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Dams For Sale: The Ins and Outs of Federal Facility Transfers

William H. Holmes, Proceedings of 43d Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1997)

The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) prides itself on being the largest wholesale supplier of water in the United [24-3] States as well as one of the country's largest hydroelectric power generators. Reclamation owns 343 storage dams and reservoirs, 58 hydroelectric power plants, and 54,550 miles of conveyance and distribution facilities.2 But Reclamation is being transformed by Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, the process by which the federal government is to be reinvented. One result of this effort is Reclamation's facility transfer initiative, under which Reclamation plans to sell uncomplicated projects or parts of projects to willing buyers.3

Reclamation's transfer policy is succinctly stated in its Framework for the Transfer of Title, which was issued in August 1995.4 Although Reclamation has since completed three title transfers, two of these occurred pursuant to pre-Framework legislation and the other involved the settlement of a contract dispute. The Framework itself remains somewhat untested, although Reclamation is using it in over a dozen ongoing negotiations with potential purchasers.

Congress has also considered several pieces of project-specific transfer legislation, as well as one proposal that would have given Reclamation broad authority to transfer assets. The transfer concept has therefore been addressed at some length i