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Westlands official working for DWR on Bay Delta Conservation Plan
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Dec 14th, 2011 11:48 AM
“There is a revolving door at the Department of Water Resources for water contractors to move in and out of positions within the Department,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “It is akin to the way lobbyists move in and out of government positions in Washington D.C. As more Californians learn about how a small group of special interests control our water future, their anger will match that of the general public toward lobbyists.”

Photo of Clifton Court Forebay on the South Delta, the body of water created in 1969 that serves as the Mile Zero intake point of the California Aqueduct and feeds the Delta–Mendota Canal. Photo courtesy of the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

Westlands official working for DWR on Bay Delta Conservation Plan

By Dan Bacher

An employee of the Westlands Water District is currently working “on loan” for the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the plan initiated by state and federal water contractors to allow them to build a peripheral canal or tunnel in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Documents obtained by this reporter under the California Public Records Act reveal that Susan Ramos, Deputy General Manager of the Westlands Water District, was hired in an inter-jurisdictional personal exchange agreement between the Department of Water Resources and Westlands Water District from November 15, 2009 through December 31, 2010.

The contract was extended to run through December 31, 2011 and again to continue through December 31, 2012.

Ramos “will serve as a liaison between all relevant parties surrounding the Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program (DHCCP) and provide technical and strategic assistance to DWR, in cooperation with all appropriate Federal and State Water Contractors, on a variety of matters based on her experience working with the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, federal contractors and others,” according to the agreement (Contract 4600008672).

“Under the direction of Raphael Torres, Ms. Ramos shall work cooperatively with other DWR/DHCCP Executives. Ms. Ramos shall apply her knowledge and experience with State and Federal Water Contactors and/or initiatives as they relate to DHCCP or Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) in support of the success of the DHCCP,” the contract continued.

The maximum amount to be paid in the agreement for the entire period is listed as $652,180.54, She will be paid the same monthly labor rate, $17,444.50, as she would be in her position as Deputy General Manager, from March 1, 2011 to December 31, 2012.

Ramos, a former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official, made $165,000 a year in her job at Westlands in 2009 (http://www.lloydgcarter.com/content/110706500_nice-payday-top-westlands-officials).

Why was Ramos, rather than a current state employee, hired for the project?

The justification for contracting out, as provided in the contract signed by Richard Sanchez, the Chief of the DWR’s Division of Engineering, on September 14, 2011, is “Ms. Ramos possesses specialized knowledge and has experience working with the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal contractors. The technical and strategic assistance that will be provided by the Contractor cannot be performed satisfactorily by State civil service employees.”

A phone call and email to the Westlands Water District regarding Ramos’ status was not returned.

Westlands, the largest water district in the U.S., is known for the numerous lawsuits that they have launched against fish restoration on the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Trinity rivers and their continual lobbying of the state and federal governments for increased water exports from the California Delta. Corporate growers in the district, located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, use subsidized water from the federal Central Valley Project to irrigate drainage impaired land laced with selenium and other toxic salts.

Hiring of Westlands official draws fire from conservation groups

News of Ramos’ employment by DWR while on loan from Westlands drew outrage from representatives of fishing and environmental groups and Indian Tribes.

Dick Pool, president of Water for Fish, said, “The Department of Water Resources is supposed to be looking out for the water interests of everybody in the state. This and other actions point to the fact that DWR is working with Westlands and a few other water contractors to the detriment of fish and every other water interest.”

“Susan Ramos' hiring by the Department of Water Resources is a classic example of the revolving door between government agencies and water districts controlled by mega-corporate farms such as Westlands,” said Tom Stokely, Water Policy Analyst for the California Water Impact Network. “It further erodes public confidence at a time when distrust of government is at an all time high. We can be sure the public's interests will not be protected."

News of Ramos working for DWR on the BDCP followed the revelation that recently retired federal judge Oliver Wanger was planning to represent Westlands in a lawsuit filed against it by fishing and environmental groups and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. However, political pressure and a series of negative editorials convinced apparently convinced Wanger to withdraw from the case. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2011/12/06/wanger-backs-out-of-representing-westlands-water-district)

The news of Ramos’ service on loan from Westlands also follows the alarming disclosure that the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) hired Laura King Moon, the Assistant General Manager of the State Water Contractors, to assist in the completion of the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2011/10/25/state-hires-water-contractor-rep-to-help-oversee-bay-delta-plan/)

In a letter to Assemblymember Jared Huffman on October 13, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird attempted to explain King Moon’s status with DWR.

“Ms. Moon is working for the California Department of Water Resources, serving on loan from the State Water Contractors until the completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan,” said Laird. “She is responsible to and represents DWR solely, and is subject to all DWR rules, protocols and confidentiality agreements.”

Conflicts of interests have become normalized

Michael Preston, spokesman for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and a UC Berkeley Junior studying Society and the Environment and Native American Studies, commented, “It’s outrageous that these conflicts of interests have become normalized.”

“People have come to accept these political moves, without any consideration for the Tribal, fishing, small farming and other communities impacted by these processes, as normal,” stated Preston.

Preston’s tribe is now engaged in a campaign to reintroduce the winter run chinook salmon to the McCloud River above Shasta Dam and to stop a controversial federal plan to raise Shasta Dam.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, also commented on the latest Brown administration scandal in the context of increasing conflicts of interest and corruption in California water politics.

“I think the hiring of Susan Ramos exemplifies the nexus between corporate agribusiness and government in California and how a very small percent of Californians control the public interest through water,” she stated.

“There is a revolving door at the Department of Water Resources for water contractors to move in and out of positions within the Department,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “It is akin to the way lobbyists move in and out of government positions in Washington D.C. As more Californians learn about how a small group of special interests control our water future, their anger will match that of the general public toward lobbyists.”

“A couple of years ago we would encounter a potential conflict of interest every six months. Now we find a new conflict of interest nearly every day,” she quipped.

What about transparency?

Advocates of openness and transparency in government contend the cases of Susan Ramos, Oliver Wanger and Laura King-Moon exemplify how corporate interests completely dominate water politics in California at tremendous expense to the public trust.

Ironically, the Brown and Obama administrations recently committed themselves to being more open and transparent regarding the controversial BDCP process.

According to a news release on November 29, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Department of Water Resources announced a “first step” in responding to public comments on a draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with California water agencies that “will enhance transparency in developing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) by speeding access to draft technical documents. This initial step will be followed by additional responses to public comments that have been filed on the MOA.”

“Our expectation is that broad stakeholder understanding of its scientific underpinnings will improve their engagement in both the plan and its implementation," claimed Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird. "Fish, farmers and the 25 million average Californians who rely on the San Francisco-San Joaquin Delta for water deserve nothing less."

Laird continued: "One thing is absolutely clear as review of the comments on the MOA have begun -- no one wants even the appearance of a special advantage.”

However, if the state and federal governments are so committed to “enhancing transparency” and avoiding creating “even the appearance of a special advantage” under the BDCP, Delta advocates are asking why it required a California Public Records Act Request to find out that Westlands' Deputy Manager was surreptitiously inserted into the Department of Water Resources to guide writing the permit that would give more of the public's water to Westlands?

Supporters of the Delta and transparency in government are now asking, "What else are the state and federal governments hiding?"

“We couldn’t make up the numerous conflicts of interests between those who want the water and the Department of Water Resources if we tried,” summed up Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “Truth once again is stranger than fiction.”