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Letter to Inspectors General Earl E. Devaney and Johnnie E. Frazier

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown


Title: Letter to Inspectors General Earl E. Devaney and Johnnie E. Frazier
Date: 10/8/2004
Location: Unknown

Earl E. Devaney
Inspector General
US Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Mail Stop 5341
Washington, D.C. 20240

Johnnie E. Frazier
Inspector General
US Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230

October 8, 2004

Dear Mr. Devaney and Mr. Frazier:

We are writing to request that you investigate allegations that the Bureau of Reclamation, in its haste to finalize water contracts in California, has improperly undermined the required NOAA Fisheries environmental review process for the proposed long-term Operations, Criteria, and Plan (OCAP) for the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP). This is especially troubling given the recent history of political intervention in NOAA Fisheries' review process, which resulted in the well-documented and catastrophic failure to protect the fish of the Klamath River.

On August 20, 2004, several members of California's congressional delegation wrote to Reclamation Commissioner John Keys with concerns about the Bureau's renewal process for long-term CVP water contracts. We explained our belief that fundamental fiscal and environmental principles might be violated by this process, and asked that the Bureau take action to guarantee full public participation and review.

In that letter, the Bureau of Reclamation was asked to guarantee that the public could review the impact of these massive contracts on endangered salmon. Specifically, the Bureau was asked to "extend the comment period on all of the proposed contracts" so that all relevant NOAA Fisheries studies could be fully evaluated. This request reinforced the guidelines set out by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 (CVPIA), which establishes as a central purpose of the CVP the protection of fish, wildlife, and associated habitat.

Unfortunately, it now appears that even further public review may not ensure that the CVPIA's direction is adequately followed, as the Bureau may have successfully subverted the process before anything is made available to the public. The Sacramento Bee reported on October 2, 2004, that "biologists with NOAA Fisheries... concluded in August that a plan to pump more water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could jeopardize endangered salmon and other fish." Yet the NOAA Fisheries Biological Opinion evidently has now been modified to state that the fish will not be placed in jeopardy by the OCAP. The article concludes that these changes would "substantially weaken protections for endangered winter-run salmon, steelhead trout and other fish." We are concerned that this political interference may be repeated when NOAA Fisheries performs its required consultation on the long-term contract renewals, which we understand will be initiated after the OCAP consultation is complete.

Officials quoted in the article suggest that this "document sharing is commonplace" and that changes were made to "ensure they had appropriately interpreted the Bureau's plans." However, given the scope of the changes, and the Bureau's track record of meager analysis and secrecy, we believe that this explanation is insufficient.

We urge you to investigate this case, as these actions are counter to the spirit and requirements of the CVPIA and the Endangered Species Act, and may further undermine public confidence in the Bureau of Reclamation's and NOAA Fisheries' ability to appropriately manage the resources that the public has entrusted to them. Such an investigation should determine:

Who was involved in the revision process;

Whether the documents were distributed to, or revised by, anyone at the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of the Interior, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), or any representative of a CVP or DWR contractor;
If the changes to the document can accurately be described as the result of "commonplace"collaboration between agencies, or if the new NOAA Fisheries draft reflects more substantive revisions;

Whether political appointees at the Bureau, NOAA Fisheries, the Department of the Interior, or the White House were involved in overruling the initial findings; and

What contacts were made by the Bureau, the DWR, or any representatives of their contractors in an attempt to influence the process.

As you know, the biological opinion for the Klamath River released by the Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries in the spring of 2002 was immediately challenged by conservation, tribal, and commercial fishing groups concerned that not be enough water would remain to protect fish. Their concerns that political pressure had overruled scientific evidence were ignored. The Klamath River endured the largest fish kill on record in September of that same year, and a judge has since described that biological opinion as "arbitrary and capricious" and in violation of the Endangered Species Act. We are very concerned that we may be witnessing a similar catastrophic failure of oversight in California.

As the Bureau of Reclamation has not yet altered its public comment period schedule in response to numerous requests from members of Congress and other stakeholders, we believe that this investigation must proceed immediately. We ask that you notify us by October 15, 2004, as to whether and how you will investigate this matter.

Sincerely,

Representatives George Miller, Nancy Pelosi, Nick J. Rahall, Mike Thompson, Edward J. Markey, Anna G. Eshoo, Ellen O. Tauscher, Howard Berman, Sam Farr, Lois Capps, Tom Lantos, Barbara Lee, Raúl M. Grijalva, Lynn C. Woolsey, Michael M. Honda, Eliot L. Engel, Hilda L. Solis, Dennis J. Kucinich, Henry A. Waxman

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