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tv   Environmental Experts Testify on Western Drought  CSPAN  December 2, 2021 7:23am-8:58am EST

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hearing is to examine the status and management in the western united states approximately 90% of the western u.s. is currently
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experiencing some degree of moderate to severe drought. water has always been a limited resource in the west we have a saying that whiskey is for drinking and water is for siding. by the turn of the 19th century as westward expansion to cold, a complex framework of water compacts allocated water supplies. today, however, abnormally dry conditions are reducing the availability of water for farms, industry and for the cities and towns. native fish and wildlife have ever been so imperiled and drought is making the forests
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more susceptible to wildfire. behind me we have a graphic produced by the u.s. drought monitor program updated weekly it shows the general reach of the drought that has persisted for the last 20 years and you can see how bad it is some climate scientists call this a mega drought. the data indicates that we are experiencing the worst drought in 1200 years. having surpassed the longest which occurred in the late 1500s, scientific assessments see that these are made worse by the effects of climate change, rising temperatures and reduced snowmelt. this is a priority for me because arizona is on the front lines of this drought. in august of the department of the interior announced its first
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ever drought restrictions on the colorado river. it affects 40 million americans in seven states. arizona, california, nevada, colorado, utah and new mexico and wyoming we stand to lose 18% of the water allocation. fortunately arizona is prepared for these cutbacks. we are implementing measures that keep more water in the colorado river system and improve water efficiency in our farming. we plan to save enough water so that most will not be impacted but we are not out of the woods. last month the interior
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department produced a new forecast showing water levels in lake mead could soon decline lower the world's largest public infrastructure project when it was built in the great depression currently the capacity is 35%. it's the lowest level since the lake was first filled. it's sister reservoir is the second largest man-made lake in the united states and its 35% capacity but at 30% capacity. lake mead and lake powell are the poster children for the western drought it's where one
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submerged. we have that here as you can see. about 1299 at full capacity and it's about 1,067 or so above sea level today. at lake powell only two of the boat ramps can still safely unload motorized boats and if the rockies see another year or two of record low snowmelt. arizona, california and nevada will be facing tougher drought restrictions possibly beginning
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in 2023. and then there's hydropower. a source of carbon free energy reliable to the energy and resiliency in the west. reclamation predicts there is a chance next year water levels might dip low enough that power generation at glen canyon could be affected and in some cases significantly. many other watersheds are facing similar water scarcity and susceptibility sustainability challenges. these may sound serious because they are serious. but here's the thing. there is no country in the world that is better at solving problems when we put our mind to it. we can solve it and that's why
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we are here with a panel of experts and government and environmental advocacy and agriculture that are working on water management solutions and i look forward to listening to their testimony. and with that i will turn this over to the ranking member hi to smith for her opening remarks. i'd like to thank the chair for calling this hearing today to bring attention to this issue that is plaguing the west. thanks to the witnesses that are here for your willingness to serve and offer your suggestions and i hope that your testimony will leave us with a more unified understanding of how serious drought and drought related issues are and more importantly potential solutions to water supply challenges in drought prone areas my state doesn't have as many drought related issues as western states
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in fact we tend to run into trouble on the opposite end with rainfall and catastrophic flooding however a commonality i find between the severe drought and flooding is a devastating impact that it has on the farmers, ranchers and rural communities. the lifeblood of the nation and reclamation is integral to farmers as it provides one out of five for 10 million acres of farmland that provides 60% of the vegetables and 25% of its fruits. it's vital we discovered the solutions to address the infrastructure needs for the farmers, ranchers and the rural communities. i look forward to discussing how the te is the impacts of drought in a matter that allows for the development projects that will benefit the farmers and communities, protect and support
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those communities that need access to water storage the most. thank you for being here and a part of this american process and i sure hope to learn something from you. >> thank you. now it's time to introduce the witnesses first we have tonya the assistant secretary for water and science at the department of the interior who is testifying in person and next the director of the arizona department of water resources who's also testifying in person. participating virtually, we have ms. julie ellingson the executive vice president of the north dakota stockman's association and finally the colorado river program director for the national audubon society who was also participating
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virtually i want to thank the witnesses for testifying today especially our arizona witness. all of you will be included in the hearing record and please keep your oral testimony to five minutes each. we will begin with you. >> thank you. good afternoon. i appreciate your leadership on these issues and your service here today. senator heights smith equally thank you for sharing the subcommittee and being part of our western water world today. i'm the assistant secretary at the department of the interior. thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding the status and
