Independent Scientific Review Vindicates DOI Scientists

Yesterday, an independent scientific review vindicated the two scientists from the Department of the Interior who were criticized by Judge Wanger in a highly unusual diatribe from the bench shortly before he retired and began working for the Westlands Water District.  Judge Wanger’s invective, which came in response to a motion brought by Westlands and others, was rejected as baseless by the independent review, which concluded that “Judge Wanger’s criticisms were without merit and not supported by the record.”  We completely agree – and that conclusion is also borne out by the response of Bay-Delta fisheries this past year.

The report was prepared by independent scientists who reviewed the court transcripts and thousands of pages of court testimony.  It concluded that the scientists had not failed to use the best available science and states that,

“The panel members find that there is no evidence for either Mr. Feyrer or Dr. Norris operating outside the norms of behavior in the fields they operate in.

We find that in neither case is there evidence suggesting deliberate falsehood, interpolation of personal opinion into science, or other professional misconduct by either Mr. Feyrer or Dr. Norris. We do not believe that further investigation would be likely to produce evidence of such misconduct.”

(emphasis added) These strongly worded conclusions from the independent scientific review are also borne out by the results of fisheries surveys in the Bay-Delta this past year, which show a significant rebound in the populations of Delta fisheries.  The two scientists were criticized by Judge Wanger for their testimony supporting the need to increase outflow from the Bay-Delta estuary this past fall.  Biologists from an entirely separate state agency -- the California Department of Fish and Game -- recently concluded that the substantial increase in the population of Delta smelt was likely due to the increased outflow that the scientists had recommended, providing real-world support for the importance of these flows to restoring estuarine habitat and function.

We commend the Interior Department for conducting this review, to ensure that important decisions concerning management of the west coast’s largest estuary – the Bay-Delta – are based on sound science.  This independent scientific review is the latest of numerous independent peer reviews of the science used by the Department and the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Bay-Delta, with the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other independent peer reviewers all concluding that the protections in the biological opinions are scientifically justified.  We also commend the Department for standing up for the work of its scientists, who took unwarranted criticism for standing up for good science, even when unpopular with some powerful interests.  And finally, we hope that this report will reinvigorate agency efforts to ensure that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is based on sound science – a principle that has been missing from the current BDCP planning process. As the Department states, it will continue to “stand behind the consistent and thorough work of our scientists, and …continue to rely upon their expertise and professionalism in our efforts to meet the co-equal goals of improving water supply reliability and restoring the health of the Bay Delta.”  

About the Authors

Doug Obegi

Senior Attorney, Water program

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