Upper Colorado Region Receives John Keys Awards

Written by: Amee Andreason

John Keys Awards
John Keys Awards
The John Keys Award honors the memory of former Reclamation Commissioner John W. Keys III, who lost his life in a plane crash on May 30, 2008. Keys was well-respected for his 36 years of Federal service that focused on finding solutions to the complex issues involving managing water resources. Prior to serving as Commissioner, he was the Regional Director of the Northwest Region for many years.

The recipients of this award are an excellent example of employees, governmental, non-governmental customers that exemplified outstanding business practices, communication, collaboration and partnering achievements that contribute to building and strengthening relationships.

This year the Upper Colorado Region was awarded an individual and group award. The individual award went to Vern Harrell. Vern has had to develop and maintain strong working relationships with the Dolores Water Conservancy District and many other federal and non-federal partners. As Reclamation's representative to the Dolores River Dialogue, Vern participates with the Implementation Team to protect and enhance the long-term viability of native fish populations in the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. This is a coalition of diverse interests, whose purpose is to explore management opportunities, build support for and take action to improve the ecological conditions downstream of McPhee Reservoir while honoring water rights, protecting agricultural and municipal water supplies, and trying to accommodate the continued enjoyment of rafting and fishing.

In 2016, Vern prepared the operating plan for McPhee, which identified the first spill in 5 years, allowing for boating on the Dolores River. This effort had to take into consideration spill management, base flow management, fishery management, recreation, water rights, ecological concerns and a myriad of other interests. Vern presented his plan to a multitude of local, state and federal governments, private industry, environmental organizations, farmers, ranchers and water districts. After much discussion and effort trying to consider all interests the plan was implemented. The Dolores River offered 11 days of boating, for the first time since 2011, while simultaneously satisfying all other interests. Vern successfully represented Reclamation in a tremendous collaborative effort with a wide range of extremely diverse and competing interests.

The group award went to the Pilot System Conservation Program that included Reclamation staff Malcolm Wilson, Robert Henrie and Brian Hart. Other members of the group included Rod Smith from the Office of the Solicitor and members from Denver Water, Upper Colorado River Commission, State of Colorado and the State of Wyoming. The Pilot Program in the Colorado River Basin Development and implementation of the Pilot Program in the Colorado River Basin embodies the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that was a hallmark of the career of former Commissioner Keys. In December 2014, an agreement was signed where municipal agencies in the Upper and Lower Basins (Southern Nevada Water Authority, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, and Denver Water) and Reclamation (Funding Partners) agreed to provide $11 million to fund voluntary water conservation projects in the Basin to conserve Colorado River system water in Lakes Mead and Powell to help mitigate the impacts of the on-going, historic drought. The Pilot Program is intended to try new approaches to conserve water and based on lessons learned, to identify successful approaches that could be utilized on an expanded scale should Lake Powell and Lake Mead approach critical elevations. In the Lower Basin, given the Secretary's water master role for administering water entitlements, the Pilot Program is administered by Reclamation's Lower Colorado Region. In the Upper Basin, the Pilot Program is administered by the Upper Colorado River Commission. Implementation of the Pilot Program requires frequent communication with Congress, Basin States, media, and tribal, municipal, and agricultural water users, as well as frequent communication among the Funding Partners.

The success of the Pilot Program is a tribute to the dedicated and collaborative efforts of Reclamation staff, the Office of the Solicitor, the non-Federal Funding Partners, the Upper Colorado River Commission, and state representatives. The Pilot Program has been featured at conferences as an example of how stakeholders collaborated to try new approaches to mitigate the drought in the Colorado River Basin.

(L-R) Brian Hart, Brent Rhees and Rod Smith
(L-R) Brian Hart, Brent Rhees and Rod Smith

Vern Harrell accepting the John Keys award from Ed Warner and Brent Rhees
Vern Harrell accepting the John Keys award from Regional Director Brent Rhees and Area Office Manager Ed Warner

Published on July 13, 2017