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management of drought in the western u.s. along with my fellow panelists we will present a thorough picture of how climate change and the drought are affecting the communities and the environment. to testify in support of the infrastructure bill that contains many provisions that will help assist us with these efforts. the entire west has experienced drought conditions this year and in some cases we are seeing events we've never seen before. so we are having to adapt in real time and work closely with our partners to respond to the situation as they are evolving. october 1st, marked the new water year across the west and we are starting out with water supply conditions in those that are significantly below average
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for example in the colorado river basin, lake powell and lake mead are at historical lows and in california where we have just seen the driest two years back-to-back on record, some of them are also at their historical low levels. it will be essential to maintain the close coordination with our partners on the ground as we move forward if we do continue to see continued dry and warm conditions that are predicted. the department is working closely with our sister agencies and the states, tribes and local entities to respond to the drought. since january, we've provided funding to over 220 different projects around the west and we were able to reprogram $100 million to be able to be responsive to the conditions that are evolving in various
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programs. those contributions will include making infrastructure improvements and otherwise improving and continuing to maintain our planning efforts. we also received additional funding through the disaster relief bill that was passed last week and we are looking to get that funding out to the local and tribal communities as soon as possible. we have worked to develop coordinated operational plans in many areas and those will help us respond to the conditions as well for example in the colorado river basin we are currently implementing the provisions of prior agreements and in particular the 2007 interim guidelines for coordinated operation of the reservoirs and the more recent contingency
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plans. we were on the fortunately in the position of announcing the first level of shortage and first tier of shortage in the colorado river basin in august and it will take efforts to continue to develop the next agreements that are going to be necessary but we have a proven track record the colorado river basin can be a model for the type of collaboration that we need in other areas as well and it will be essential to maintain that collaboration for our collective successes. it's great to be here with colleagues from arizona and colorado and north dakota as we work together among the federal family and nonfederal partners and members of congress to address these issues. across the west interior has continued to utilize to improve the water supply projections and
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those can help us inform our decision-making process and work again collaboratively with our partners. we support the continued investments and improvements to help maintain our important infrastructure projects. and such as water recycling efforts and of course continued collaboration on how to ensure the communities can utilize the federal resources that we have available. we appreciate congresses attention to the severity of the drought conditions we are seeing in the west and welcome your input to the new tools and approaches that we can use to help our communities. i look forward to the continued work together and again with our partners we will be able to address the ongoing challenges. i would be happy to answer any
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follow-up questions and thank you for your attention on this issue. thank you i am the director of the arizona department of resources. thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the state of arizona highlighting elements of that testimony a 20 year drought and climate change has had devastating impacts on the flow of the colorado river and the content. it declared shortage in 2022 and resulted in losing 512,000 or 18% of its total entitlement. impacts to agriculture, tribes
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and municipal will result in an intent eight-month efforts resulting in coming together to provide financial resources and wet water to mitigate those impacts. projections of the elevations are barely above for an additional 80,000. those cuts would primarily impact tribes and users in my state however it's unlikely they will be available to address those additional cuts while the guidelines and the contingency plan have slowed the decline, those are clearly not enough. the likelihood of cuts in the future is high. the amount of water is also decreasing and critical elevation is increasing. there is the reduction of hydropower and cost to
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irrigation districts and others in arizona. in august, projections were 2023 had consultations pursuant to the plan in the lower basin. arizona, nevada and california have been meeting pursuant for protecting lake mead from falling below the elevation and that will be a daunting challenge. additional action to protect first mandatory cuts were second additional conservation but that will be a heavy lift. success is dependent and compiling the resources to make it happen. the guidelines and the job contingency plan have taught us how to be successful in managing
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the river long term. those lessons learned include be vigilant in managing the protected elevations. to do so we must have data and modeling products produced by the bureau that possess the best available science to achieve outcomes that result in the equitable sharing of the benefits and risks of the colorado system. three, adhere to the collaboration among the states, mexico, the united states tribes and other stakeholders number four, recognize we are connected from wyoming to the sea of cortez in mexico. five, incentivize actions that conserve water. six, resources for the united states and agencies must be tools in the toolbox and seven, continue the state participation and discussions regarding the implementation of the 1944 mexico water treaty while we
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focus on enhancing the sustainability of the colorado river system we shouldn't lose sight of other mechanisms to minimize or mitigate the impacts of climate change and drought maximizing the use of the reclaimed or the recycled water improving and expanding existing infrastructure to increase the yield and remove water and augmenting the water supplies for the enhanced recharge and improved watershed health through more effective management are all tools that need to be deployed. in conclusion it represents challenges that are likely to increase over time. proper planning, management, robust conservation and collaboration across political jurisdictions and among stakeholders create the greatest likelihood of today and in the future.
