. The good news is, so much of our program is funded by our partners. About two-thirds of that comes from upfront funding from you all, but not all of it. It's been a constant discussion and decision.

The Park Service has been out there for about 10 years, talking about its deferred maintenance, its great billion dollar, millions of dollars of backlog. We don't generally talk about it like that. I think that's because we know we're being reliable. When you put that out there, it makes it sound like you're falling down, like things aren't working.

Things are working.

We've prioritized what we think needs to be done. We know what's coming next. You can see we're very busy across the West on different projects. Part of talking about infrastructure is we need to find a better way to talk about what is, for lack of a better term, our backlog? What is our major rehabilitation that's coming up?

Budgets are telling us, "Do more with less," when you look at the president's budget. This year, they're saying, "Do more with more." Assuming we can get that funding, an agreement to use that funding, that's what we're going to do. Let's take a look at some of the projects we have coming up, some of the projects we've been working on. We're working across the West. We know what we want to be working on in the next five years, but I think a lot of folks forget...I'm saying we need to be working on infrastructure, but that doesn't mean we haven't been already.

I just wanted to give an idea of what we've been working on. At Grand Coulee Dam, we overhauled and refurbished three 805 MW units in the Third Power Plant. These units have been in strenuous service since the 1970s. A lot of work was needed on them, and we think that's going to create an annual for the generation value of $100 million.

We've modernized the John Keys Pumping Plant up there, which, along with the rest of Grand Coulee Dam, provides flood control, irrigation, hydropower production, recreation, streamflow, fish and wildlife, all the things that we know our reservoirs produce.

We will soon be replacing a 690 MW unit in the Third Power House. We're modernizing our switchyards, we're modernizing the original generating units.

At the American Falls Dam, we're working with Power County, Idaho, to rebuild a boat ramp used by both the public and operations and management. We've just completed the new parking area and the upper portion of the ramp. The lower portion of the ramp will be completed as soon as water levels allow it.

We're continuing to make progress on the construction of Cle Elum Fish Passage. This passage provides fish access to historic habitat. We're restoring biodiversity and the natural production of salmonids in the upper Cle Elum subbasin.

We're also modifying the radial gates at Cle Elum to raise the pool following the construction of shoreline protections. That showed up in the WIIN Act funding. This will allow for an extra three feet of water in the reservoir, providing for an important buffer for the future.

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan has identified a comprehensive and balanced approach to resources and ecosystem restoration. We are working with the proponents of that plan on fish passage, structural and operational changes, surface water storage, groundwater storage.

Through this effort with the districts in the State of Washington, we've conserved about 63,000 acre-feet, which in an average year adds 102 cubic feet per second to target flows. The Steinaker and Hyrum Dams in Utah, those require corrective actions to repair a slope failure and replace the spillway structure, respectively. I heard that contract might be going this week.

This past spring, construction began on Orchard Mesa Irrigation District regulating reservoir, the present canal system's improvement plan. The 74 acre-foot reservoir provides a more reliable water supply throughout the canal system. It serves approximately 17,000 acre-feet per year, benefiting endangered fish, wildlife, river recreation, and a 15-mile range of the Colorado River downstream.

Four of the eight generators at Glen Canyon Dam are being redesigned and replaced. The new design is more robust, and the new generators are expected to last twice as long as the ones they're replacing. The remaining four generators are scheduled to be replaced in about six or seven years.

Also at Glen Canyon Dam, we've been redesigning the wastewater treatment plant, eliminating the need to put treated wastewater back in the river. The Yuma Desalting Plant, a reverse osmosis plant near the border with Mexico, was constructed back in the early '90s. Since then, it's been tested, but it's never been brought to full operation.

We are moving forward trying to modernize. We're looking at modernizing in that plant, we're looking at the canal system, so that is something with our partners we can decide in this time of extreme drought on the Colorado River if it can be moved forward and used.

The Aspinall Unit, part of the Colorado River Storage Project in Western Colorado, has three power plants, Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal Dam. By the end of 2020 all three plants will have modern exciters, creating magnetic fields within their generator rivers, enhancing the ability of those generators to respond to demands on the grid.

In Montana, the Yellowtail Dam Power Plant and Canyon Ferry Dam Power Plant constructed over 50 years ago are both being modernized and refurbished. They're getting updated generators to run more efficiently.

In Oregon, the Klamath project, C Flume Replacement Project will be completed this month replacing a hundred-year-old flume with an enclosed siphon and buried pipeline. The new siphon will be ready to convey water for this year's irrigation system season beginning this month.

Hoover Dam. I didn't want to leave out Hoover after talking about Grand Coulee. Hoover Dam we have 17 generating units that have been retrofitted. These units operate more efficiently under a reduced PEM, under reduced conditions at Lake Mead.

Also, along those modernization efforts, we've recovered 105 megawatts of capacity that we wouldn't have otherwise. More clean, reliable energy for the grid and for our Western partners.

