Senator Doug Whitsett: Newsletter

June 20, 2012 | By | Add a Comment


Senator Doug Whitsett, Oregon

06/11/12: DOI Survey

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit federal agencies from encouraging people to complete government surveys by sending cash in the mail. The legislation was adopted in response to a nationwide Department of Interior sponsored survey designed to measure public opinion on the destruction of the Klamath River dams.

The Department of Interior wanted to create a full accounting of the value of restoring the Klamath River to its free flowing state. They determined a comprehensive effort must include the alleged benefits to society that are associated with non-use of the river. Non-use values include those perceived to benefit the public even though they may have never visited the Klamath Basin, never consumed Klamath River fish or otherwise ever used the resources of the Klamath River Basin.

The Department paid more than $850,000 to employ a national private agency to develop and implement the “Klamath Non-use Valuation Survey”. That Survey was mailed to more than 10,000 households nationwide. Many of the mailings included a two dollar bill as an incentive to complete the survey. A letter to those who failed to respond promised an additional $20 would be mailed if the survey was completed and returned by a specific deadline.

Congressman Scott Tipton, the legislation’s sponsor explained:

“Enticing survey responses with cash incentives to prove a societal need for a project is wrong on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s a blatant waste and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars. Collecting data this way is disingenuous, and a downright sneaky move by this administration’s cadre out-of-touch bureaucrats.”

I strongly agree with the Congressman’s observations. What is more, I believe that that this Survey represents yet another attempt by the Department of Interior to create and foster the perception that the public supports the destruction of the Klamath River dams.

The Final Report on the Klamath Non-use Valuation Survey was released to the media at about the same time that the Department’s draft Environmental Impact Statement on dam removal was published. The release of both documents appeared to be timed to set the stage for Secretary of Interior Salazar’s scheduled announcement of his decision on dam removal. It was widely anticipated that the Secretary’s decision would be to destroy the dams.

According to Dr. Paul Houser, the summary of the Environmental Impact Statement was intentionally biased to support the destruction of the dams. He alleges the document emphasizes the alleged positive aspects of taking out the dams while simply ignoring the many potential negative aspects of dam removal. Houser also alleges that the document was written by Bureau of Reclamation attorneys and was designed to support the Secretary’s predetermined conclusion that removal of the Klamath River dams is the best alternative.
Dr. Houser was the Bureau of Reclamation’s top scientist. He was hired to insure the validity and the integrity of the science employed by the Bureau. His employment was terminated by the Bureau after he made his concerns public. Dr. Houser claims that he was fired for doing the job he was hired to perform.

I believe that the Klamath Non-use Valuation Survey was also intentionally biased to persuade respondents to support the destruction of the dams.

The questionnaire provided the respondent with a series of choices between an action plan and a no-action alternative.

The action plan included the removal of the four Klamath River hydroelectric dams, river restoration and water reallocation. The wording of the questions appear to emphasize the alleged benefits of removing the dams while completely ignoring significant and costly disadvantages.

For instance, the dollar value of the more than 550 gigawatts (billion watts) of hydroelectric generation that will be lost by the destruction of the dams was not quantified. The cost of replacing that lost generation capacity with more expensive alternative renewables was not calculated. The Survey did not describe the approximately 20 million cubic yards of sediment sequestered behind the dams. It did not discuss the near certain ecological disaster that the release of that toxic sediment will cause downstream on the Klamath River or the significant problems that have resulted from previous smaller dam removal projects such as the Condit Dam or the dams on the Rogue River.

Further, the wording of the Survey questions appeared to assure the respondents that endangered species will continue to decline, and may even become extinct in the event that the no-action plan is adopted. It appeared to advise respondents that the no-action plan would include no fish restoration projects and failed to describe either the current hatchery programs or alternative fish passage options.

Both PacifiCorp and the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors wrote letters to the Department of Interior expressing their significant concerns regarding the Survey methodology and the conclusions of the Final Report. The letters were comprehensive, detailed and precise. They advised the Department of many specific Survey inaccuracies and omissions.

Both parties filed Requests for Corrections based on those inaccuracies and omissions that they claimed would skew the opinions received from Survey respondents. PacifiCorp actually wrote a second letter reiterating their objections and concerns. Unfortunately, the Department of Interior distributed the Final Report without making the requested corrections and appeared to encourage its use to represent public support for the destruction of the Klamath River dams.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors was blunt in their criticism. They stated in their letter that the fact the Survey was distributed and utilized, in spite of the Requests for Correction, emphasizes that the Survey was designed to secure opinions contrary to the opinions of citizens of Siskiyou County.

The visceral opposition of Klamath Basin voters to the destruction of our nation’s hydroelectric infrastructure appears to have been made clear during recent elections. I am convinced that Department of Interior’s ongoing attempts to manipulate public opinion, regardless of how overt or how costly those attempts may be, will not change that voter sentiment.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,

Filed in: Klamath

Dr. Paul R. Houser

About the Author (Author Profile)

Dr. Houser in an internationally recognized expert in local to global land surface-atmospheric remote sensing, in-situ observation and numerical simulation, development and application of hydrologic data assimilation methods, scientific integrity and policy, and global water and energy cycling. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona in 1992 and 1996 respectively. Dr. Houser's previous experience includes internships at the U.S. Geological Survey and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Houser joined the NASA-GSFC Hydrological Sciences Branch and the Data Assimilation Office (DAO/GMAO) in 1997, served as manager of NASA’s Land Surface Hydrology Program, and served as branch head of the Hydrological Science Branch. In 2005, he joined the George Mason University Climate Dynamics Program and the Geography and Geoinformation Sciences Department as Professor of Global Hydrology, and formed CREW (the Center for Research for Environment and Water). Dr. Houser has also teamed with groundwater development and exploration companies (EarthWater Global and Geovesi) and has served as Science Advisor to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Houser has led numerous scientific contributions, including the development of Land Data Assimilation Systems (LDAS), the Hydrospheric States Mission (Hydros/SMAP), the Land Information System (LIS), the NASA Energy and Water cycle Study (NEWS), and the Water Cycle Solutions Network (WaterNet).

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