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thank you and i'm willing to answer questions as well. >> we will now move to the opening testimony. >> members of the subcommittee, thank you for holding this hearing. it is an honor to testify before you today. i'm the colorado river program director for the audubon society. others have said it but i need to say it again, climate change has come through the front doors of the colorado river basin. the colorado river has lost 20% of its flows in the past 20 years and scientists are forecasting another 9% loss.
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we need to act quickly to avoid a catastrophic water supply crisis and we also need long-term solutions because of temperatures that continue to increase, the colorado river supply will keep shrinking. there's so much at stake the colorado river provides drinking water for 40 million people and it's the lifeblood. it's the silent utility if you eat a salad in january pretty much anywhere in the country [inaudible] supporting recreation businesses it's the regions lifeblood. people value the colorado river in so many ways not least what
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it means to us culturally and spiritually stand on the rivers edge and you are reminded what it means to be grateful. for the tens of millions of americans the investments in usgs including the data that allows us to understand these changes. the reformations by the programs for additional funding and operating this program is conserving water and approving
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investments can help mitigate the environmental public health crises caused by other lakes across the west and finally also to support the colorado basin particularly households lacking indoor water service who suffered greatly from covid-19. also water settlements to allow tribes benefits from their water rights and to reduce the uncertainty it imposes on all colorado river users. finally i want to address colorado river management. recreation plays an important role as the guardian of a process that needs to be transparent and inclusive carrying out the federal trust responsibility. leadership must continue
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emphasizing collaboration. this is a sobering and scary time for everyone and everything as congress considers priorities and funding opportunities there are several investments for the river basin and across the west to ensure federal agencies receive critically needed resources to build a more resilient system and mitigate the effect of climate change. congress has several pending bills with bipartisan support that respond to the needs of tribal communities and western state water supply needs. it is imperative they have the resources they need to prepare for and respond to the drought and the climate crises.
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thank you so much for the opportunity to testify today and i would be happy to answer questions. >> thank you. i will now recognize senator hoping to introduce. a. >> thank you. appreciate it very much and you holding this hearing today and i want to thank you for joining us virtually. the executive vice president of the north dakota stockman's association and in addition to doing an incredible job in administering the association, she and her husband have a cattle ranch south of bismarck as well. so she comes to the job as somebody who grew up farming and ranching so she understands from the ground up. she doesn't just advocate.
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she's lived at her whole life. i've worked with her on the farm bills and disaster assistance for producers most recently $10 billion for farmers and ranchers specifically 750 million of that for the ranchers and that is nationwide but now we have to put that out there and on the ranchers side the parameters i look forward to working with her on that issue because we've had incredible drought in our state one of the toughest i can remember so this hearing is extremely important for the farmers and ranchers that are out there. it's making sure we have water
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available throughout the west for the farmers and ranchers and that is for the lowest-cost food supply that every single american benefits from every single day so with that i would sure like to again thank the chair and ranking member and appreciate this opportunity to introduce and welcome the testimony today good afternoon members of the subcommittee. as the senator said i am a fourth-generation beef producer and my husband and i and our five children were in southern county. our family has a long history in agriculture and i'm blessed to be able to pass on the
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tradition. it's coupled with the use of the latest science and technologies so we can match our management with the needs of our cattle for mutual benefits and optimal resiliency. as was mentioned i'm the executive vice president of the stockman's association, a 92-year-old organization representing 3100 ranchers. for the membership activities we also administer our programs as well as the section 319 grand as well as the local economy. this year as it has been described has been filled with challenges and certainly historic drums on top of the list for north dakotans and our neighbors in the west. yellow, orange, red and brown on the drought monitor map told the story well. nearly the entire west
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devastated and some disaster and north dakota is no exception. currently 99.8% of the states have a drought designation and we have set records we never wanted. among those the earliest onset and highest drought severity and coverage index in our history. water of course is central to the management and everything changes without it. some are rendered entirely unusable because there's no water for the livestock to drink. they found new miles of pipeline and implemented 13 as well as renovated those responding to the water demand of the herd. the changes have exchanged as
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well. they work with in the journal management to manage 1.7 milliow that doesn't sound like a lot on the committee as you know but those are significant to the state cattle industry and the states ecology. whether on private land or public land they've had to make hard decisions to reduce numbers to prevent and encourage the regrowth i've had a chance to see these decisions play out in real time. many have reduced the size because it isn't there. with north dakota ranchers selling as of july.
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the average for an entire year is 200,000. it's a painstaking decision for families because it's not only the foundation of the herd but it represents generations of selection and improvement that cannot be replicated overnight. it causes others. fire perhaps the most widespread and destructive. as of monday fires burned nearly 6 million acres across the nation and about 125,000 across north dakota. together fire and drought impact the livestock and ability to steward the land.
