Another Audit Faults Reclamation Illegal Irrigator Subsidies
Has Interior Leadership Void Enabled Allowed Reclamation to Go Totally Rogue?
Washington, DC — A new federal audit report finds the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has cost taxpayers millions by failing to collect for nearly a decade moneys owed by Klamath Basin irrigators. This comes on the heels of another audit finding that Reclamation has “wasted” millions more in illegal payments to these same irrigators. Both audits are fueling calls by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and others to hold individual Reclamation officials to account and to reform the troubled agency.
The latest audit by the Office of Inspector General (IG) for the Interior Department concludes that Reclamation never collected “repayment of millions of dollars of costs incurred to design, construct, and operate and maintain new head gates and fish screens” within the vast Klamath Project. These gates and screens are supposed to keep federally protected fish “in the river and out of the Klamath project irrigation canals,” according to the IG report dated September 27, 2016 but released this month.
In another audit report dated October 11, 2016, the IG found that Reclamation improperly siphoned $32 million in federal funds intended for drought contingency planning and helping struggling fish populations to a Klamath irrigator’s group over several years without the least bit of legal authority to do so.
While Reclamation has yet to respond to the IG audit on head gates and fish screens, it disputes the IG report on the $32 million in irrigator payments, refusing to change its practices or recoup moneys illegally spent. This intra-agency dispute has been referred to Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget for resolution. But that post has been vacant since 2014, and even the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary left yesterday for a new job. Meanwhile Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has delegated her authority to respond to a related probe by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to the Commissioner of Reclamation.
“It looks like the Interior Secretary is letting the inmates run the asylum,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, whose organization is representing Reclamation employees who are blowing the whistle on illegal and environmentally tone-deaf actions by the agency. “If the current Secretary will not impose adult supervision, we will urge that her successor commit to implementing obviously overdue reforms of the Bureau of Reclamation as a condition of confirmation.”
Other shoes are also expected to drop on Reclamation, including a pending IG audit of how Reclamation is allowing the California Water Resources Department to illegally siphon off funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to its controversial Delta Tunnel Project that will principally benefit irrigators. This ongoing probe was also prompted by whistleblower complaints funneled through PEER.
“The unmistakable pattern in all these investigations is that Reclamation is ripping off fish and wildlife assistance to further reward already heavily subsidized irrigators, often for activities to the detriment of fish and wildlife,” added Dinerstein. “Both taxpayers and the environment are utterly ill-served by current Reclamation policies and leaders. Fundamental change in Reclamation is imperative.”