BuRec will halt water spreading

  Dear HCN,

Those who simply scanned Paul Koberstein's Nov. 28, 1994, headline, "BuRec to allow water thefts to continue," may have assumed that Reclamation is not addressing the problem of unauthorized use of water. That's not the case. Reclamation is actively seeking to eliminate the unauthorized use of water, sometimes referred to as water spreading. We are currently developing regulations for resolving any use of Reclamation project water not in compliance with federal law or Reclamation water contracts. These regulations will be published in the Federal Register for public comment in the spring, to be followed by public hearings.

Unauthorized use of water occurs in many forms, ranging from unavoidable irrigation of small pieces of unclassified land within a farmer's field to flagrant diversion of water without a federal contract. To resolve unauthorized use, we must consider the circumstances and history related to each case, specific water contract provisions, applicable state water law, and the consequences for the public and the environment.

As the article indicates, we drafted a policy last June to address unauthorized use in Reclamation's Pacific Northwest Region. This draft has not been adopted as it did not address the diversity of unauthorized use throughout the West. The proposed regulations will provide a framework for addressing the many types of unauthorized use in a fair, prompt fashion. Affected third parties and the public will have an opportunity to contribute to the resolution of these cases. At a time when demands on water resources in the West are multiplying, your readers can be confident that I am committed to ensuring the legal use of federal water.

Daniel P. Beard

Washington, D.C.

Dan Beard is commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.