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making these ecosystems more resilient to all threats including drought. at this committee this congress and this administration look at ways to make landscapes more resilient and increase conservation to manage and optimize potential will be key. they are greater to these emergency conditions and a special thanks goes out to senator hogan for your work to provide additional allowances and assistance programs to offset the cost of transportation of feed. as we move forward hoping and praying for rain i encourage the committee and administration to think about the need to examine the response. that is how do we make landscapes more resilient to drought. as a rancher i know that carefully managed they are more
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resilient. healthy ecosystems are created, nurtured and maintained and it takes coordination with all parties helping landscapes take investments from each of us and ranchers are already doing their part. thank you for the opportunity to testify and i look forward to your questions. >> thank you again to the witnesses for their testimony. we will now open up to questions from members recognized for five minutes each. i'm going to start with a few questions and then be followed by ranking member hite smith. this first question is primary and then i will have a follow-up. i want to focus on infrastructure because congress needs to think bigger than
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programs that fund short-term drought relief. we need to deploy technology to the climate change over the long term and more can be done to improve the irrigation canals in the west. these systems are often over 50-years-old and they leak a lot of water. the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed in the senate provides 8.3 billion and the infrastructure the water recycling and technologies invest in watershed health and enhance groundwater storage for
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the situation at lake mead and lake powell. >> thank you, senator. again your leadership is appreciated and i was happy to testify in support of that. we will utilize the authorities and funding that will be received to continue to build upon the good collaborative success that we have had in the colorado river basin. i want to reiterate what my colleagues said earlier. we have a crisis and it's a very serious situation. we are working together to innovate and utilize the authorities we get from congress and the funding to build upon those programs. we have additional conservation programs in the lower basin that are going to be available to help those levels and the upper basin will continue to work closely with the partners there
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as well so appreciate the opportunity to build upon the success and look forward to working with you. >> can you give an example of what could improve the situation in lake mead and lake powell? >> one of them is connected with our bipartisan process, excuse me, the binational process and the development of additional capabilities and the 242 well in arizona will help make the system more efficient and allow us to retain more of the water storage that is available. that is a good example of that capability. >> and by capturing water in other places, we can keep more in lake mead and lake powell. >> absolutely and the expanded authority we have in the water recycling category as well will do the same thing.
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can you think of examples how this will help arizona and the west? >> yes, chairman kelly. in yuma arizona the area that jennifer referred to in her remarks there's infrastructure improvements to make sure that deliveries in the part of the river do not occur, that water will not go to waste, that the infrastructure improvements are made. we also are looking again at conservation with willing partners and i think some of the funding could be available for that. it's not necessarily infrastructure but it will result in more water in leveraging money the state has made available to me for the purpose in that state. we are working with the district in southern california, the central arizona project on the
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potentially recycling project in southern california that would allow that water to be used in southern california instead of being discharged into the ocean in a way that the other partners could share in some of the benefits of that water in their states so those are a couple of the examples. infrastructure and the funding of the real are critical. we are looking at groundwater, doing this with mexico under minute 223 so this could benefit lake mead. a. >> we will now recognize senator hogan for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chair man. i don't want to go ahead of the ranking member. i will defer to the ranking member.
