Statement of Estevan López, Commissioner
U.S. Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
To strike the termination date for pilot projects to increase Colorado River System water in Lake Mead
May 17, 2016
Chairman Lee and members of the Subcommittee, I am Estevan López, Commissioner at the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). The Department supports the goals of addressing ongoing drought in portions of the western United States and the reservoir elevations in Lakes Powell and Mead. The Department continues to monitor the situation and has taken a number of steps to address these issues. S. 2907 would amend Section 206 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (PL 113-235) to remove the 2018 sunset data and provide $50 million additional authority for these activities to increase Colorado River system water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. I would like to take this time to share my thoughts on Reclamation’s existing System Conservation Pilot Program.
Since June 2013, Reclamation, the Lower Basin States, and water agencies have been engaged in multi-party discussions to identify voluntary actions to protect critical reservoir elevations in Lakes Powell and Mead should drought conditions continue and worsen. In July 2014, Reclamation signed a Funding Agreement with four municipal entities in the Basin, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Denver Water. The Funding Partners agreed to jointly finance an $11 million System Conservation Pilot Program to fund voluntary conservation projects in the Upper and Lower Basins to retain additional water in Lakes Powell and Mead to help mitigate the impacts of the current drought.
Reclamation solicited pre-proposals for conservation projects from about 50 water users in the Lower Basin. Six of the approximately 20 pre-proposals received were approved for funding. To date, Reclamation has contributed $3,085,400 to the Pilot Program in the Lower Basin, and the initial phase of the Pilot Program is nearing completion. The projects approved to date will collectively conserve approximately 63,000 acre-feet of water, at an average cost paid to the participant of $136/acre-foot, and fully utilize the initial $8.25 million of non-federal funding. Reclamation allocated an additional $5 million for this Pilot Program in Fiscal Year 2016. Reclamation is meeting with partners this month to finalize non-federal matching funds.
Given the role of the Secretary as water master of the lower Colorado River, Reclamation administers the pilot program in the Lower Basin in cooperation with the funding entities. In contrast, in the Upper Colorado River Basin, given the more limited role of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Commission, on behalf of the four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming administers the pilot program. Efforts in the Upper Basin are nearing completion of awards for the second phase of projects in calendar year 2016, with $1.9 million committed to 24 projects in each of the four Upper Basin States.
Reclamation and its partners have not completed a full evaluation of the pilot program to determine whether it should be continued or whether alternatives may be warranted. We look forward to a continued dialogue with the bill sponsor and this Committee to determine if and when the pilot program should be permanently extended.
The Department and our non-federal partners on the Colorado River recognize the severity of the ongoing historic drought in the basin and the importance of proactive, consensus-based efforts to conserve limited water resources. To that end, we will continue our proactive partnerships with Basin stakeholders and strive to make more efficient and effective use of the waters of the Colorado River whenever and wherever possible.
This concludes my written statement. I would be pleased to answer questions at the appropriate time.