In a letter sent to Senators Warren, Blumenthal, and Harris today, California water, fishing, environmental organizations and tribal leaders are raising serious ethical questions about acting interior secretary David Bernhardt.
A brutal confirmation fight is expected soon in the Senate as President Trump has now nominated Bernhardt to permanently lead the Department of the Interior. Bernhardt has served as deputy secretary since early in the Trump administration, and became acting secretary after Ryan Zinke resigned in December 2018 under an ethical cloud.
Bernhardt brings multiple conflicts of interest to this position.
“Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest related to his work with Westlands Water District are well documented. He is working rewrite the rules of California water management for the benefit of the Westlands at the expense of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and California urban water users. His advancement to Secretary of the Interior needs to be stopped, and his work as Deputy Secretary needs to be investigated by the Inspector General,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, director of Restore the Delta in Stockton.
Bernhardt has served as one of the main architects of the Trump administration’s agenda. CNN has reported that since Bernhardt joined Interior in 2017, the agency has made at least 15 policy changes, decisions or proposals that would directly benefit Bernhardt’s former clients, mostly regarding oil industry concerns.
But California groups warn Congress that Bernhardt’s clients also included California’s powerful Westlands Water District. In his lobbying disclosures, Bernhardt had listed “potential legislation regarding the Bureau of Reclamation and the Endangered Species Act” under his specific lobbying areas, including trying to minimize protections for endangered fish populations due to limited water flows.
Bernhardt signed an executive branch ethics pledge required him to refrain from participating in decisions that he previously worked on as a lobbyist for two years. Activists believe he has not honored this pledge and warn that he is now participating in decision that would send more water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary to Fresno-based Westlands and weak endangered fish protections.
In the letter sent today California organizations warn that:
- Westlands is seeking a permanent water contract to replace their two-year interim contract under Section 4011 of the WIIN Act whereby they will be free from acreage limitations and full cost pricing of water deliveries. The contract is being negotiated in secret and could allow for the permanent delivery of 1 million acre-feet of water per year, enough for 1 to 2 million households annually, for the benefit of under 400 farms, despite drought conditions in California. No public record exists of how this will impact public trust resources and water planning in California.
- The Secretary of Interior could rule as soon as April, 2019 determining the financial conditions for this permanent water contract with such dramatic changes. Yet, questions remain unanswered about Westlands Water District’s obligation to repay its share of over $80 million back to the Federal Government for unauthorized Delta tunnels planning expenses. Presently, the Delta tunnels project, known as California WaterFix, has been placed on hold by Governor Newsom to allow for the possible redevelopment of a single tunnel project for California’s State Water Project. Westlands is no longer a participating member in WaterFix planning.
The coalition sending the letter today includes: The Planning an Conservation League, AquAlliance, Crab Boat Owners Association, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, Environmental Water Caucus, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Sierra Club California, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Institute for Fisheries Resources, CA Save our Streams Council, California Water Impact Network, Save the Amereican River Association, Local Agencies of the Delta, Restore the Delta, North Coast Rivers Alliance, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
NEWS WORTH NOTING: President proposes $1.1 billion budget for Reclamation in fiscal year 2020; California groups issue Bernhardt warning; EDF, Audubon urge CA to finalize Drought Contingency Plan
President proposes $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2020 budget for Bureau of Reclamation
From the Bureau of Reclamation:
President Donald Trump today proposed a $1.1 billion Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The budget supports the Administration’s and Interior’s goals of ensuring reliable and environmentally responsible delivery of water and power for farms, communities and industry, while providing Reclamation with tools to confront the widening imbalances between supply and demand throughout the West.
“This budget reaffirms the Administration’s commitment to water and power reliability,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “A significant portion of this request is dedicated to improving existing infrastructure, including dams and reservoirs, and alleviating the impact of current and future droughts, so the West can continue to be the engine that drives our nation’s economy for years to come.”
Reclamation’s FY 2020 budget of $1.110 billion consists of $962.0 million for Water and Related Resources, $60.0 million for Policy and Administration, $33.0 million for the California Bay Delta account and $54.8 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund.
