Reclamation Law

Changes Needed Before Water Service Contracts Are Renewed Gao ID: RCED-91-175 August 22, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) identified environmental and water use problems associated with the irrigation practices carried out under the Bureau of Reclamation's water service contracts in the Central Valley Project (CVP); and (2) determined whether contract renewals would allow such problems to continue.

GAO found that: (1) agricultural drainage has degraded the quality of the San Joaquin Valley's water supply and soil, poisoning wildlife and threatening agricultural productivity with selenium accumulation and increasing salinity; (2) since most CVP water is dedicated to irrigation through water service contracts, the supply of water available for wildlife habitat is not adequate; (3) some farmers use CVP water to produce crops that are also eligible for subsidies under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) commodity programs, causing Congress to express concern over the apparent inconsistency between the Bureau's programs for increasing agricultural production through inexpensive subsidized water and USDA programs for raising prices while limiting production; (4) increased irrigation efficiency and conservation could reduce environmental degradation caused by agricultural runoff and drainage, while freeing water currently diverted for irrigation and other uses, but the low cost of federal irrigation water is a disincentive to increased irrigation efficiency; (5) the Department of the Interior believes that, since long-term renewal of contracts for the same quantities of water is nondiscretionary, it is not required to change its provisions as a result of environmental impact statements; and (6) continuing irrigation practices carried out under existing contract provisions compromise other national interests such as environmental protection and wildlife conservation.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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