"This morning the Committee will hear testimony on S. 3385, the "Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act.' This was introduced by Senator Baucus, who is here as our first witness. This important legislation addresses the serious backlog in the construction of already-authorized Bureau of Reclamation projects that are intended to provide domestic water supplies for rural and tribal communities.
"All of these projects have previously been studied and approved by the Congress. However, the funding for constructing the projects has lagged, causing a delay in providing for the delivery of potable water to rural and tribal communities. The ongoing drought in many parts of the West underscores the importance of rural water supply projects, such as the ones that would be covered by this bill.
"The Reclamation Fund was established in 1902 by Congress. It is to be used as a funding source to construct water projects in the West. It is funded through a variety of receipts, including Federal mineral leasing receipts. However, the use of monies from the Reclamation Fund has been subject to appropriation and, therefore, large balances have remained in the Fund -- and continue to increase. The balance in the Reclamation Fund in FY 2011 was $9.6 billion. It is estimated to continue to rise. While these funds were intended to be used for water project construction, they have not always been appropriated when needed.
"S. 3385 would direct that every year $80 million that would otherwise be deposited in the Reclamation Fund be made available without further appropriation for the construction of the authorized rural water projects. According to Bureau of Reclamation analysis, an increase in funding for the construction of rural water projects to $80 million per year would reduce the total Federal appropriations needed to complete the projects by more than $1 billion. That's when project costs and inflation are taken into account. So while the bill provides for spending, it actually will save the Treasury over time.
"The bill also includes language that states that amounts may not be transferred for rural water projects pursuant to the legislation if to do so would raise the deficit. This is essentially a placeholder that indicates that we intend to find an offset for the spending in the bill.
"The legislation provides that the Secretary may not expend any amounts until programmatic goals are developed that would enable completion of rural water projects as quickly as possible; reflect the goals and priorities identified in the laws authorizing the rural water projects; and reflect the goals of the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006. The bill does not direct that a particular project receive funding. Rather, it provides that the Secretary develop funding prioritization criteria to serve as a formula for distributing funds consistent with considerations set forth in the bill.
"The bill is important to our citizens in rural and tribal communities in the West. Adequate water supplies are fundamental to our way of life, and far too many Americans still live without adequate, safe drinking water. I want to thank Senator Baucus for introducing this legislation, and I thank the witnesses for being here today."