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Conserving Water Comes Before More Storage,
says BuRec Head

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press - September 6, 2002

BOISE -- Conservation means doing best we an without building new dams, but there' no doubt more water storage will be needed eventually, says John W. Keys III, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

"For just that reason the bureau must maintain its expertise for dam building. We have rebuilt or are rebuilding many of our dams in recent years under our dam saftey program, and some new projects are starting. We'll let the contracts for a dam in colorado's Ridge Basin next year," Keys said.

"We won't see the large mutlifaceted projects of past years. Anything we do today must be done in close partnershi with everybody otu there. But we can build more dams when they're needed," he said.

In Boise for the recent Western States Water Conservtion Roundtable, Keys said water supply problems in the Klamath Basin were the first issue he dealt with upon becoming commissioner more than 13 months ago. It remains a daily topic of discussion in his office.

"The bureau works within the framework of state water laws. Under federal law we can't directly push an adjudication, but in the case of Klamath that was what needed to be resolved first. We found a way to get it done. We have the framework in place for a final resolution. Right now we're awaiting the National Academy of Sciences report on the original biological opinion, which shut off irrigation water, so we can put that solution in place," he said.

That solution includes a new water bank. It also includes working closely with conservation districts, state and federal agencies and a wide range of non-traditional interest groups, including environmentalists, Keys said.

Four C's Essential
The four C's promoted by U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton - cooperation, consultation, conservation and communication - are essential, said the commissioner.

"It is true some don't want to cooperate or participate in such agreements. Given the facts, we just have to work together. Eventually, everybody will see that," he said.

There's no greate example of the four C's at work than in the Snake River System. Water is used for fish, recreation and power head at Palisades, near the headwaters of Idaho's river aorta, then reused a little furhter downstream at the next dam, and so on down stream, he said.

"That water gets used over and over, for everything from wildlife and irrigation to power generation. At the very end, there' water for salmon. That's really what the four C's are about. We practice that big time in the bureau," said Keys.

Drought Concern
Drought was a major concern across the nation this year, particularly in the West where storage dictates water availability to a large degree, he said.

"If we don't get a honking winter all over - and we won't - we'll be in a some really tough situations next year," he said.

Keys spent his entire working career in the BuRec, and is a staunch defender of state water laws. The Reclamation Act of 1902, which established the bureau, directed the agency to work within those laws. The commissioner said he isn't proposing any changes, but he foresees the day when changes may be needed.

"Urban development is taking over many formerly agricultural lands, and that means sometimes we need to change water rights designations from irrigation to municipal uses. We work with the states and within their laws whenever that' necessary. You won't see this administration truying to chang that. If water laws change, that will come from within the states," Keys said.

by Patricia R. McCoy Capital Press Staff Writer
Conserving Water Comes Before More Storage, says BuRec Head
Capital Press - September 6, 2002

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