Grand Canyon Flow Fight Bursts Into the Open
Early Test for Interior Secretary Salazar Pledges of Ethics and Scientific Integrity
Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Interior position in court on maintaining current flows from the Glen Canyon Dam is based upon a “mistreatment and disregard of science” that “significantly impairs Grand Canyon resources” according to a memo by the Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These charges present a direct challenge for incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar who has promised that agency “decisions are based on sound science and the public interest” and will reflect “high ethical standards”.
At issue is whether the Colorado River will be managed to build beaches and protect aquatic life in the Grand Canyon, as required by law, or to minimize costs to wholesale power customers. On behalf of Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation has issued a five-year plan which precludes any additional steady high flows following a much heralded high-flow “experiment” conducted last March.
In a scathing January 15, 2009 memo, Grand Canyon Superintendent Steve Martin assails Reclamation’s Environmental Assessment (EA) and misrepresentations by the government in defending it against a lawsuit filed by the Grand Canyon Trust, a non-profit seeking to restore Colorado River flows to more closely resemble the river’s natural rhythms to benefit Grand Canyon wildlife. Martin, a former Deputy Director of the National Park Service (NPS), calls Reclamation’s work “perhaps the worst EA I have seen for an action of this importance” because it finds no significant environmental impact for a course of action which, among other defects –
- Is rooted in a “lack of scientific veracity” that “continues to misinterpret key scientific findings related to the humpback chub, [and the] status of downstream resources in Grand Canyon”;
- Suffers from a “failure to address NPS concerns that actions under the EA’s five-year plan would impair the resources of Grand Canyon”; and
- Falsely suggests Park Service concurrence with the five-year plan and in so doing violates both Interior policies and environmental statutes such as the Grand Canyon Protection Act. Martin says that while the Park Service agreed to the March high flow experiment, it never consented to a five-year regime that lacks subsequent high flows and seasonal steady flows.
“If Secretary Salazar really means to clean house at Interior, he needs to start right here,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Sec. Salazar’s predecessor, Dirk Kempthorne, tried to silence Martin and ruled that the Superintendent’s “statements do not reflect the Department’s unanimous final decision regarding this matter.” “The Secretary should first withdraw this flawed EA and then discipline the officials responsible for it.”
This past November, the Grand Canyon Trust has filed for summary judgment in its suit, contending that Interior has no legal defense for its actions. Martin’s letter undercuts key government assertions.
“Secretary Salazar should not permit his department to perpetrate a fraud upon the court,” Ruch added.