Hearings and Business Meetings

02:00 PM

The Honorable Harry Reid

United States Senator

STATEMENT OF SENATOR HARRY REID

 

BEFORE THE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

 

SUBCOMMITTEE ON WATER AND POWER

 

APRIL 17, 2008

 

 

 

I want to thank Chairman Johnson and other members of the Committee for scheduling this important hearing and for the opportunity to address our nation's aging water infrastructure and its impacts on Nevada .  

 

 

I’d also like to thank Mayor Todd Cutler of Fernley, Nevada for being here to testify.  He has fought hard for the residents of the city of Fernley in their efforts to recover after the devastating flood that occurred earlier this year.  His story is important to this hearing and a case study to underscore the need for urgent action to protect communities across the West.

 

 

Early in the morning on January 5th, Fernley residents awoke to a freezing flood that destroyed or damaged many of their homes and businesses.  After a few hours, 590 homes were flooded, and up to 8 feet of water accumulated in some areas.  This flood happened because the Truckee Canal – a facility owned by the Bureau of Reclamation – had failed. 

 

 

Shortly after the flood, I took a helicopter tour to survey the damage to Fernley’s neighborhoods.  I was disturbed by what I saw – the incredible damage caused by the canal’s failure.

 

 

This wasn’t just an unfortunate disaster, it was an expected disaster.  This was the 9th time the Truckee Canal has failed. It was also the second time it failed, most likely because of rodent burrows in the canal’s embankment.

 

 

The Truckee Canal is over 100 years old; it is part of one of the oldest Reclamation water projects in – sometimes known as the Newlands Project.  Like most of Reclamation’s facilities, the federal government owns it, but a local water district operates it.  The Truckee Canal failure also represents the tremendous danger of failing to properly maintain such facilities.  

 

 

All Americans, and the residents of Fernley, should be able to live without fear that their community could be flooded at any time.  They shouldn’t have to worry that the government is letting aging water infrastructure crumble to save money in the short term.  Additionally, families near federal water projects should be informed regularly about the condition of those projects and any imminent threats of collapse or flooding.  Sadly, even the Bureau of Reclamation isn’t well-informed about the condition of many of these facilities. 

 

 

We all know that prevention is better than cure.  That is why I introduced legislation last week to provide the Bureau of Reclamation with resources and the direction to inspect and maintain aging water facilities.  This bill – the Aging Water Infrastructure and Maintenance Act – would also direct the Bureau to develop standards for aging water facilities so they don’t fall into a state of disrepair.  

 

 

I joined Senators Bingaman, Salazar and Tester in introducing this bill because we all have witnessed the rapidly deteriorating water structures in western states.  In some cases, communities have no choice but to rely on these aging facilities, even if funding is not available to properly maintain them.  But compared to the tremendous costs of recovering from catastrophes like the Fernley flood, it is much less expensive to keep federal water facilities in good condition. 

 

 

Since 1988, the Bureau of Reclamation has been out of the construction business and has been working to get out of the operations and maintenance business.  However, the Bureau cannot completely abandon its legacy – the 178 major water projects it has designed and built. 

 

 

Our legislation allows Reclamation to push forward with its mission, continuing to deliver water to communities and farmers.  It will also ensure that the 673 facilities that make up Reclamation’s water projects are in good condition.  Many of these facilities are over 50 years old.  Some facilities are 90 and even 100 years old.  They require close attention, regardless of who operates them.  And sometimes they may require costly repairs to make sure they safely serve the people that rely so heavily upon them.

 

 

It is clear that the Bureau or Reclamation must improve its practices.  But I would also like to recognize that they have taken some important initial steps.  The Bureau recently began surveying some of the roughly 8,000 miles of canals it owns.  This is a good step in the right direction – it is appropriate for the owner of these facilities to take action after the terrible Fernley flood.  My legislation will make sure the Bureau’s inspections are complete and performed regularly.  

 

 

Also, I would like to recognize the Bureau’s rapid response to the Truckee Canal failure.  Reclamation staff worked hard, together with local officials, to stop the flooding and to repair the canal.  I think the Bureau understands how important the Truckee Canal is to the Fernley community, but they need the resources and authority to better maintain it.  I am confident that better stewardship of such facilities can protect communities and save us from costly disasters in the long-run.

 

 

Again, thank you Chairman Johnson for holding this important hearing.  I am hopeful that we can work together to make prevention a priority when it comes to our nation’s aging water infrastructure.