The state Department of Water Resource (DWR) has received harsh criticism from State Auditor Elaine Howle for the department's administration of a flood protection corridor program. The auditor found that DWR lacked objective criteria for scoring applicants when it awarded $28 million in bond funds to five projects in 2001, and did not require mandated information from applicants when it awarded $29.1 million in 2003.
The money for those grants, plus a remaining $3 million, comes from Proposition 13 approved by voters in 2000. Last year, voters added $330 million for similar flood protection projects via Propositions 1E and 84. Howle recommended DWR improve its selection and monitoring processes before spending the money.
The auditor specifically questioned DWR's decision to award $17.6 million to The Nature Conservancy in 2001 for acquisition of 9,200-acre Staten Island, in the San Joaquin County portion of the Bay Delta.
"Water Resources has yet to implement a worthwhile flood protection project on the property," the auditor reported. "Although Water Resources contends that Staten Island has already achieved significant flood protection benefits from the standpoint of preventing future development in an area prone to flooding, its contention is questionable considering the current legal restrictions prohibiting such development."
The Nature Conservancy received a similar grant from the Cal-Fed Bay Delta project to complete the Staten Island acquisition. At the time, other environmental groups questioned the project because it provides for no public access to what remains private farmland.
The auditor also questioned DWR's monitoring of a $4.75 million grant to the City of Santee in San Diego County. The department has received only two progress reports and has not contacted the city since Mach 2004, even though Santee never provided a requested audit.
Much of the questioned activity occurred under the Davis administration and then-DWR Director Tom Hannigan. Current DWR Director Lester Snow told the Sacramento Bee the department would provide a ranking system for future project applications. But Snow also defended the Staten Island purchase, and DWR questioned a number of Howle's conclusions.
The report, including DWR's response, is available on the state auditor's website at http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2007-108.pdf