Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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describe dealings with BuRec
Oregon Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005
Across the irrigated West, irrigation districts have weighed in on their federal support agency, the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation. The message comes in the form of eight case studies assembled this summer
by Family Farm Alliance, an association of federal irrigators.
The report describes worries that BuRec isn’t replacing the engineers who built the big projects over
the past 100 years, creating possible problems as structures wear out and need replacement. It also
points to ways that BuRec helped states and local irrigation districts accomplish projects that wouldn’t
otherwise be done.
“There are some great, great examples of partnership,” said Dan Keppen, the engineer and executive
director of the Alliance, who pulled together the report.
The document was delivered in June to a National Research Council committee. The U.S. Department
of Interior, BuRec’s parent agency, invited the review of how to best manage construction and
infrastructure in the 21st century.
“Reclamation is a unique agency,” said Keppen, who used to work for BuRec. “There is a good
relationship with most of their customers. .... They are sharing costs.”
Typical BuRec projects were built with federal dollars, then purchased over time through payback by
irrigators. Where the relationship gets difficult is when BuRec bills overhead costs to irrigators, and
where local BuRec districts farm out research or design to a technical center in Denver that supports
projects across the West.
“Western water users find that cost estimates prepared by Reclamation for proposed work are often
significantly higher than reasonably anticipated costs,” Keppen said in a transmittal letter.
He also criticized BuRec for “an unwillingness” to show the basis for costs on construction,
environmental reviews and similar work.
One of the success stories is California’s Sacramento River Basin management plan, a joint effort of
water contractors, BuRec and California Department of Water resources. Praise came for letting sub-
basins develop water conservation plans and “movement away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”
On the other side of the coin, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District wanted to add an
outlet to a major reservoir by 2007. After dealing with BuRec’s technical service center since 1999, the
district gave up and hired an outside engineer to eliminate massive cost overruns during pre-design. A
similar story came from Oregon’s Hermiston Irrigation District, caught in a dam safety upgrade. The
project was estimated at $115,000 including engineering design, with 55 percent of the cost attributed
to BuRec staff work.
However, the Idaho Water Users Association praised BuRec’s Snake River Area office in Boise for
keeping operation and maintenance costs of dams and pumping plants below budget.
“What it comes down to,” said Keppen, “is those districts have good relationships with area offices.”
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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