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Whistleblower complaint alleges dam removal ‘spin’

Fired employee says reports ‘intentionally’ downplay negatives of Klamath dams plan

By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 3/2/12

A former scientific integrity adviser for the Bureau of Reclamation has filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was fired after questioning officials about “spinning” information related to Klamath River dam removal studies.


Dr. Paul Houser, an associate professor of hydrology at George Mason University, said he was fired in February because he questioned what he said was the “positive spin” the Department of the Interior put on scientific studies that support dam removal.


In his whistleblower filing, Houser said because Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has supported removing the dams, “the Department of the Interior has likely followed a course of action to construct such an outcome.”


“I stated that I was not for or against the secretarial determination outcome, but rather was concerned that the science be reported accurately with critical uncertainties and caveats so that the secretarial determination can be made without scientific bias,” Houser said in his whistleblower filing. He said the cost of dam removal is close to $1 billion, “so a misinformed or premeditated decision could be a gross waste of funds.”


Houser said he began growing concerned in September about federal officials issuing reports and news releases that “intentionally distort” the negatives of the project.

Dam removal is a key component of two controversial water deals, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the related Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The agreements call for removing four Klamath River dams and aim to establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, restore fish habitat and help the Klamath Tribes obtain the 92,000-acre Mazama Tree Farm.


Kate Kelly, an Interior Department spokeswoman, said Houser’s complaint is being reviewed.


In his filing, Houser questioned if the timing of his firing was connected to a then-scheduled announcement by Salazar on whether the dam removal proposal is in the public interest.


On Monday, Salazar said he will not be able to meet the March 31 decision deadline because of a lack of Congressional authorization. House and Senate bills authorizing the decision and implementation of the water agreements were introduced in November but have not received hearings.


Houser said he was told by one of his supervisors Salazar “wants to remove those dams” and he had violated “unwritten rules” when he began sending emails to his superiors questioning what appeared to him to be deliberate spin.


PacifiCorp says removing the four dams — J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate and Copco 1 and 2 — is more cost effective than relicensing them, which would require adding fish ladders and would reduce their electrical outputs.


The Redding Record Searchlight newspaper contributed to this report.


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