More water agencies are daring to fight biological opinions that they believe are flawed
Jan 11, 2013
More water agencies are daring to fight biological opinions that they believe are flawed, including the Yuba County Water Agency that believes a biological opinion that calls for removing Englebright and Daguerre Point dams has "a host of problems, including flawed science, failure to consider other environmental impacts from its recommendations and unreasonable deadlines for compliance." We've seen a lack of confidence in science before with regard to the Delta Smelt.
There are similar complaints with Klamath issues where in a complaint filed this week, "a group of federal scientists...is claiming U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials are threatening to eliminate their jobs because the agency was unhappy with their scientific conclusions." What would those conclusions be? Might they be finding evidence that destroying the dams isn't the correct decision? As a matter of fact, one of the scientists working on the project "complained that reports on the Klamath River were being edited to favor removal of the four dams on the river. Other information raising alarms about the dam removal was being edited out, he said."
So, once again, it looks like they're doing scientific studies to come to the conclusion they have before the studies began. If the scientists don't come to the politically correct conclusions, their jobs are threatened.
New legal battle over Yuba River
Citing potential economic impact and effects on water reliability and flood control improvements, the Yuba County Water Agency filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday to throw out a biological opinion that calls for removing Englebright and Daguerre Point dams.
If the National Marine Fisheries Service's opinion on how to restore endangered fish runs on the Yuba River proceeds, according to YCWA, Yuba County could lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually from water transfers and hydroelectric power.
"We've tried to proceed in collaborative fashion for a long time," said Water Agency General Manager Curt Aikens.
The agency has repeatedly requested changes and improvements in the opinion, he said, "but now we've run out of time without any real solid answers on how this will be addressed."
The 64-page lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Sacramento, asks the Fisheries Service to revise the opinion and also asks the US Army Corps of Engineers to stop any actions toward complying with it.
Chris Gray, a spokesman for the corps' Sacramento division, said agency policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
"We're still doing our best to work with everyone involved to find a solution on these issues," he said.
Jim Milbury, a spokesman for the Fisheries Service, said his agency was aware of the suit but had not reviewed it.
According to the suit, the Fisheries Service's biological opinion has a host of problems, including flawed science, failure to consider other environmental impacts from its recommendations and unreasonable deadlines for compliance.
Aikens said among the opinion's suggestions, requiring certain water flows for salmon runs, would make it difficult for the agency to have reliable supply to produce energy or sell for irrigation.
Proceeds from such operations, according to the agency, help meet a required local cost share of flood-control improvements such as the Marysville ring levee project.
"We think that we have very solid, factual reasons for seeking to overturn that opinion," said Roger Abe, a Yuba County supervisor and chairman of the agency's board of directors.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.
By Damon Arthur
For the second time in a year, scientists working on Klamath River issues are complaining government officials are breaching ethics laws by trying to influence their work.
In a complaint filed this week, a group of federal scientists working on Klamath River issues is claiming U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials are threatening to eliminate their jobs because the agency was unhappy with their scientific conclusions.
A group that filed a complaint on the employees’ behalf said the seven biologists are being reassigned, and the Klamath Basin Area Office will no longer do studies on endangered species.
A group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the complaint this week with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Executive Secretariat and Regulatory Affairs, the source of a similar complaint in February 2012. The bureau is part of the Department of the Interior.
In that complaint Paul Houser, the former scientific integrity officer in the executive secretariat’s office, complained that reports on the Klamath River were being edited to favor removal of the four dams on the river.
Other information raising alarms about the dam removal was being edited out, he said.
“They’re related,” Houser said of the two complaints Wednesday. “I think they’re on the same topic – scientific integrity issues and the KBRA (Klamath Basin area) and dam removal.”
The Klamath Basin has been controversial for decades, as farmers, ranchers, environmentalists and Indian tribes fight over water in the basin.
The most recent complaint alleges that the manager of the Klamath Area Office, Jason Phillips, threatened the biologists and attempted to coerce by shutting down the fisheries branch office because he was unhappy with their findings.
“Instead of using sound science, Mr. Phillips wants only non-controversial science and is moving to achieve that preference by eliminating his own agency’s scientists and disregarding their scientifically sound findings,” the complaint says.
But a bureau spokesman called the issue a misunderstanding, saying Phillips was only interested in trying to run his office more efficiently. He was not trying to influence the biologists’ work, said Pete Lucero, a spokesman for the bureau.
In a letter to the local president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, Klamath Area Office Manager Jason Phillips said the scientists in the office’s fisheries branch had lost their credibility with other agencies with whom they work.
“Many perceive our efforts as inherently biased, considering that in some cases the Klamath Project contributes to species decline,” Phillips wrote in a memo to the NFFE.
“There’s a concern that KBAO will not consider these effects objectively and that in some cases we are simply carrying out studies to contradict the science of other agencies and tribes,” Phillips wrote.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said Phillips’ memo, as well as other meetings with the employees and union, were an attempt to influence their work as scientists.
“Requiring that science be non-controversial is like ordering your omelet made with un-cracked eggs,” Ruch said. “Scientific differences are supposed to be addressed through consultation, not suppressed by bullying and threats.”
But Pete Lucero, a spokesman for the bureau, said the memo was intended to open a discussion about reorganizing the Klamath office to make it operate more efficiently.
The U.S. Geological Survey does work similar to that of the bureau’s scientists, so it may be more efficient to have that agency do more studies, Lucero said. While Phillips’ memo does not mention trying to making his department more efficient, Lucero said Phillips’ memo was intended to open a discussion with the union about that.
He said no employees have been reassigned and no decisions have been made to reorganize the office.
“None of this is a done deal,” Lucero said.
“The reality is this is supposed to open a discussion,” Lucero said. “We probably could have written that memo better.”
But Ruch said the bureau has not issued any further memos refuting Phillips’ plans to shutter the fisheries branch. He questioned the tone of the memo as an opener for discussions.
“If telling people they are going to lose their jobs is a way to start a conversation, then he needs to go to management finishing school,” Ruch said.
As scientific integrity officer, Houser evaluated complaints like the one filed by the seven biologists. He said shortly after Phillips sent out his memo in November someone anonymously faxed it to him.
“This action to eliminate an office because its product is controversial is a breach of scientific integrity,” said Houser, an associate hydrology professor at George Mason University.
Houser has settled a separate whistleblower complaint, but part of the settlement included an agreement that no one would comment on it.
There still has been no ruling on Houser’s other complaint that government officials were cleansing opposing views from decision-making documents, he said.
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