Olympia, WA — The state lacks adequate data to make valid assessments of water rights requests and water transfers, according to a whistleblower complaint released today by Washington Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP). The two groups are challenging the quality and integrity of the State Auditor’s review of the whistleblower complaint that found no improper government activity has occurred
The whistleblower complaint from the Department of Ecology’s Water Resources Program points to systemic problems in the methods used to make water rights decisions, particularly a profound lack of supporting data. This inadequate data stems, in large part, from insufficient fees to support the program and 1994 budget cuts that resulted in 65% of the water resources staff being laid off.
Even though the whistleblower detailed violations regarding new water rights decisions–and not just decisions about transfers of current rights–the Auditor’s Office limited its investigation to the findings of fact required for transfers. The Auditor found that because the law does not explicitly require the state to have a system tracking unused water rights, no violations had occurred.
“The Auditor not only ignored the essence of the whistleblower complaint, he ignored the law that requires the state to ensure that transfers will not create ‘detriment or injury to existing water rights,'” stated Karen Allston, Director of CELP, pointing to a dangerous precedent that Ecology can make decisions that may affect people’s water rights without providing solid justification. “The Auditor’s finding is like your bank telling you you’re overdrawn but not telling you why.”
On several occasions the whistleblower has refused to sign water right decisions because there was insufficient data available to make required factual determinations. As a result of this refusal, the whistleblower was transferred away from former duties and assigned entry-level work.
“The Auditor’s Office wasted an entire year investigating the political climate instead of the data,” stated Lea Mitchell, Director of Washington PEER, whose organization represents federal and state environmental whistleblowers. “Not only does Washington’s water resources management need reform, so does the Auditor’s whistleblower program.”