U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt this week announced two actions intended to expedite the transfer of eligible Bureau of Reclamation facilities into local ownership and management — a new “Categorical Exclusion” and an update of Reclamation’s operating manual procedures to streamline the title transfer process.
“These actions make it easier for water users to take title – ownership – to simple and non-complicated Reclamation facilities by expediting the process following direction from President Trump and Congress. Streamlining the title transfer process incentivizes new non-federal investment in water infrastructure and allows for more efficient management of water and water-related facilities,” said Interior in a press release.
The agency said such limited conveyance of federal Reclamation projects or facilities, such as diversion dams, canals, laterals and other water-related facilities, will benefit local water beneficiaries “who will have greater autonomy and flexibility in managing these facilities.”
Interior says local ownership will provide financial collateral for capital improvements that could be made at these transferred facilities.
“Ultimately, the American taxpayer benefits from the eligible transfers covered under these actions since divestiture decreases federal liability.”
“This new title transfer process embodies the President’s goals of streamlining bureaucratic processes and making our government more efficient and accountable,” said Bernhardt. “Title transfers are a win for local communities and a win for the American taxpayer. The Department looks forward to continuing our work with local water users to reduce title transfer costs, stimulate infrastructure investment through local ownership with the bottom line goal of making this new streamlined approach a major success.”
“Reclamation and non-federal entities have worked together for many years on specific title transfers that can become time-consuming and costly,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “This new streamlined title transfer process – including the new Categorical Exclusion and the new authority provided by Congress – will allow for appropriate transfers to take place without congressional legislation in a more timely and cost-effective manner.”
This week’s actions follow President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request on “title transfer” activities and the recent enactment of S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (Dingell Act).
Bernhardt’s first administrative action to facilitate title transfers is a Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act. The new Categorical Exclusion – submitted to the Federal Register – is the first one for Reclamation in decades. The Categorical Exclusion lists a number of criteria that will determine if simple, non-controversial or uncomplicated facility transfers can be expedited under NEPA.
The second action is in response to enactment of Title VIII of the Dingell Act, in which Reclamation is allowed to transfer title of certain types of Reclamation facilities that will no longer require authorizing legislation at the end of the process. As part of this action, Reclamation updated its operating manual to implement the law and the new Categorical Exclusion.
Each title transfer, says Interior, will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if the new Categorical Exclusion and the new authority would apply.
The new categorical exclusion and the title transfer process is available on Reclamation’s Title Transfer website https://www.usbr.gov/title/