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Newhouse Introduces Legislation to Streamline New Water Projects

February 6, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced H.R. 875, Bureau of Reclamation Water Project Streamlining Act of 2017 to streamline the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental planning and study process for new water projects. The bill would apply the same streamlined water project development process used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014 to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in order to facilitate the construction of new dams and reservoirs. While very similar to H.R. 2097, which was introduced in the 114th Congress, H.R. 875 broadens the legislation to include additional surface water storage projects, water infrastructure projects, rural water projects, water recycling, and Title XVI water projects. 

“Streamlining water storage and infrastructure projects will help communities in the arid West plan for the future,” said Rep. Newhouse. “The growth of our communities and our ability to confront frequent drought depend on access to new water resources, so the framework for developing these projects should not be bogged down by delayed permits and endless reviews.”

For the text of the legislation, click here.

BACKGROUND:

The Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act requires the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to accelerate studies and provide more accountability in the agency’s process to study the feasibility of new and or expanded surface water storage. The legislation would provide the same streamlined water project development process for BOR surface water storage projects that the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014” (WRRDA) gave to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).  The goal of the legislation is to reform the current cumbersome, lengthy process so that there is a mechanism to build new surface water storage projects in the West.

The bill is designed to speed up BOR’s feasibility study process on surface water storage that “would be owned, funded, or operated” by the agency.  The legislation also requires reporting and transparency requirements to provide agency justifications on why feasibility studies are not being completed in a timely manner.  The bill closely resembles provisions included in WRRDA. The conference report for WRRDA, which includes nearly identical provisions for the Corps, passed both Houses in the 113th Congress (by a vote of 412-4 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate).

BILL HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Requires future Reclamation feasibility studies to be completed with three years after the date of initiation and have a maximum federal cost of $3 million. The bill provides for a maximum seven year extension of that time and cost if the Interior Secretary provides a detailed justification to the non-federal project sponsor and the Congress.
  • Requires the Interior Secretary to expedite the completion of any ongoing feasibility studies initiated before the date of enactment. If the Secretary determines that the project is justified in a completed report, he/she shall proceed to proceed to pre-construction planning, engineering and design of the project.
  • Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process with Reclamation and the non-federal project sponsor as lead agencies for expedited environmental review of a project. The bill further directs the lead agencies to establish a schedule for completion of a study and lays out financial penalties to the Interior Secretary if timelines are not met.
  • Directs the Interior Secretary to develop and submit a report to the relevant committees in Congress that identifies project report, proposed project and proposed modifications to studies and federal and non-federal cost estimates for all three. These activities would be similar to the feasibility studies listed in Section 7002 of P.L. 113-121, which authorized construction of projects by Congress.