The Associated Press via the LA Times reports:
A federal agency left taxpayers on the hook for $50 million in water project costs that should have been paid by Central Valley irrigation districts, according to an inspector general’s report released Friday.
The audit found that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engaged in a shell game, improperly subsidizing the irrigation districts’ share of planning costs for a controversial proposal to build two massive water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The reclamation bureau “obtained this $50 million over a 7-year span by using a complex, obscure process that was not disclosed in the annual congressional budget justifications,” stated the report by the inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department.
“In the process,” the audit found, the reclamation bureau “also decided that the $50 million in appropriated funds was used for a non-reimbursable purpose, meaning the cost was absorbed by the federal government rather than being repaid by [Central Valley Project] water contractors.”
The reclamation bureau manages the Central Valley Project, a huge irrigation project that supplies water to irrigation districts, including the Westlands Water District and others involved in the tunnel project.
Environmentalists have long criticized the reclamation bureau for being too cozy with the water districts, several of which employ former reclamation officials in high level positions.
The report also found that the reclamation bureau did not fully disclose to Congress the entire amount — $84.8 million — of its participation in the tunnel planning efforts.