Weekly Gosar Column: Making Government Working For You, Not Against You
This week, the first bill I introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 489, was brought to the floor and was passed unanimously by voice vote. This common-sense legislation permanently ends the bureaucratic wrangling that has occurred between the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, ensuring a reliable municipal water supply for Gila County and the Valley.
The federal government consists of hundreds of agencies, and within each agency, there are divisions, departments and sub-groups. Sometimes, especially with respect to land management, more than one agency has jurisdiction. When that occurs, bureaucratic disputes arise and government no longer serves the people.
These are the exact circumstances that led me to the introduce H.R. 489. The C.C. Cragin Dam Project is critical water infrastructure that is integral to providing a water supply for Phoenix and is instrumental in making 3,500 acre-feet of water a year available to Gila County. The Town of Payson and the neighboring communities rely on the pipeline to supply municipal drinking water. The maintenance of this valuable asset has been victim of a completely unnecessary jurisdiction conflict between the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.
In 2004, the Arizona Water Settlements Act authorized the title transfer of the C.C. Cragin Project from Salt River Project (SRP) to the Bureau of Reclamation. Under this language, the federal government would own the project, but SRP would still operate and maintain it. Once the transfer was implemented, it became clear that the federal agencies disagreed over who had the authority to approve the requested operation, maintenance and repairs. Specifically, the Bureau of Reclamation, the owner of the infrastructure, argued that it should approve SRP’s work plans, environmental compliance and other regulatory permitting requirements; while the Forest Service, who administers the land in which the infrastructure is located, asserted that Reclamation was required to obtain a special use permit to operate, maintain and repair the water project.
This bureaucratic battle delayed much-needed repairs – wasting precious Arizona water resources, increasing repair costs and postponing the Town of Payson’s related economic development initiatives. While SRP was ultimately able to overcome the issues with the Forest Service to complete repairs, it was with the Bureau of Reclamation’s approval and occasionally over Forest Service objections. If this jurisdictional dispute is allowed to continue, future operations and maintenance activities related to the C.C. Cragin project could face costly delays and possibly interrupt water delivery to our communities. That is simply unacceptable.
Having a single agency overseeing the project remains important, if not more important, now that the project is operational. My legislation does just that, ensuring the long-term management of the C.C. Cragin Dam and Reservoir Project, and would bring about the necessary economic certainty for the Town of Payson and other impacted communities.
Specifically, my bill grants the Department of Interior exclusive jurisdiction to manage the Cragin Dam Project and grants the Department of Agriculture administrative jurisdiction over land management activities that do not conflict or adversely affect the operation, maintenance, replacement or repair of the project.
The Bureau of Reclamation has the expertise to conduct oversight on water supply projects, and does so on many other projects that are within national forests. This common-sense bill meets the needs of SRP and Reclamation to ensure the infrastructure can be maintained, while accommodating the Forest Service; ensuring they continue to manage the lands underlying the utility corridor with respect to recreation, wildfire, law enforcement and other activities consistent with its authorities, responsibilities and expertise.
The language reflects a compromise reached by all of the relevant parties and still requires compliance with all requirements under federal law including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It shows that when we work together, we can break the partisan gridlock in Washington and solve the problems facing rural Arizona.
I am proud that my legislation swiftly moved through the legislative process and passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Senator John McCain, with the support of Senator Jon Kyl, has introduced identical legislation, S. 201 and is ready for a vote before the Senate. I hope the Senate passes our bill immediately, sends it to the President for his signature and ends this ridiculous bureaucratic wrangling permanently.