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>> yes, let's do that. what sort of impacts are you currently seeing from the ranchers and the rural communities and how it's impacting them compared to the years passed. >> thank you ranking member. significant impacts as i describe it's been historic so once they've made tough decisions in order to respond to that. decisions like calling the herd in some extreme cases liquidating and also sending animals or sourcing expensive to feed which again is hard to come by and expensive to haul. and of course the agricultural foundation of the city's economy so not only do they have an
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impact on the livestock industry but also to the main street in the overall state economy. so serious issues that are impacting us as we work through the conditions at hand. >> okay. and in terms of mitigating the drought -related stress on farmers and ranchers, what programs and contracts that are offered through the usda natural resource conservation do you and people in your position, the folks in the industry, which of those programs do you rely on the most? >> there's a whole array of programs, the first that comes to mind would be the natural resource conservation program. there's opportunities to employ best management practices whether it's water development and such so that certainly is an important one. similarly to help support the producer's efforts to put those
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think tanks and practices on the ground and again helping the long-term mitigation of the other challenges. >> and what potential consequences would your industry face if any of those projects were delayed backlogged or slow down greatly? >> there would be significant challenges. both are opportunities not only to deal with the right now but the long-term sustainability of the operations and of course the sustainability of implications for wildlife and the storage of carbon and other areas so those programs are very meaningful and we encourage the support of them. >> thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator. now that we've got the order figured out. >> thank you mr. chairman. i appreciate it very much. julia talked about the impacts of the drought this year. talk a little about the impacts if this becomes a multiyear
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drought. >> we hope and pray that is in the case. we are preparing for this and of course this year the producers haven't had a significant drought last year within the committee that there were pockets of course last year within the state as well but this year producers are relying on the reserves and again it's having a head start because of that storage. however as we burn through those resources and they are incredibly scarce as our neighbors across the west are also vying for the same ones, it will become even more serious to replenish and get it back to normal if you will so that is very much top of mind and also indicates some of the decisions producers are faced with right now. downsizing and again the sources of livestock feed. >> that is particularly true as
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we work to get our younger ranchers in the business and have gotten some in business but this is a particular challenge for them and keeping them going. >> absolutely. there is more than to pass the operations onto the next generations of the decision is whether the natural resources and attention to natural resources in our care or ushering in the next generation to carry on that tradition is followed so concerned about those producers again picking up for the time and doing good things on the way out and so top of mind for us as well. >> and you also mentioned the public lands in north dakota and other places in the west and the important role that those allotments play. are there steps that the administration should take to provide more flexibility to ranchers looking for additional
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sources? >> that certainly would be helpful and as i indicated, those public lands are certainly significant to our livestock industry so to continue the communication and coordination with producers on those allotments is critical. certainly they have the importance of caring for those lands and the significance to the operations whether it's having an open dialogue viewing this as a critical component to sustaining both landscapes as well as addressing issues like the over stocking, dealing with fire mitigation, all important to the long-term sustainability of those allotments and dealing with the job at hand. >> the ranking member asked one of the questions i was going to ask in terms of some of these others and one of the programs of course the livestock assistance program that we now have to help with the
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transportation cost of water and feed but comparing that with livestock programs and others that's something we have to have on a long-term basis, not just on a one year deal for drought. >> of the enhancements that were added to offset the cost is significant and meaningful so we are appreciative of additional support along with other support, programs like the livestock that are significant to the producers and keeping them maintained in a permanent status is important because it helps them plan and make the best decisions. >> and then in north dakota as far as moving water east from
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the missouri river we've got the red river valley supply project and the alternate supply that stands for eastern north dakota alternate water supply project. and in january, we've got the final environmental impact. given the extreme drought in the state, will you support the work to bring the water supply project in particular to the alternate water supply online, work with us to do that? >> absolutely that is an important project and we are supporting moving it forward. it's a great example of the connection between the surface water and groundwater and the need to have backup supply and be innovative as others have
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said that's what we need to do right now. >> thank you for that and we will give you the tour and we would love to host you. >> thank you, senator. i want to back up and talk more about the infrastructure bill to repair the infrastructure. what does this funding do to help the ecosystem? >> thank you for the question. there's all kinds of infrastructure particularly in the higher elevation we've seen some impressive examples to put
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some small structures on their property and that is holding water on the property longer extending the water supply, improving the health of wetlands and generally the ecosystem health. there's other examples i read about in southwestern wyoming where funding was used to convert to sprinklers and that is preventing salt in the river again creating additional resilience for a rancher in that
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instance because they are not using so much and it's improving [inaudible]. i think that there are a lot of wins with ranchers taking good care of the land when additional federal support for infrastructure can also help improve the systems that we need to scale up right now to improve the watershed all the way down the river. >> thank you. senator, if you are ready i will turn it over to you. >> thank you to all of the witnesses today. as you know the droughts are a serious issue in my home state and as you mentioned all across the west i've been particularly hard-hit by the ranchers and farmers they are the backbone of
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the communities in wyoming and the rural economy so in discussing the impact on the ranchers and farmers, there was an article in the sheridan press where the farm service agency in sheridan and johnston counties countiesin wyoming said this abo weeks ago, this year there's been extremely dry, producers have had a lack of feed and stock water due to the drought and have seen the reservoirs and shortage. she goes on to say people have been having to haul extra feed from out of the county and out of state and some had to sell the cattle. there've been people that have had to liquidate some of their herd. she said last year it was dry but compounded this year and it never let up for two years in a row and caused hardship for producers. is this what you're seeing and hearing on the ground back home in north dakota as well?
