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BOR accused of misusing water funds.
Whistleblower claim lodged against BOR and Basin irrigators
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 2/20/15
     A whistleblower’s claim lodged against the Bureau of Reclamation says the agency has mismanaged several million dollars and lost sight of its goals in recent years.

   The claim, filed Wednesday by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), asserts that a federal program meant to help Klamath Basin fish has been hijacked for the sole benefit of Klamath Project irrigators.

   PEER filed the whistleblower disclosure on behalf of Todd Pederson, a current Bureau natural resources specialist, and Keith Schultz, a former Bureau fisheries biologist. The disclosure was filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.

   The OSC is charged with reviewing the scientists’ disclosure and deciding within 15 days whether it evidences a “substantial likelihood of validity,” according to a news release.

   PEER Senior Counsel Diana Dinerstein said the OSC does not decide whether claims in the complaint are true, but whether the claims are valid enough to be referred back to the Department of Interior for comment.

   “Reclamation takes these complaints seriously, and if this matter is referred to the Secretary for investigation, we will conduct a full investigation and cooperate fully with the Office of Special Counsel,” Erin Curtis, a Bureau public affairs specialist, said in an email.

   According to the claim, the Bureau has spent nearly $70 million dollars without legal authority to do so.
       Claimant Schultz, who left the Bureau in 2007, said he and Pederson have concerns about the authority the agency is citing to fund the Klamath Power and Water Agency (KWAPA), a joint powers/ inter-governmental agency whose members are water agencies within the Klamath Project. He said the Bureau can only disburse funds to KWAPA for developing a water management feasibility study and if its activities benefit fish and wildlife.

   “Neither of those are happening,” Schultz said.

   Cross-benefits claimed

   Schultz’s and Pederson’s  PEER claim asserts that the Water Use Mitigation Plan (WUMP) administered by KWAPA does not adhere to funding guidelines. In past years, irrigators participating in WUMP “bid” their application by providing a dollar amount per acre they would like to be paid in return for not diverting surface water to grow crops.

   KWAPA Executive Director Hollie Cannon told the Herald and News the WUMP program has provided a tremendous benefit to fish and wildlife habitat. He pointed out that waterfowl often look to private farmland for habitat and food. If fields aren’t irrigated, no resources are available for birds.

   “There is no question that the programs the Bureau has funded have kept the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge whole,” Cannon said, referring irrigators’ ability to lease refuge land to grow grains.

   Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge received water in 2010, ’12 and ’13 — years the refuge was not slated to receive anything — in conjunction with water management under the WUMP program, according to Cannon.

   Pederson said the program is “a waste of money.”

   According to Curtis, the cooperative agreement between the Bureau and KWAPA to administer and implement the WUMP will terminate Dec. 31, 2015. She said by that time KWAPA will have completed its analysis of WUMP’s performance.

   Cannon said as KWAPA’s executive director, he has administered funds in accordance with Bureau requirements and other federal guidelines. He said KWAPA undergoes an audit every year and that it has undergone a procedural review by the Bureau.

   “We passed everything with flying colors,” Cannon said.

   Past complaints

   Pederson said he hopes the PEER claim will resolve some of the longstanding resource issues in the Klamath Basin. Pederson has been employed by the Bureau for 13 years and he is also union president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 0951.

   Schultz said he and Pederson filed an earlier integrity complaint against the Bureau, also through PEER, in 2012. He said the complaint was filed after managers at the Klamath Basin Area Office proposed disbanding the fisheries branch due to budgetary constraints. That was eventually settled.

   Cannon called Schultz a “disgruntled past employee.”

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com ; @LMJatHandN  



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