March 12, 1998
Chairman Doolittle, Members of the subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to testify on behalf of the State of Nevada and its Governor Bob Miller concerning H.R. 3267 to reclaim the Salton Sea. My name is Richard Bunker and I am Chairman of the Colorado River Commission of Nevada. It was just one month ago that I, along with my colleagues from the Colorado River Commission and the Board of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, visited the Salton Sea and participated in a briefing from members of the Salton Sea Authority concerning their environmental restoration efforts.
Southern Nevada and the Colorado River
This Salton Sea briefing came at the end of a three day tour of the Colorado River which started at Lake Mead and followed the river visiting its dams, power plants and aqueducts which serve millions of people in the three lower basin states. Every elected and appointed official involve din water resources decision making was invited to participate on the tour. We met with water officials from Arizona and California and were hosted for dinners, dam tours, crop inspections and briefings. We went on this tour to convey to our Nevada policy makers one simple reality, when it comes to Colorado River water, Nevada is inextricably connected to the actions and activities, problems and solutions of our sister states of California and Arizona. During the past five years as a member of the Nevada Colorado River Commission, I have learned that issues involving the Colorado are like a never ending soap opera with intricate, slow moving plots and sub plots. Unless you follow the program faithfully, it is very difficult to really tell at any given moment, who is romancing whom and for what reason. We in Nevada have been romanced by just about everybody at one time or another, including the interests behind the Salton Sea Authority. Let me say at the outset that we in Nevada appreciate the objectives of California Salton Sea interests and support their overall plan to prevent the Salton Sea from becoming a Dead Sea. We are, however, opposed to H.R. 3267 in its present form for reasons which I will explain.
Concerns with H.R. 3267
I want to first issue a disclaimer that the comment s on H.R. 3267 should not be viewed by anyone as Nevada having allied itself with any particular interest in California's water wars. That said, we believe that the bill will exacerbate California's continued over reliance upon Colorado River water to the detriment of Nevada and the rest of the basin states. Although California uses about 5.2 million acre feet of Colorado River water, its Compact entitlement is for only 4.4 million acre feet. In the past, the additional water has come form Arizona and Nevada's unused entitlement of lower basin water. Arizona and Nevada, along with the four upper basin states have for years been urging California to implement a plan to reduce its uses of the Colorado to the 4.4 million acre feet to which it has a permanent legal right. I am pleased that California is now working on its 4.4 plan.
I do not want to suggest that California is breaking the law by using the excess entitlement water. They have a contract right with the Department of the Interior to use such water temporarily until it is fully utilized by Arizona and Nevada. Nevada has a similar contract right to temporary use of unused entitlement. Within ten years when we exceed our own measly Colorado River entitlement of 300,000 acre feet, Nevada plans to also divert a smaller amount of the unused entitlement system water now being used by California.
Unlike California, however, we have a plan to develop alternate supplies for that day when all the water in the lower basin has been put to use. That day is not far off. Just last year, Arizona used nearly all of its water for the first time, leaving California to depend upon surplus water to meet its needs. As the Department of the Interior moves to approve regulations which allow for Colorado river water to be diverted and stored in groundwater aquifers located principally in Arizona, the full lower basin supply of 7.5 million acre feet will be gone. Nevada hopes to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in Arizona's groundwater banking program to provide us with supplies when we need them. Also unlike California, Nevada has no significant agricultural water uses from which water can be conserved or retired and transferred for municipal use.
California Must Move to Conserve Its Agricultural Water
As far as we can tell, California has a long way to go on its plan to live within its 4.4 million acre foot entitlement. Several competing plans have been advanced by the various Ag and urban interests in California with no consensus developing around anything. Now comes H.R. 3267, the Salton Sea bill trying to stabilize a federal National Wildlife Refuge where historically no lake ever existed and was created mostly from the wasted tailwater from the California Ag districts. The bill calls for a study of how to bring more water to the Salton Sea and specifically redirects this year's surplus flows to the Sea.
It seems to us that before any further federal demands for water are created, California should first implement a plan to live within the permanent supplies to which it is entitled.
California is now using nearly 1 million acre feet of Colorado River water above its entitlement. California's right to use this water is temporary. With the prospect of off stream groundwater banking, the excess lower basin water will soon be gone. California cannot rely year to year upon surplus flows to satisfy its needs. California must implement a plan to wean itself from this dependency upon other state's water by implementing water saving programs at the Imperial, Palo Verde and Coachella irrigation districts and diverting that saved water to satisfy California's growing urban water demands. We are opposed to the creation of a federal wildlife refuge at the Salton Sea. Such a refuge would become dependent upon the very wasted Ag water California must save to meet its 4.4 million acre foot limitation.