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>> yes. in a word, yes, absolutely. the impact you described would but the producers [inaudible] from that excerpt it could have been about our states and i know many others across the country. as you indicated we didn't have that serious drought like you all did last year but we unfortunately are making up for a lot of lost time. some challenges relating to sourcing feed and reducing what you are experiencing what in wyoming or we are experiencing now. one example we talked about the opportunity for some ground in the southeast part of the state and to make 58 trips the equivalent of 30,000 miles but another way that is around the
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world 25,000 miles is the circumference of the earth. >> so it's clear they are struggling not just in one location. what do you believe the department can do to prioritize water for the farming and ranching communities in the short-term and long-term? >> thank you, senator. we are working very closely with our partners at the federal agency on exactly these issues. we have lots of opportunities to expand water supplies and we are working collaboratively with farmers and all of the western states with respect to the department of agriculture programs, we understand they have additional capabilities available and they will be working to supply those and use them again innovatively to be
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able to meet constituents needs. >> so the family farm alliance has submitted written testimony for the record and i ask unanimous consent that it be part of the record. >> without objection. >> and the written testimony, the family farm alliance states with regards to water storage projects surface storage projects provide additional water management, flexibility to better meet downstream fish and wildlife service sees. yes or no do you agree with that statement? >> i do and i was able to see that testimony earlier today. i appreciate their partnership i think working with storage both underground and aboveground in
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ways that can maximize the flexibility. >> how does the administration intend to ensure that it doesn't -- >> that something we are working closely with partners as well and recognize the hardship many farmers and ranchers have endured in past years and also try to make sure that we have tools available to me to the emergency needs and build resilience and those are the type of programs we are looking forward to in the infrastructure context and our other programs as well. a. >> are there things we could have done say ten years ago to put us in a better place to manage the drought and building more storage, would that have been more helpful during the wet years?
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>> it probably depends on a place by place basis to answer the question. in some places we have storage we've been able to utilize and some places we see continued challenges in the infrastructure we know we need to continue to improve upon the aging infrastructure issue is an important priority for us. building additional capabilities is something we want to work on. >> thank you, senator. i think it was last year the snow in the rockies was about 90%, close to 90% but the runoff in the river was in the 25 or 30% or so which is rather concerning and if we see this continue with the basin states will face a second round of water curtailment. we originally planned for this to happen around 2026 but new data suggests we need to prepare for this much sooner than we anticipated.
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so, what are the seven states doing now to prepare for this if you could outline that for us. >> senator kelly, the outcome that you described in terms of relatively small runoff is of huge concern to us moving forward. there was a meeting since about june and a series of meetings scheduled between now and the end of the year. one of the things we are talking about is what do we expect the future flow of the river to be. we've seen reductions the last 20 to 30 years and we need to come to some level of understanding and planning about what we can count on into the future and then ratchet down our action items and water use to match what we think it's going to be. in the lower basin against i mentioned for the job contingency plan we've also been meeting to find ways to protect elevation 1020 and again talking
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about additional conservation efforts and perhaps additional cuts if it comes to that to help protect the declining levels of lake mead. i think we will continue to work on that between now and the end of the year to put a program in place hopefully by the end of the year to get us as far as we can. the longer we wait to take those actions, the more you have to conserve or cut to achieve the same desired result. >> for folks that are watching this that might be if you don't understand the science behind this may be even talk about that how do we wind up with 90% or so of snow pack and only 25 to 30% of the normal amount of water into the river? >> we believe that is a prime example of what climate change is doing. it is hotter and drier and it
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soaks into the ground. in the prior year, those precipitation and we had very little precipitation so the watershed was very dry, the soil was very dry and a lot of the water just soaked into the ground. we've also seen the snow melting earlier and also vegetation growing sooner which of course then uses more of the water as well. so those are the kind of elements that all connect to the outcome you've described. we've not just seen it last year but in prior years as well. >> are you confident an agreement will be reached and is the reclamation participating in this? >> thank you, senator. we have a proven track record of developing interstate agreements in the colorado river basin.
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i'm confident we will continue that track record and reclamation is absolutely in the middle of all of the ongoing discussions. i want to complement the work of my colleague and others that have been rolling up their sleeves and trying to be out in front of the future conditions that we may be seeing. >> how confident are you with that of another drought contingency agreement is going to be reached? >> failure is not an option. 40 million rely on this and we face this with the contingency plan in 2018 and 2019. we had hard choices to make but we got there and we will get there again. i believe arizona and the other states do not want an outcome in which perhaps the secretary might dictate winners and losers and we certainly do not want to be in a courtroom in which a judge dictates enters and losers so those are several motivations, but we will get
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there eventually although it will not be easy and i also want to complement the secretary for the help they provided in helping to provide in that regard it is absolutely essential and again as i mentioned earlier, the data and the modeling project, the modeling outcomes are critical to those discussions so we will get there because we have to. we don't have a choice. >> i now will recognize senator lee for five minutes. >> thank you mr. chairman. the impact of the drought on my home state of utah has been quite severe in fact. the u.s. a drought monitor shows 100% of my state is in severe extreme or exceptional drought and it has been for some time. we all know that the drought has different impacts on different areas and different people within different areas.
