Title Transfer of Projects and Facilities of the Bureau of Reclamation

The Bureau Reclamation is collaboratively pursuing title transfer with its customers and water contractors to convey ownership -- or title -- to water projects, canals, lateral and other water and power related infrastructure and facilities to the beneficiaries of those facilities.

This is a voluntary effort that is most often initiated by Reclamation’s water and power contractors.

Title transfer is a tool for improving the efficiency of water management and dealing with an aging infrastructure.  The transfer of title will divest Reclamation of responsibility for the operation, maintenance, management, regulation of, and liability for the project (or the lands and facilities) to be transferred. It will also provide the non-Federal entity with greater autonomy and flexibility to manage the facilities to meet their current needs in compliance with Federal, state and local laws and in conformance with contractual obligation. The transfer of title to a project or set of facilities will, in effect, sever Reclamation's ties with that project or those conveyed facilities.

Under the Reclamation Act of 1902, while responsibility for operations, maintenance and replacement (OM&R) of facilities can, and often is, transferred to the water users, title, or ownership of the facilities and projects themselves, must remain with the United States until Congress specifically authorizes their transfer.

Since 1995, the Bureau of Reclamation, working closely with the beneficiaries of the specific projects,  has conveyed title to a significant number of projects and project related facilities including dams, reservoirs, canals, lateral, and headquarter and other buildings, project lands, and easements.  List of projects/facilities conveyed (Powerpoint - 311 KB) .

POLICIES AND TITLE TRANSFER PROCESS: In 1995, after analyzing a number of successful and unsuccessful efforts to transfer title that had been attempted over the previous decade or so, Reclamation established a flexible process. This included a general set of policies and criteria to govern the process of developing a title transfer agreement which would then become the basis of legislation to authorize title transfer for each specific project.  The Framework for the Transfer of Title Bureau of Reclamation Projects (PDF - 35KB) articulates the process and those broad general criteria that governs this effort. 

In subsequent years, after evaluating the lessons learned along the way, Reclamation has continued to work with its customers and stakeholders to streamline and improve the process.  In 2004, the Framework was updated and in 2006, as part of the Managing for Excellence Initiative, Reclamation streamlined the title transfer process to make it more transparent, clear and consistent.

The most important lesson learned during this review is that having a clear and consistent process is very important and those that followed the title transfer process (Powerpoint - 717 KB), were able to address concerns and complete the transfer, including the legislation required to authorize the transfer, in a more timely, less costly and less controversial manner.

In order to ensure that all the parties fully understand the process, the issues and what facilities are being considered, Reclamation, in conjunction with the National Water Resources Association and the Family Farm Alliance, developed a title transfer checklist (MS Word - 27 KB) that Reclamation, together with the entity interested in title transfer, go through to identify the assets to be considered for conveyance, the interests (why they want title), the stakeholders who need to be involved and the steps that need to be followed.

Because title transfer is considered a “major Federal Action” under both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Reclamation’s title transfer process requires compliance with the requirements of both of these statutes.  Further, the public scoping and public involvement processes of NEPA provide a good mechanism for ensuring that the process for title transfers is transparent, open and seeks the input of interested stakeholders.

CONTACTS:  For information and details about the title transfer of a specific project or set of facilities, please contact Reclamation’s area office which manages those facilities.

For information about general policies and title transfer activities, please contact James Hess, who serves as Reclamation’s Title Transfer Coordinator (jhess@usbr.gov).



Last Updated: 9/14/17