On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, the House will consider H.R. 678, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, under a modified open rule. H.R. 678 was introduced by Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) on February 13, 2013 and has eleven cosponsors. The bill was reported out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on March 25, 2013 by a vote of 17-12.
H. R. 678 allows Bureau of Reclamation (the Bureau) conduit facilities to produce hydropower, consistent with federal reclamation law, by reducing unnecessary and duplicative administrative and regulatory costs. First, the bill explicitly authorizes hydropower development at the Bureau, which would then issue leases of power privilege to give non-federal entities the right to generate power and pay lease fees to the federal government. The bill also requires the Bureau to give the first right of refusal to entities already operating and maintaining the conduits or other direct water supply beneficiaries. Finally, H.R. 678 exempts small conduit facilities (those five megawatts or less) from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
 Conduits are canals and pipelines.
According to the Committee, “Congress established the Bureau of Reclamation in 1902 to make the desert bloom.” Decades later, the Bureau continues to provide reliable water and power supplies to the West. While larger projects such as the Grand Coulee Dam located in Washington State are relatively well-known, smaller single source projects were not envisioned for hydropower. As a result, there is significant potential – particularly as technology has enabled developers to “harness the energy of moving water in canals and pipelines.” Moreover, according to the Committee, the “net effect of H.R. 678 is that hydro development would be explicitly authorized at almost 47,000 miles of reclamation conduits and that it will be developed at a cost-effective way to produce renewable and emissions-free energy that will empower local economic development and jobs while generating federal revenue and protecting the environment.”
It is also worth noting, that as a result of past considerations of the bill, last September, the Bureau instituted a NEPA categorical exclusion policy as it relates to conduit hydropower development. However, to date, the Bureau has yet to implement the policy. For more information on previous considerations, please click here.
Finally, below is a chart compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation identifying states, number of suitable sites, and energy potential.
Table 1: Energy and Capacity by State
Potential Installed Capacity (kW)
Potential Annual Energy (kWh)
Source: Bureau of Reclamation Report: “Site Inventory and Hydropower Energy Assessment of Reclamation Owned Conduits”, March 2012
 See id, page 2.
 See id, page 3.
A CBO estimate for H.R. 678 estimated that the bill would increase revenues to the United States Treasury by $1 million over ten years.
1. Representative Napolitano (D-CA) Amendment #1 – amendment strikes the bill’s NEPA waiver provision and increases the megawatt limitation in the bill from 5 to 15. This amendment eliminates regulatory relief provisions aimed at jumpstarting hydropower at existing man-made facilities that have already gone through environmental review. The megawatt increase is functionally meaningless since all Bureau of Reclamation conduit hydropower projects would be under 5 megawatts.
2. Representative Tipton (R-CO) Amendment #2 – amendment makes a number of technical changes and clarifications to the bill.
3. Representative Tipton (R-CO) Amendment #3 – amendment strikes the bill’s NEPA waiver provision but directs the Bureau of Reclamation to apply its NEPA categorical exclusion (CE) process on small conduit hydropower projects, excluding siting of associated transmission facilities on Federal lands. This essentially codifies the Bureau’s existing CE policy but specifies that it applies to projects in the bill, which will reduce potential litigation and give regulatory certainty since the existing CE is inadequate in these areas.