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US Reclamation Title Transfers in Idaho - Process Improvements Under Discussion

Posted By Johanna M. Bell, Sunday, February 11, 2018
Updated: Saturday, February 10, 2018

Since 1996, Reclamation has transferred title to thirty (30) projects or parts of projects across the West pursuant to various acts of Congress.  Successful title transfers of Reclamation projects in Idaho since 1998 generally provided mutual benefits to both Reclamation and the non-federal entities involved.

Reclamation has recognized that there were many more entities that might be good candidates to take title, but had not pursued it for various reasons.  In an effort to work with non-federal entities who are interested in pursuing title transfers, Reclamation developed a process in 2004 to facilitate additional title transfers in a consistent and comprehensive way known as the Framework for the Transfer of Title.  In spite of some successes, including those in Idaho, Reclamation and others see that the current process still takes too long and discourages some good candidates from coming forward.

To examine the existing title transfer process and potential benefits to federal and non-federal stakeholders, the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Water and Energy Subcommittee, held a hearing on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

Austin Ewell, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science of the U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI), testified and provided five suggestions to improve the title transfer process.

  • Congress should authorize the UDOI Secretary, through the Bureau of Reclamation, to administratively transfer titles to projects and facilities based specific established eligibility criteria.
  • The process to develop title transfer agreements under a title transfer program should be open, public, and transparent.
  • There should be the development of categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act that applies to title transfers.
  • Existence of hydropower on a Reclamation project provides additional complexities in the process that need to be addressed legislatively.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation recommends statutory language to ensure Reclamation law continues to control project water regardless of title transfer, especially when only a portion of a project is transferred.

As discussed by Paul Arrington with with Idaho Water Users Association during the January hearing, Idaho has a rich history of title transfer involving Reclamation projects. In fact, one of the first Title Transfers of a Reclamation project involved the Burley Irrigation District in Southern Idaho in 1998. Since that time, other successful Idaho Title Transfers include Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District in 2001, Fremont Madison Irrigation District in 2004, and American Falls Reservoir District #2 in 2008.  

Transfer proposals that have been initiated but not yet completed include those with Pioneer Irrigation District and the City of Caldwell.  Other transfers planned for the future include the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District in Lewiston, Idaho and the Minidoka Irrigation District. Minidoka is currently waiting on Reclamation to draft a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the issues to be addressed in a title transfer.

Idaho cities interested in assessing potential benefits of title transfers from Reclamation are encouraged to review the presence and conditions of Reclamation conveyances within their city limits.  


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