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A big appointment

Will Gale Norton or Dirk Kempthorne make the next big appointment within the Department of Interior: Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation?

And what are the chances that this person might be Idaho’s director of water resources, Karl Dreher?

John KeysQuestion arises because of word emerging today that John Keys, commissioner since 2001 (and a BuRec guy for four decades), will retire on April 15. Curious, the timing coming just at the time of change of interior secretaries. But it does raise the question of who gets to make the choice of a replacement. (The president could dictate if he chose; ordinarily, interior secs can make the call with approval of the president.)

The difficulty is that no one yet knows how long it may be before Kempthorne takes over the secretariat – six weeks? Three months? Maybe more?

Or might Norton and Kempthorne work out the appointment between them? If they did, one reasonable prospect emerges: Karl Dreher, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Karl DreherThere’s precedent for a BuRec commissioner coming from exactly that position: Keith Higginson did it when Cecil Andrus went from governor to interior secretary. In this case, there’s another factor. Norton is from Colorado, where she was attorney general. Dreher is from Colorado, too, a substantial figure in the water wars on the Fron Range, and with a creditable enough record there that his move to Idaho came with no serious controversy. Nor has Dreher been a very controversial figure in Idaho – at least considering what might have been, bearing in mind the sensitivity of water issues over the last decade or so.

No inside information here. But it is a credible possibility …

UPDATE On the other hand, there’s some talk among people knowledgable about the water bureaucracy that Dreher might not be the guy.

From 1975-82, Dreher ” worked for the Bureau of Reclamation where he headed the Analytical Design Group in the Concrete Dams Section. During his tenure with the Bureau, Mr. Dreher performed or directed various levels of design, analysis, and evaluation for 7 major concrete dams and their foundations.” Then he left for a private firm, and has worked with a range of public and private employers on impressive projects around the globe – but never seemed to head back to federal employment. Speculation is that Dreher may not be interested.

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