Washington, D.C. – On December 15, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and five other House Democrats sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging the federal government to recover $84.8 million in taxpayer funds that were misused to benefit a select few wealthy San Joaquin Valley agricultural water districts participating in the controversial Delta Tunnels planning process.
In September, the Inspector General for DOI issued a 42-page audit detailing the misuse of the money and the recommendations made to Reclamation to avoid similar misspending from taking place in the future. “The Bureau of Reclamation was not transparent in its financial participation in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,“ the title of the audit summed up.
Governor Brown and members of his administration have continually said that taxpayers will not pay for the construction of the tunnels, but the conclusions reached in the federal audit reveal that federal taxpayers have indeed already paid over $84.8 million to subsidize the widely-unpopular project.
The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) had approved these payments for the planning costs of the California WaterFix, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), but did not disclose them to Congress, as required by law, nor to other Central Valley Project water users, stakeholders, and the public
Huffman’s letter, cosigned by Northern California Representatives Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Atherton), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), Mike Thompson (D-Saint Helena), Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), requests Secretary Zinke to recover the missing funds and “to shed more light on the scheme,” including whether similar undisclosed subsidies were provided to any other parties, or if the water districts that benefitted from this arrangement might still be reimbursed by taxpayers.
“These decisions by the Interior Department, dating back to 2007, appear to violate multiple laws and policies, including the state law requirement that the beneficiaries of a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta conveyance facility must pay for ‘costs of the environmental review, planning, design, construction, and mitigation’ of any new facility,” the Representatives wrote.
“We look forward to hearing how you intend to correct this situation, and to ensure that future work by your Department is conducted in a transparent manner that does not undermine the law and the Congressional appropriations process,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers requested Secretary Zinke to reply to the following questions by January 31, 2018:
- “How do you intend to ensure that the Bureau of Reclamation recoups the tens of millions of dollars that improperly subsidized water contractors’ participation in the WaterFix project? This is not a congressionally authorized project, and the Bureau of Reclamation has repeatedly conceded that it cannot fund or participate in its construction. We believe these undisclosed subsidies to this select group of water contractors amount to an invisible tax on other Central Valley Project contractors and taxpayers, none of whom should be on the hook for these project expenses.
- Does the $84.8 million identified in the Inspector General’s report represent the total amount spent on this project through this method?
- Of the $84.8 million identified in the report, how much of the funding did the Bureau of Reclamation credit toward water contractors’ existing CVP obligations, including capital costs and operation and maintenance, or toward costs included in the Firebaughsettlement? Crucially, how do you intend to ensure that these CVP contractors do not get reimbursed by taxpayers for planning costs that were subsidized by taxpayers in the first place?
- Was this same funding mechanism used in, or is it still being used in, any other Interior Department planning processes?
- What changes have you made at the Department in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations, which included significant new procedures and controls so that federal funding could not be inappropriately recategorized as ‘nonreimbursable’ without cause?”
The Representatives also wrote, “The revelations in this alarming report, which identifies numerous apparent violations of law and policy, contradict the Interior Department’s prior claims regarding the level of federal support for the project. We believe that the Department must recapture the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that were misspent.”
To date, nobody involved in the Delta Tunnels illegal funding scheme has been reprimanded, fired or held accountable — nor have any measures been taken to recover the money ripped off from the taxpayers to support the unpopular California WaterFix.
The Delta Tunnels plan, renamed the California WaterFix in 2015, features two massive 35-mile-long tunnels under the Delta to export Sacramento River water to the Westlands Water District, Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s agribusiness operations in Kern County and other big growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The tunnels would also provide water for Southern California water agencies and for fracking and other extreme oil extraction operations in Kern County.
The IG investigation resulted from a complaint the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed on the behalf of a Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016. The complaint detailed how a funding agreement with the California Department of Water Resources was “illegally siphoning off funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to a project that will principally benefit irrigators” under the California WaterFix. More information: www.counterpunch.org/…
Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu, commented on Facebook about how the same federal government that misused $84.8 million of taxpayers’ money for the Delta Tunnels has failed to find the money to restore wild winter run Chinook to the McCloud River above Lake Shasta.
“Where are the funds for the Wild Chinook return and swim-way study?” Chief Sisk asked. “This is about salmon, not more water to Westlands and Resnicks! We are desperately fund raising to return our wild winter run Chinook from New Zealand to the McCloud River while money is spent by the very agencies hoarding all the water and charging outrageous water prices!”
The Inspector General’s audit is not the only example of financial misspending that has plagued the California WaterFix planning process. On October 5, State Auditor Elaine Howle released an audit on the WaterFix revealing extensive mismanagement by the Department of Water Resources, including the violation of state contracting laws, spending millions of dollars over anticipated costs, and failure to complete either an economic or financial analysis.
Not only does the Delta Tunnels proposal not make any economic or financial sense, but the project, at its core, is based on the unscientific and untenable premise that diverting more water from a river and estuary will somehow magically restore that river or estuary.
I have challenged numerous Brown administration officials in my writings and testimony at meetings to give me one single example in U.S. or world history where a project designed to divert water from a river system or estuary has resulted in the restoration of that river system or estuary. Not one Delta Tunnels proponent has been able to answer that question.
The construction of the Delta Tunnels would likely result in the extinction of winter and spring Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, as well as imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.
For more information, go to: www.dailykos.com/…