Reclamation Law:

Changes Needed Before Water Service Contracts Are Renewed

T-RCED-92-13: Published: Oct 29, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 1991.

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GAO discussed changes the Department of Interior needs to make before it renews long-term water service contracts in the Bureau of Reclamation's Central Valley Project (CVP), focusing on environmental and water use problems associated with irrigation practices carried out under these contracts. GAO noted that environmental and water use problems associated with irrigation practices carried out under such existing contracts included: (1) selenium poisoning and increasing salinity in the CVP San Joaquin Valley; (2) farmers' use of CVP water to produce crops that are also eligible for subsidies under federal agricultural programs; and (3) an inadequate water supply for wildlife habitat because 85 percent of CVP water is dedicated to irrigation under the contracts. GAO also noted that: (1) since Interior is currently renewing CVP water service contracts without making substantial changes, such problems are likely to continue, and irrigators will have little incentive to use water more efficiently; (2) because the long-term contracts will commit water to irrigation, the increasing demands of California's growing population may not be met; (3) since Interior believes that long-term contract renewal for the same quantity of water is mandated by law, it does not plan to change its contract terms regarding long-term duration and quantity; and (4) Interior is renewing contracts without conducting a thorough analysis of the environmental, economic, and water use impacts of renewal and the alternatives.

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