The US interior department made improper contributions of $85 million in taxpayer funds to help pay for a giant California water project supported by governor Jerry Brown, despite Brown and other state and federal authorities pledging that local water districts would bear all the costs, a federal audit said yesterday.
Under California law and also an agreement by the water districts, California's politically influential water districts are expected to bear the costs of Brown's $16 billion proposal to re-engineer California's shipment of water by building dozens of miles of tunnels to tap into the state's largest river, the Sacramento.
In 2011, Brown and the then-secretary of the interior department reaffirmed that pledge of using no taxpayer funds in a joint public statement supporting the tunnels plan. However, top California officials, insisted that no tax dollars have been spent on the tunnels.
In response to a question whether auditors wanted California water districts to repay the money, interior spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said, "We certainly hope so."
According to Doug Obegi of Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, the findings of the audit were appalling. The group had opposed the tunnels on the grounds that it would speed up the extinction of endangered native species in and around the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay.
But the interior department's inspector general's office reported yesterday that between 2009 and 2016, under president Barack Obama's administration, the US Bureau of Reclamation spent $50 million of federal taxpayer funds for planning the project and used a ''complex, obscure process'' to keep Congress in the dark.
''The $50 million in appropriated funds used to make the payments to (the California Department of Water Resources) should have been repaid by (federal Central Valley Project) water contractors rather than absorbed by the federal government,'' the audit said.