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Moving Isn't Such a Hot Idea

October 06, 1987

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation rode high, wide and handsome. The bureau's success at building great dams and reservoirs, and turning deserts green, was epitomized in those days by its flamboyant and cocky director, Floyd Dominy. "He was a magician with Congress," an acquaintance once said. "His friends there would do anything for him."

But the bureau fell on hard times in the late 1970s and 1980s. All the best projects had been built or were under construction. Environmentalists mocked the agency as the Bureau of Wrecklamation. And along came Jimmy Carter with his water-project hit list. The Carter Administration, recognizing the altered role of reclamation, changed its name to Water and Power Resources Services.

The Reagan Administration restored the traditional name, but was stingy with money for projects. In fact, it carried out the bungled Carter plan of making state and local governments put up matching funds for reclamation projects. And now the Administration has decided to officially change the mission of the bureau of recognize reality. No longer will it be a dam-building agency, but will concentrate on conservation of supplies, coordination of ongoing operations, groundwater management and the cleanup of environmental damage like selenium in California's San Joaquin Valley.

The modernization of the bureau's goals is commendable. Questionable, however, is the parent Interior Department's decision to relocate bureau headquarters from Washington to Denver, including the office of the Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of Interior for water and science. The bureau would have a staff of only five or six left in Washington.

Even though its dam-building role has changed, and Denver is nearer to Reclamation's big projects, the bureau still has considerable important business to conduct with Congress, and Congress with the bureau. Interior officials should give a strong second thought to this relocation proposal.

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