Counsel, Western Water Project
3/24/2004 -- Washington -- Steven Malloch, Western Water Project Counsel for the national conservation organization Trout Unlimited (TU), today offered testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources’ Subcommittee on Water and Power on proposals to give western water projects owned by the Bureau of Reclamation to western water users.
“We keep hearing that water is the oil of the 21st Century,” Malloch said. “With western population growth, drought and possible effects of climate change on the horizon, we should think twice about when and whether to transfer ownership of the dams and canals that control water.”
At the hearing, water contractor witnesses asked for, and the administration proposed, the elimination of public and environmental review for certain types of ownership transfers through a categorical exclusion under the federal law that requires environmental review, the National Environmental Policy Act. Eliminating the review process also short-circuits liability review for the prospective new owners. “Cutting off NEPA review puts the project recipients at increased risk of liability,” said Malloch.
“The water problems we have in the West should cause the federal government to seek changes to water projects that address today’s water problems and challenges of the future, instead ownership transfer usually locks in the winners and losers of the past,” Malloch continued. Ownership transfers now usually simply turn over projects to the existing, usually irrigation, water users, who do not promise any improvements, and who pay only what they would have for water use, not ownership.
Malloch agreed that there is a role for ownership transfer of parts of the Reclamation system, excluding the significant dams and reservoirs and complex, interconnected systems like California’s Central Valley Project. “TU actively supported transfer of parts of a project on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, where the new owner agreed to a drought management plan that takes into account the needs of both irrigators and the huge, wild, trophy trout in the river.”
“Ownership transfer can be an approach leading to wins for water users, wins for recreation, and wins for fish and wildlife, but not the way Congress and the Administration are approaching it now,” he concluded. “Taxpayers paid for these projects, and we should expect a reasonable return on our investment if they are to be disposed of.”
Mission: Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 130,000 members in 450 chapters in North America.