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along the highly developed front region of my state, it may mean that you take steps to conserve water perhaps with your lawn or otherwise. we appreciate those efforts and we are thankful to people for doing their part wherever they live. but for other people like farmers and ranchers, the impacts of drought can be much more direct and severe. many allotments in utah have been cut by 20% in capacity and it just isn't there for the cattle and the sheep. we are seeing this in fact in some counties the production is down to just 20%. some producers are ordering feed from far away places as far away as nebraska. ordinarily that isn't something they have to do in this part of the country. rivers that normally provide water is down to a trickle
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forcing us to ration. throughout the summer months, they were forced anywhere from a thousand to 1500 a week. again that is a thousand to 1500 animals a week that were killed and thereby wasted just as a result of the drought. states need a change so that they can more readily address the drought issues that they face like those that utah faces in particular. everywhere i go in my state i hear of the need for increased water shortage infrastructure. bureaucratic federal processes often stand in the way of the safe effective mitigation efforts. can you tell me how many water storage infrastructure projects are currently undergoing the evaluation by your department?
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>> in their construction efforts and the storage elements that that project provides are beneficial to utah during these drought issues. >> i assume you do have access to that information about the number undergoing the analysis. >> i can work with her and triey to get that back as soon as possible. >> if you could get us back to that, that would be helpful. >> the average amount of time that is required to complete for the water infrastructure projects. >> i don't know that off the top of my head but we can look into that. i know there are several storage projects in california that we are working on in other areas that are important to maintain
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that. >> i introduced an amendment on an existing program one that's facilitated by the department of transportation this is an element to assign and for the state voluntarily to assume the secretary's responsibilities for one or more highway projects as the states feel that they can handle. utah and arizona participate in that program and transportation context. constituents in my state have told me that this program is greatly expedited the rates that they can start work on critical
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transportation infrastructure projects the states chooses to prioritize to be able to take these up on a case by case basis do you think such could be helpful in curbing the effects of the devastating drought the department is using that program and often when there's categorical exclusion, it works really well and i do know that in my experience in these projects, they are looking for a reduction at the time and to stand the test for litigation there is a balance in terms of how the program could work.
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i have a list of a number of categorical exclusions during your hearing the views and
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impacts responded by saying you're committed to try to work with congress and stakeholders infrastructure and innovation and recycling programs that are maintenance and operation issues are a priority that does tie
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carefully to the safety programs and that may be what you are referring to. reclamation has selected 227 projects to be funded with $73.2 million in funding across the western states. given this large investment to
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combat widespread drought what are you doing to prioritize this program to ensure that these communities have vital access to more? >> thank you, senator. congress authorized some of the elements over ten years ago and it's been something we've continued to build upon in the budgeting process and how to best evaluate the requests that we come in for expanded capabilities there. it's something that we will continue to do so in that regard. we appreciate congressional support for it. >> to follow up on the question,
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can you provide some examples of how these grants could be used for climate resilience in the colorado river basin? >> thank you. farmers and ranchers make improvements on their properties in particular it is as well as the health of the properties.
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it's examples. at scale it can help us. [inaudible] >> i want to pick it here i want to talk about these latest predictions. in august the bureau issued a two-year projection that would remain below a thousand and the water cutbacks for arizona and nevada and would also lose water but remain above the minimum and that is the elevation level
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where the glen canyon dam would have to pause its hydropower operations. in september reclamation issued a new five year projection that painted a picture lake powell could approach by 2022 and the probability of cutbacks by 2023 why did these projections change from what we saw before to what we saw with the five year projection? it involves the continued desire for us to evolve the reclamation
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folks produce on a monthly basis the 24 month study analysis and then the five-year projections in the most recent changes have clarification of feeding into them so instead of using the record we focused on a 30 year record because that accurately projects what we anticipate we will be seeing in the future. we have done that previously but we've been focusing on it in this most recent. an additional change involves an
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assumption that relates to additional releases into and we are not continuing that assumption because we are not sure what the projected drought response options are going to be so we want to be safe and conservative about what we are doing. those are two examples of how we have changed that but we are working very collaboratively with folks on how to do that. >> and the switch was it because historically as you are trying to do these projections it was just turning out to be more accurate in making future predictions? >> we have projections that
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included some of the years that we were not anticipating going forward. that's more accurate going forward. >> i want to recognize senator highsmith for five minutes. >> let me just transition to your views on the reclamation data and how does it affect estate planning for at least six years that i'm aware of we
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looked at the historical record and that matches very closely with a 30 year record now of the reclamation in the contingency plan in terms of bending the probability curve so it's not something that's brand-new but i welcome this approach and i will do my happy dance but we will plan for that within our state
