Reclamation Boss Leaves Legacy
by Associated Press
BOISE -- The newly retired commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation predicts there will always be disagreements about the best use of water in the West, but said those disputes can be solved.
"I don't think these issues will ever be less contentious," John Keys told The Idaho Statesman. "But they can be resolved if everyone comes to the table."
Keys was the bureau's Northwest regional director based in Idaho until he retired in 1998. He flew voluntary search and rescue missions in Utah and floated rivers until 2001, when Gale Norton, then Interior Secretary, tapped him for commissioner, a job he left last month.
"I kind of put my life on hold for five years," said Keys, a native of Alabama who said he planned to return to Utah.
Norton left her post as Interior Secretary earlier this year.
"He is a consensus builder who spent a long career with the Bureau of Reclamation and then agreed to join my team to lead the bureau as commissioner," said Norton. "He will be missed."
Bill Sedivy, executive director of the environmental group Idaho Rivers United, said he didn't agree with all of Keys' decisions, but appreciated Keys' listening to all sides.
"John Keys will be very much missed," Sedivy told The Associated Press on Monday. "He's a guy who tried to bring people together. I think for the most part John tried to do the right thing." Keys returned to Idaho last week to meet with bureau staff he worked with as regional director and commissioner.
"Some of the best friends of my life are in Idaho," Keys said. "We got things done that people didn't think were possible."
The Bureau of Reclamation operates 600 dams in 17 Western states, and helps supply water to more than 31 million people and irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland, which includes most of southwestern Idaho.
During his tenure, Keys helped put together agreements on the Colorado and Snake rivers. Southwest states reached an agreement on how much each received from the Colorado River, which prevented a lawsuit that could have threatened water supplies for millions.
The bureau also completed a multispecies management plan for the Colorado River that officials say will protect six endangered species and allow economic activities to continue.
He also helped put through Norton's Water 2025 initiative to put up to 250,000 acre-feet of water in Western rivers through conservation programs.
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