WASHINGTON – Sens. Pete Domenici,R-N.M.,and Ben Nighthorse Campbell,R-Colo.,expressed their frustration Wednesday at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s handling of the Animas-La Plata water supply project and its $180 million cost overrun,but Campbell said abandoning the project is not an option.
“We’re in a mess,but it's a mess we’ve got to fix and move forward. We can’t just stop the thing,” Campbell said at the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee hearing.
Domenici,chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee,called for the hearing because of concerns over project cost estimates jumping to more than $500 million in 2003,a 48 percent increase over the $337.9 million the bureau initially estimated in 1999. The current price estimate for the project is $518 million.
Management failures by the bureau and mischaracterizations of site conditions were among the factors that caused the increased cost estimate,said Bennett Raley,assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior. William Rinne,deputy commissioner of reclamation,and Rick Ehat,project construction engineer,also testified.
“I’m really upset about this,” Campbell told the three officials. “You guys really dropped the ball on this.”
The 2003 estimate for the Durango Pumping Plant,one of four key project features,is $52 million above the initial estimate.
Raley said in a written statement that $38 million of this increase was due to the type and quantity of material that must be excavated. Some bedrock sites were initially thought to be made of soil.
“Some mistakes were made,” Raley explained.
The project,the scope of which has been debated for more than six decades,would provide water for both Indian and non-Indian municipal and industrial uses in Colorado and New Mexico. In addition,the project was incorporated into the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act to settle regional Colorado Ute tribal water rights claims.
Campbell,a longtime A-LP supporter who has worked along with Domenici to get funding for the project,is planning to leave the Senate after his term expires this year.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,too,it’s going to be tough to find the money without extending the project time frame over a period of years,” Campbell said.
“I’m not very impressed,” Domenici said. “We don’t know where we’re going to get the money – that’s the problem.”
Domenici said that he and Campbell supported the project,even though it has had plenty of opposition. “Those people who were opposed are probably laughing at us,” he said.
Both senators agreed that it would be unfair for local water users to pick up the unforeseen cost increases.
“Water partners should not have to pay for the bureau’s mistakes,” Domenici.
Raley indicated he is confident the bureau could meet its current cost projection. He also said that the bureau had worked to revise its procedure to ensure that future projects are completed within their allotted budgets,particularly under Section 683 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
It requires that the government allow American Indian tribes to contract for any work that affects them. Raley said he didn’t believe the cost overruns were a result of Section 683.
A second panel of witnesses included L. Randy Kirkpatrick,executive director of the San Juan Water Commission; Richard K. Griswold on behalf of the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District; Howard Richards,chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; and Selwyn Whiteskunk,councilman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.