Reclamation Chief Revitalizes
by Carol Ryan Dumas
It's a new day at the Bureau of Reclamation with the agency focusing on water infrastructure projects, according to the top administrator.
SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- The Trump administration is ringing in a new era at the Bureau of Reclamation, one that harkens back to earlier days of ambitious water-storage projects.
The administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are "very focused" on infrastructure, and Reclamation wants to partner with water users to bring new projects forward, Brenda Burman, Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said during the Idaho Water Users Association water law conference on Tuesday.
"We are here and ready to work on projects, infrastructure in the West. Take advantage of that. It's not that big a window. It's going to go by incredibly fast," she said.
From her perspective, Reclamation has the most impressive and important mission in the country: finding ways to provide a reliable water supply in wet years and dry years -- whether it's flooding or drought, she said.
"Reclamation helped settle the West. In a lot of ways, I feel like we lost our path in doing those big projects," she said.
The pioneers in western water storage wanted to ensure a reliable water supply 20, 40, 50 years down the road and built big infrastructure, she said.
"In some ways, that's skipped a generation. It's not building storage in the last generation that has us behind today," she said.
But the agency is now focusing on infrastructure and how to make it reliable for the next 40 years, and Congress is providing opportunity.
The House just passed the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bill providing more than $1.5 billion for Reclamation, and a similar bill is awaiting a full Senate vote, she said.
Both bills represent an increase of more than $400 million over the agency's current budget.
"It's our job with you to take advantage of this. We need to make sure we're thinking big," she said.
Going forward, infrastructure is the absolute key to a reliable water supply, and there is a need for more projects in Idaho, she said.
"My goal in the next couple of years is to have Idaho projects on the map. We want to have your back and be a partner with you in bringing projects forward," she said.
She encouraged water users to get the backing for projects they'd like see, work with regional leadership and bring the details to Reclamation.
Reclamation recommends projects to Congress for authorization, and Idaho needs to be ready to compete, she said, adding that California is already primed with projects for consideration.
The agency is currently conducting a feasibility study on increasing water storage in the Boise River system by potentially raising the Arrowrock Dam about 10 feet and the Anderson Ranch Dam about 6 feet, she said.
At the national level, water infrastructure sometimes gets lost in water quality and flooding issues -- such as the Flint, Mich., lead issue and flooding from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, she said.
"We need to keep western water infrastructure at the top of the conversation," she said.
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