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and using those projections gives more leeway to deal with this future. >> let's hope at some point we get to see that dance. but i want to commend you and all arizona stakeholders for developing a state specific drought mitigation plan that will see us through these curtailment's in the state. and even though we are about to lose 18% of our colorado river water allocations, remarkably most are not going to notice this. it's going to be transparent to them but one very important community that is going to feel the pain of this that is the farmers in central arizona and many of these grow cotton and others grow cattle field for the
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dairy farms that are top agricultural products in the states. what can be done right now and into next year to help our central arizona farmers? they maintained right that they received in the groundwater code for the conservation requirements. they made it available to the farmers to help them like cities, tribes and industrial users in return for eventually getting a credit back for the use of the water by the farmers. so we put together a very robust mitigation plan honoring the system in the state yet despite
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that factor, projections in 2018 and 2019 there's 30 to 40% we haven't been able to get an updated number since then. however, the other option they are pursuing in the department of agricultural conservation partnership programs are in those districts in the federal government and also for some financial help again for infrastructure and efficiency improvement so we are doing the best we can to help somewhat mitigate but we cannot fully mitigate the loss because the priority system we are honoring within the state. >> you mentioned some, but is there any sort of guarantee that they are going to be compensated for doing that?
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>> it's about them being able to more effectively and efficiently move their water and use their water. so it's not really available to them but we hope that they can stay in business through this program and moving into the future which is going to be different moving forward. they are not going to be able to farm in a way that they have in its paradigm shift to the community with the project. >> let's continue to work together for the best possible outcome. the department did more to support the central arizona farmers the programs that we
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have available are designed to help farmers and ranchers in those types of situations and again, look forward to working on trying to make sure we can meet the most needs as possible. >> thank you. i understand that you've also spent years in arizona working on these colorado river issues so thank you again for being here today. it's part of a coalition of organizations that lead to efforts to maintain endangered species along the colorado river and partnerships with farmers, state and local governments and other users are key to making this work.
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i would add tribal governments hold substantial water rights in the west. are there tribes in the lower basin that are eager to do more to help and what can congress do to empower them? >> thank you for the question, senator kelly. indeed on a number of occasions they transfer to other users. however, there are some including the colorado indian tribe and others for limited restrictions. they are not allowed to transfer that off so congress could have said that the benefits and allow them to engage in transfers as
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well as that could supply water for the environment and as a matter of equity and ensure that they are able seems only fair. >> as they transfer water off of their tribal land and they are compensated what does that compel them to do? they have to start by conserving and then with that if congress could pass observation transfers
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but it's present for the colorado indian tribes. notwithstanding the fact. >> so there's significant motivation. >> absolutely. >> thank you. >> i want to take some opportunity to thinking ahead and thinking outside of the box i'd like to hear from either of you what that might look like. how much water do you think that would create and any other details. but on a large scale possible
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solution we are the most creative country in the world and we are good at solving hard problems especially i come from a background in engineering and i know we can solve this. arizona and the lower basin states. arizona has the largest or fastest growing county in the country. maricopa county businesses come to arizona. they should continue because we are going to fix this issue. but i'd like to hear from you a little bit about as you think about this and you start to think outside the box it comes to mind. >> i think both of us are looking forward to answering the question and i will kick off a few responses.
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the themes have involved the need to be innovative and flexible and that's what we are absolutely going to have to do in the colorado river basin but we've also emphasized the need to be collaborative and work together on these issues. i think you raised the topic of trying to use technology and be creative and have that underlining basis in science and that is what we are committed to do in the interior department. it's going to be no doubt about it we are going to be part of those conversations and look to have those available to the communities. our partners in arizona. >> i will focus because i am a
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united states cochair for the delegation as a new commissioner on the mexico side i think we can move forward again on that process. they are using a mechanism to transfer water and deliver that down the yuma area. we have several issues to work with mexico and then if we decide collectively to move
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forward we are probably ten years out in the course of business for nevada and california participating and of course for mexico. we will achieve that over time. it is critical to the success moving forward with mexico. >> i want to thank my colleagues and today's witnesses. thank you very much for being here.
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before we conclude i want to request unanimous consent to add statements to the record from the agriculture water coalition, the colorado river energy distributors association, the arizona farm bureau and family farm alliance. so so ordered. the subcommittee has a deadline for members to submit written questions so you may see some more questions. the hearing record will remain open for two weeks and thank you again especially to the witnesses and the subcommittee stands adjourned.
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