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Bureau of Reclamation nominee Camille Touton garners bipartisan support in Senate hearing

Sept. 21, 2021 Updated Tue., Sept. 21, 2021 at 8:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the federal agency that manages water and power in the American West received bipartisan support in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, signaling she will likely be confirmed as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Appearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – the same panel on which she served as a policy adviser to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., from 2017 to 2019 – Camille Touton said she was ready to take on the challenge posed by historic drought, telling senators she recognized that “managing water in the West is complex, even in the best of times.”

“The drought has very real implications on people and the environment,” Touton said. “Farmers, whose life’s work is to put food on America’s table, worry about the ability to put food on their own. Tribal communities who fear for the loss of species of cultural significance. Communities who see the low reservoirs and worry about their water supply. Ecosystems and species that are stressed to the brink.”

If confirmed, the Nevada native would be the first Filipino American and just the second woman to lead the Bureau of Reclamation. She has been serving as the agency’s deputy commissioner, a position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation, since January, and Biden nominated her for the Senate-confirmed commissioner role in June.

Responding to a question from Cantwell on how water resources should be better managed, Touton cited an effort that began in 2013 to resolve competing water claims in the Yakima River Basin.

“The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is the model for the West,” Touton told Cantwell. “It balances the needs of agriculture along with the restoration of the largest salmon run in the continental United States and values the cultural significance of the Yakama Nation, and so moving forward, we need to be able to support this type of activities.”

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Central Washington Republican, sent a letter to committee chairman Sen. Joe Manchin and ranking member Sen. John Barrasso on Monday endorsing Touton, citing her work on that same effort during her time as an aide to Cantwell, who was then the top Democrat on the committee.

“Ms. Touton’s nomination demonstrates a continued tradition of putting forth pragmatic, solutions-oriented leaders to head Reclamation,” Newhouse wrote, “and I am confident in her ability to address the water storage, delivery, and supply needs of families, businesses, agriculture producers, tribes, local governments, and ecosystems throughout the West.”

Since its formation in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation has built more than 600 dams and reservoirs throughout the West, including Grand Coulee Dam and the irrigation canals of the Columbia Basin Project. The agency delivers water to 31 million Americans, irrigates 10 million acres of farmland and is the country’s second-biggest producer of hydroelectric power.

The Energy and Natural Resources committee will vote on Touton’s nomination in a future meeting, which has not been announced.

If approved by a majority of the panel’s members, her nomination will proceed to a final vote in the full Senate.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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