The proposed budget includes $114.1 million in appropriations for various projects for Extraordinary Maintenance (XM) activities across Reclamation. Reclamation’s XM budget is part of its overall asset management strategy to improve the management of its assets and deal with aging infrastructure challenges. Significant additional XM items are directly funded by revenues, water and power customers, or other federal agencies (e.g., Bonneville Power Administration).
Reclamation provides services through many of its projects and programs to fulfill its trust responsibilities to Tribes. The FY 2020 budget request includes a total of $132.9 million for Indian water rights settlements. This includes funding of $69.2 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, $12.8 million for the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement, $8.3 million for the Aamodt Litigation Settlement, and $10.0 million for the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement. Other settlements include the Nez Perce Settlement within Columbia and Snake Rivers Salmon Recovery Project ($5.6 million), the San Carlos Apache Tribe Water Settlement Act ($1.6 million), the Ak-Chin Indian Water Rights Settlement Act ($15.3 million), and the Colorado Ute Settlement Act within the Animas La Plata Project ($10.2 million).
The FY 2020 budget will continue to support water delivery and quality concerns along the Colorado River. The long-term impacts from droughts, such as those in the Colorado River Basin, can’t be solved by a single wet year. Even in states such as California, where hydrologic patterns have recently been beneficial, the hydrologic system is ill equipped to address long term needs. The FY 2020 budget, through programs such as the Lower Colorado River Operations Program ($31.3 million) and the Central Valley Project ($144.3 million), will continue efforts in both areas to find a long-term, comprehensive solution to water supply and quality issues in Colorado and California.
Other highlights of Reclamation’s FY 2020 budget proposal include:
- $92.8 million for the Dam Safety Program, to effectively manage risks to the downstream public, property, project and natural resources and provides for risk management activities at Reclamation’s high and significant hazard dams.
- $54.8 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund, to protect, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and associated habitats and address impacts of the Central Valley Project (CVP). Offset by discretionary receipts to be collected from project beneficiaries.
- $2.6 million for the Desalination and Water Purification Research Program, to support new and continued projects in three funding areas — laboratory scale research studies, pilot-scale testing projects and full-scale testing projects.
- $11.0 million for the Science and Technology Program to support continued science and technology projects, water and power technology prize competitions, technology transfer and dissemination/outreach activities that address critical water and power management issues.
- $36.4 million for the Site Security Program, which includes physical security upgrades at key facilities, guards and patrols, anti-terrorism program activities and security risk assessments.
- $19.9 for the WaterSMART Program to support Reclamation’s collaboration with non-federal partners in efforts to address emerging water demands and water shortage issues in the West as well as promote water conservation and improved water management.
To view details of Reclamation’s budget request, see www.usbr.gov/budget.
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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the United States, and the nation’s second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at https://www.usbr.gov and follow us on Twitter @USBR.
California Groups Issue Bernhardt Warning: Former Lobbyist is Acting on Behalf of Former Clients at Interior
From Restore the Delta:
EDF, Audubon Urge California Water Agencies to Finalize Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan
Statement of Maurice Hall, Environmental Defense Fund:
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board of Directors will vote Tuesday on whether to authorize participation in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) to manage water in the Colorado River. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Audubon sent an open letter to California water agencies commending progress on the DCP and urging that they continue to collaborate to finalize the agreement.
“EDF and Audubon publicly acknowledge and applaud the significant efforts of Southern California water agencies in working to finalize the Colorado River Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan agreements over the past several years. The DCP is a critically important step forward to protect the communities, economy and environment across the basin. We strongly support completion of the DCP.
“As we all near the finish line, we appreciate that there are outstanding concerns about the Salton Sea. We urge the California agencies and federal partners to continue the spirit of collaboration they adopted in drafting the DCP to face this challenge as well. Working together creatively and constructively, we can overcome the obstacles that have slowed progress in implementing the Salton Sea Management Program and ensuring ample funding for projects that will make a difference for people and the environment at the Salton Sea.
The Colorado River Basin water supply faces enormous risks without the DCP, and it is everyone’s interests that this effort succeed.”
- Maurice Hall, Associate VP, Ecosystems – Water, Environmental Defense Fund
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