We continue to support raising Shasta Dam. Back in the '80s there was a proposal to raise Shasta Dam 200 feet. It created a lot of pushback, a lot of opposition, a lot of consternation. The latest proposal is to raise Shasta Dam 18 and a half feet and it could create more than 600,000 acre-feet both for the environment and for water users.

It is one of the smartest programs out there dollar per acre wise. We think it's a very smart project that should move forward. Congress has agreed and directed us to move forward with pre-construction activities. We believe we can move to construction on Shasta Dam by the end of 2019. That'll take partners in California, that'll take funding partners. That'll be interesting.

It's an important project. Also, part of the WIIN Act, we were given funding so that we could finish studies, studies that we've been working on for decades, with partners in California. Studies that affect reservoirs, like Temperance Flat, helping to look at other studies, Los Vaqueros.

California, we've been studying storage in California for so many decades. It just feels like we have the opportunity to move forward with actually building storage. There's opposition, there's always opposition, it's California.

It's the parties in this room that can be talking about how important infrastructure is. It's the parties in this room who could be up on the Hill saying how important this is. We need storage in California. We need storage in many other places, it just seems most obvious in California right now.

We are doing our part. We're going to finish the studies, we're going to move forward with pre-construction and I think the rest is going to be bringing partners together, bringing people together, but we will be ready. We will absolutely be ready.

Let's see. A couple of other projects in California. We've been working on the San Luis Reservoir Low Point Study. Santa Clara Valley Water District has asked us to hold back on that and to look at a more local solution. We're working with them on that.

Let's see. Invasive mussels. You'll see we got a decent amount in the FY 2018 budget to work on invasive mussels. That will be concentrated throughout the west, but a lot of prevention activities in the northwest and a lot of, "How do we manage this?" down on our system on the Colorado River in California.

We are looking at all the different ideas out there, the different types of coatings, the different types of treatment. We've got awards out there for people who can bring us good ideas. We'll continue to work on invasive species as the year goes.

In legal news, last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineer's favor, so they're allowing construction to move forward on the Yellowstone River. That's going to allow us to improve passage for pallid sturgeon, another native fish and have the intake through the dam on that Lower Yellowstone River. This will benefit the continuing operation of our project and we're very excited about this.

I think a number of you saw and have been part of, we promised in '18 with our '18 President's budget and we delivered this year. We have sent title transfer legislation to Congress. We've heard from so many of you about title transfer, "Why is it that hard?" Even when you can work out the process with Reclamation then you have to go to Congress. It's very unpredictable, it can take years, a lot of money trying to get things through Congress.

What we've sent up to the Senate and the House says, "Let's create a program. Let's create an administrative program for the simple title transfers, the ones that if everyone agrees, they should be fairly easy to move forward." We've received positive feedback from that.

I'm sure we didn't get everything right and you'll be happy to tell us what we got wrong, but we think it can work and we're hoping that both the Senate and the House will approve the title transfer legislation this year.

Army Corps of Engineers. When I learned the dates for your conference I was a little bit disappointed, because right after I leave here I get to go to the airport and get on a plane. I am headed out to Nevada to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers.

That's under a great program that Steve Stockton and Bob Johnson have put together to pull together leadership between the Army Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation, make sure that we're working together. That's where I'm headed as soon as we're done.

I wanted to let you know that we have a very good partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers. We are working with them across the West and I just wanted to list a few of the projects where we've been working together. The largest has been Folsom Dam and working on improved flood control and improved spillway at Folsom Dam. That just finished up in this past year for the most part.

We're also working on a number of other projects including looking at flood curves. We are at Folsom and some other places. We're saying, we built those flood control curves. They control how much water we release in the spring preparing for floods coming down, but we put a lot of those together decades ago.

It's time to take a new look. It's time to see, do we have better ideas about hydrology? Do we have better ideas, predictable mechanisms now to look at? We are very much working with the Army Corps about how do we modernize our predictive capabilities? How do we modernize how we operate our dams? We'll continue to work with them on that.

Reclamation and the Corps are also working together with joint leads on the Lower Yellowstone Fish Passage Project, which I mentioned the courts allowing us to move forward with. Last year we collaborated with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the USGS on prize competition seeking better ideas about water storage capacity in reservoirs.

We are also working closely with them on the Rio Chama, the Rio Grande and Pecos as well as looking at the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program. A lot going on. Just wanted to capture that. I know a lot of you are involved in your individual projects, but we're out there. I know there's always ways we could be doing things better.

You're the ones on the ground, you can tell us how to do that. That's our goal. My goal as Commissioner, as a lead in this organization is, we are going to concentrate on infrastructure. We are going to concentrate on making our water and our power generation reliable. It's our job to be working with you. It's our job to be supporting you. It's our job to be advocating for water and power users out there in the field.

That's what we're going to do. I'm very excited about all the opportunities we have coming up. I'm very much looking forward to collaboration and to working with you.

Thank you very much for inviting me this morning.