Water Transfers:

More Efficient Water Use Possible, If Problems Are Addressed

RCED-94-35: Published: May 23, 1994. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal water projects, focusing on: (1) the beneficial and adverse impacts of water transfers; (2) how water markets might be structured to address the impacts on third parties; (3) the legal, institutional, and other issues that need to be addressed to implement a federal water market; and (4) how transfers of water from federal projects could be coordinated with state laws.

GAO found that: (1) water transfers promote efficient water use; (2) water transfers can cause a variety of adverse economic, social, and environmental impacts on third parties, and existing laws do not fully protect third parties from these impacts; (3) strategies are needed to address adverse impacts on third parties and will require the consideration of local conditions and existing laws and procedures; and (4) state and federal water laws can affect water transfers.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: If Congress decides to further encourage water transfers, it should remove legal impediments in federal reclamation law and other water development laws by amending the Water Supply Act of 1958 to give the Corps of Engineers the authority to reallocate existing water storage space capacity in all projects for any purpose requested by a water storage purchaser, subject to the Corps' approval, without requiring construction or expansion of reservoir storage capacity.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: If Congress decides to further encourage water transfers, it should remove legal impediments in federal reclamation law and other water development laws by amending reclamation law to specifically allow transfers of water outside of projects' authorized service areas to all beneficial uses, regardless of contract restrictions, with agency approval.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: If Congress decides to further encourage water transfers, it should remove legal impediments in federal reclamation law and other water development laws by abolishing appurtenancy requirements and reclamation law provisions that limit transfers prohibiting reductions in irrigation efficiency, requiring no practicable alternative source of water, and requiring the permission of existing water users in the project.

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation in the last 8 years, and does not appear likely to do so in the near future.

    Matter: If Congress decides to further encourage water transfers, it should remove legal impediments in federal reclamation law and other water development laws by amending the Warren Act to allow the Bureau of Reclamation to approve the conveyance of nonfederal water in federal facilities for purposes other than irrigation.

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: In coordinating federal policy with the existing state laws governing water use, Congress should consider whether to continue to rely on the states' procedures governing third-party impacts and beneficial use.

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: In coordinating federal policy with the existing state laws governing water use, Congress should consider whether to make consideration of the environmental and community impacts of transfers part of the federal review process and clearly indicate that conservation, transfer, and instream uses are beneficial uses of water provided from federal facilities.

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation.

    Matter: In coordinating federal policy with the existing state laws governing water use, Congress should consider whether to encourage the states to make further changes in their laws to meet desired goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Interior directed the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt the recommendation. The Bureau has revised its principles and criteria based on comments from its regional offices. The revised version is in the Washington Office for review and comment, and it is also being reviewed from a state perspective. These actions essentially fulfill the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To reduce the uncertainty and confusion associated with transfers, the Secretary of the Interior should expand and clarify Interior's transfer guidance to specify the requirements that must be met in approving transfers by clarifying the procedures and approval requirements for transfers, including when contracts would have to be amended, how the rates charged for transferred water will be determined, and what third-party concerns must be addressed from the federal perspective.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Interior directed the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt the recommendation. The Bureau has revised its principles and criteria based on comments from its regional offices. The revised version is in the Washington Office for review and comment, and it is also being reviewed from a state perspective. These actions essentially fulfill the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To reduce the uncertainty and confusion associated with transfers, the Secretary of the Interior should expand and clarify Interior's transfer guidance to specify the requirements that must be met in approving transfers by developing clear National Environmental Policy Act compliance requirements that are specific to water transfers.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Reclamation, which has primary responsibility for this issue, has revised its policy and guidance for water transfers from federal projects. The Corps of Engineers has reviewed the Reclamation guidance, found them consistent with Corps policies, and revised Corps guidance to require compliance with Reclamation's guidelines. Reclamation's guidelines specifically address operational, environmental, and contractual requirements, and how rates for transferring water will be determined.

    Recommendation: To reduce the uncertainty and confusion associated with transfers, the Secretary of the Army should require the Corps of Engineers to identify the existing procedures and requirements that must be satisfied for water to be transferred.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Reclamation, which has primary responsibility for this issue, has revised its policy and guidance for water transfers from federal projects. The Corps of Engineers has reviewed the Reclamation guidance, found them consistent with Corps policies, and revised Corps guidance to require compliance with Reclamation's guidelines. Reclamation's guidelines specifically address operational, environmental, and contractual requirements, and how rates for transferring water will be determined.

    Recommendation: To reduce the uncertainty and confusion associated with transfers, the Secretary of the Army should require the Corps of Engineers to establish guidelines for the approval of water transfers. The guidelines should outline the steps required to satisfy operational, environmental, and contractual requirements and how rates for transferred water will be determined.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of the Interior directed the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt the recommendation. The Bureau has revised its principles and criteria based on comments from its regional offices. The revised version is in the Washington Office for review and comment, and it is also being reviewed from a state perspective. These actions essentially fulfill the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To reduce the uncertainty and confusion associated with transfers, the Secretary of the Interior should expand and clarify Interior's transfer guidance to specify the requirements that must be met in approving transfers by listing and explaining any federal reclamation laws that must be satisfied, including under what conditions contract amendments would trigger Reclamation Reform Act provisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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