Sacramento – In response to a January 25, 2016 letter sent by conservation groups, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director, David G. Murrillo has confirmed that federal taxpayers, not the federal water contractors, are footing the bills for the SF Bay-Delta water export tunnels (aka. The Delta Tunnels.)
To date, more than $86.9 million of the costs for the Delta Tunnels have been billed to federal taxpayers.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation letter affirmed the tunnels project is not authorized by Congress and they have no plans to conduct the required feasibility study or pay the construction costs which will more than double the current State Water Project debt to be paid by ratepayers and property taxpayers if permitted.
The Environmental Water Caucus, along with several of its member groups who sought answers regarding this gouging of the federal taxpayers, call on the State Auditor to investigate why state laws requiring federal contractors such as Westlands Water District are shirking their responsibilities to pay for the water export tunnels environmental review.
“State ratepayers and taxpayers are footing the bills along with folks in New Jersey, while Westlands, the largest irrigation district in the nation, funds phony advertising campaigns hiding behind their hard working farm workers, to solicit even more taxpayer dollars to fund this expensive risky tunneling project,” stated Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta. “We are calling on the State Auditor to investigate.”
“As federal investigators probe the California Department of Water Resources overcharges, double billings and $300+ per hour charges to the federal government for the water export tunnels, the Bureau of Reclamation’s admission that federal contractors such as Westlands, have not paid their required 50% share of the tunnels in accordance with state law, needs to be investigated,” asserted Conner Everts, Executive Director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance and the Environmental Water Caucus. “How have the federal contractors been shirking their duties under state law to pay for the CA WaterFix environmental analysis, while the state contractors (ratepayers) are pouring money into the effort (over $60 million from MWD alone, to date)?”
“In response to our questions, it is clear Congress and the American people are being misled,” stated Tim Sloane, PCFFA Executive Director. “While our salmon heritage hangs on the brink of extinction and toxic algae blooms build, funds to protect fish and wildlife and restore the Delta Estuary have been diverted to fund water tunnel export plans to take even more essential fresh water from this critical estuary.”
“The largest irrigation district in the nation which receives 100’s of millions in taxpayer subsidies, Westlands Water District wants the nation to not only give them a permanent water contract for free with virtually no strings as to how they will contain their toxic groundwater pollution, now we find out they have been gaming their responsibility to pay for these expensive tunnels to export even more water to these toxic lands,” explained Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of California Water Impact Network. “Continuing to send more water to irrigate these toxic soils at taxpayer expense makes no sense.”
Notes from the letter from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:
“Due to the State separating the BDCP into two programs and due to the fact that Reclamation does not have construction authority for the new conveyance facilities, Reclamation does not anticipate formally submitting a feasibility report to Congress.”
“Currently, there are no plans for Reclamation to fund the construction of California WaterFix, nor provide financial assistance agreements to provide funding for construction.”
Funding Under Investigation by DOI Inspector General
The federal grant monies and questions surrounding these federal expenditures are under investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General.
These funds have been spent on the environmental studies –NEPA review—and hired contractors paid by DWR with Federal Grants. These federal grants are under investigation for a variety of reasons—double billing, failing to follow federal procedures such as competitive bidding and questions about “reasonable and prudent” charges among others.
Questions Raised for State Auditor
The Reclamation response to the NGO letter does raise additional questions especially for the State Auditor Elaine Howle for example:
- How have the federal contractors been shirking their duties under state law to pay for the WaterFix environmental analysis, while the state contractors are pouring money into the effort (over $60 million from MWD alone, to date)?
- Are Federal CVP Contractors Paying Their 50% for the Tunnels Planning and Environmental Review? The letter confirms federal taxpayers have been billed more than $86.9M for the Delta water export tunnels.
- It appears State Law, California Water Code Section 85089 is being circumvented by Westlands and other federal contractors, Why?
Recall Water Code Section 85089 requires….Construction of a new Delta conveyance facility shall not be initiated until the persons or entities that contract to receive water from the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project or a joint powers authority representing those entities have made arrangements or entered into contracts to pay for both of the following:
(a) The costs of the environmental review, planning, design,….