On Dec. 15, Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland sent a memorandum to Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz and Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo that reverses a Trump administration action to defund environmental mitigation and restoration in the Central Valley.
The memo ensured statutory funding to protect fish and wildlife as required under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), signed into law in 1992 by then President George H. W. Bush.
The law made fish and wildlife a purpose of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project (CVP) for the first time. The law has been constantly attacked and undermined by the Westlands Water District and other agribusiness interests ever since.
“The action by Secretary Haaland means that CVP water contractors will resume payment for projects to create and improve floodplain and other habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and other fish and wildlife,” according to a press statement from the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Assocations (PCFFA). “The payments are required by the CVPIA, passed in 1992 to require the CVP to put fish and wildlife protection on an equal footing with water supply.”
Fishing advocates praised the action, but urged Haaland to void “unlawful permanent CVP contracts” that were not supposed to be renewed until the CVP contractors fully paid off their original debt for the construction of the CVP dams and canals that supply them with water.
Secretary’s Haaland’s Memorandum “voids the Orwellian declaration by the Trump Administration that restoration of fish and wildlife harmed by the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) was complete and summarily defunded,” according to the two groups.
Haaland’s Dec. 15 memorandum, obtained by the two organizations, declared that the Trump administration policy ending payment requirements for the CVPIA "has no further force or effect.”
“The legal analysis supporting that memorandum was withdrawn on June 11, 2021. To clarify that Secretary Bernhardt’s concurrence memorandum has no further force or effect, this memorandum withdraws the Bernhardt memorandum, its associated directives, and any supporting documents,” said Haaland.
“The CVPIA gives Reclamation the tools necessary to do the important work of restoring the fish and wildlife resources of the Trinity River and the Central Valley,” noted Haaland. “I am therefore rescinding any advice or direction that may fall short of expressing the Department of the Interior’s commitment to the protection of the fish, wildlife, and habitat affected by CVP operations.”
On the final day of the Trump administration in 2021, then Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former Westlands Water District and Big Oil lobbyist, declared the end of restoration funding obligations for CVP contractors. He claimed that mitigation and restoration requirements under the CVPIA had been "completed" (Greenwire, July 1, 2021).
“The action by Secretary Haaland means that CVP water contractors will resume payment for projects to create and improve floodplain and other habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and other fish and wildlife. The payments are required by the CVPIA, passed in 1992 to require the CVP to put fish and wildlife protection on an equal footing with water supply,” the groups said.
The largest single beneficiary of this parting give-away was Mr. Bernhardt’s former law client, Westlands Water District.
“Politicians like Mr. Bernhardt solve problems by abolishing their official existence,” said Chris Shutes, Acting Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. ”We applaud Secretary Haaland’s blunt rejection of Mr. Bernhardt’s deception and his sneak attack on California’s salmon and ducks.”
At the same time that Bernhardt was canceling the debt of CVP contractors to fish and wildlife, Shutes said he also canceled their debt to repay the money they owed the federal government for CVP capital obligations.
“This came in the form of issuing new permanent contracts for CVP water contractors,” said Shutes. “These CVP contracts were not supposed to be renewed until the CVP contractors fully paid off their original debt for the construction of the CVP dams and canals that supply them with water. But Mr. Bernhardt waived these obligations as well and oversaw the issuance of multiple new permanent CVP contracts in the waning days of the Trump Administration.”
Glen Spain, Acting Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, said: “The legal basis for the prior administration’s new permanent CVP contracts was as fabricated as the basis for ending mitigation and restoration funding. These contracts cheat the taxpaying public out of hundreds of millions of dollars. We implore Secretary Haaland to finish the job and void the prior administration’s new permanent CVP contracts.”