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Independent Scientific Review Vindicates DOI Scientists

Doug Obegi

Posted January 6, 2012

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Yesterday, an independent scientific review vindicated the two scientists from the Department of the Interior who were criticized by Judge Wanger in a highly unusual diatribe from the bench shortly before he retired and began working for the Westlands Water District.  Judge Wanger’s invective, which came in response to a motion brought by Westlands and others, was rejected as baseless by the independent review, which concluded that “Judge Wanger’s criticisms were without merit and not supported by the record.”  We completely agree – and that conclusion is also borne out by the response of Bay-Delta fisheries this past year.

The report was prepared by independent scientists who reviewed the court transcripts and thousands of pages of court testimony.  It concluded that the scientists had not failed to use the best available science and states that,

“The panel members find that there is no evidence for either Mr. Feyrer or Dr. Norris operating outside the norms of behavior in the fields they operate in.

We find that in neither case is there evidence suggesting deliberate falsehood, interpolation of personal opinion into science, or other professional misconduct by either Mr. Feyrer or Dr. Norris. We do not believe that further investigation would be likely to produce evidence of such misconduct.”

(emphasis added) These strongly worded conclusions from the independent scientific review are also borne out by the results of fisheries surveys in the Bay-Delta this past year, which show a significant rebound in the populations of Delta fisheries.  The two scientists were criticized by Judge Wanger for their testimony supporting the need to increase outflow from the Bay-Delta estuary this past fall.  Biologists from an entirely separate state agency -- the California Department of Fish and Game -- recently concluded that the substantial increase in the population of Delta smelt was likely due to the increased outflow that the scientists had recommended, providing real-world support for the importance of these flows to restoring estuarine habitat and function.

We commend the Interior Department for conducting this review, to ensure that important decisions concerning management of the west coast’s largest estuary – the Bay-Delta – are based on sound science.  This independent scientific review is the latest of numerous independent peer reviews of the science used by the Department and the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Bay-Delta, with the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other independent peer reviewers all concluding that the protections in the biological opinions are scientifically justified.  We also commend the Department for standing up for the work of its scientists, who took unwarranted criticism for standing up for good science, even when unpopular with some powerful interests.  And finally, we hope that this report will reinvigorate agency efforts to ensure that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is based on sound science – a principle that has been missing from the current BDCP planning process. As the Department states, it will continue to “stand behind the consistent and thorough work of our scientists, and …continue to rely upon their expertise and professionalism in our efforts to meet the co-equal goals of improving water supply reliability and restoring the health of the Bay Delta.”  

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Roland SheppardJan 7 2012 12:01 PM

Dear Doug:

Unfortunately, Diane Feinstein recently earmarked water to the Westlands water distrrict.
Read the news under environment in my Daily News Digest December 20, 2011,
Feinstein earmark quietly paves way for easier water sales (to Big Oil’s ‘Agribusines’):
WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein quietly used a $915 billion spending bill to accomplish a long-standing and, in some circles, controversial goal of easing Central Valley water sales.
With one sentence, the 1,221-page bill signed Saturday by President Barack Obama helps the Westlands Water District and privately owned Kern Water Bank, among others, buy more from irrigation districts served by the federal Central Valley Project.
With a second sentence, the bill orders a study designed to streamline water sales, including those from north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to south of the Delta.
"The water transfer language inserted by Sen. Feinstein will add to the flexibility that we have sought, and it will certainly help us meet our water needs," Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham said in an interview Monday....

Brandon MiddletonJan 7 2012 02:10 PM

The report did not conclude that "Judge Wanger’s criticisms were without merit and not supported by the record." I believe that quote is from Interior's erroneous interpretation of the report.

Fox209Jan 7 2012 02:42 PM

You are still wrong, BM.

Nice rebuttal: I know I was wrong the last couple of months, but I still can't let go of it.

Chris GulickJan 7 2012 03:33 PM

Fish need water ?

Who knew ?

sound familiar ?

John LoprestiJan 7 2012 06:41 PM

How does Westlands' water allotment fare if the rest of the rainy season is as dry in this unusual year as the past five weeks have been? Does Westlands get less water if it turns out to be a drought year this year?---following last year's double average yearly rainfall. How well do complex, multi-agency, state/federal, water contracts with designated ag distributions respond to wide variability in what before global warming recently began interfering was a fairly predictable weather pattern in CA?

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