Democrats Seek Probe

Of Calif. Water Plan

House Democrats called for an investigation into a report that federal biologists rewrote an analysis that said a water transfer plan could hurt endangered salmon in Northern California.

In a letter yesterday to the inspectors general of the Interior Department and the Commerce Department, the lawmakers said the report suggested a "catastrophic failure of oversight."

At issue is a recent report in the Sacramento Bee that said federal biologists evaluating the effects of shifting millions of gallons of water to Southern California from rivers in the north were ordered by their superiors to revise a conclusion that the plan would hurt endangered salmon.

Biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initially found that the water project would harm fish in many rivers in Northern California, including salmon in the American River. But NOAA administrators overruled the findings and supervised a rewriting of the analysis, according to documents obtained by the Bee. An updated version, dated Sept. 27, no longer concluded that winter-run salmon or other fish could face extinction because of the extra water diversions.

The reported actions "may further undermine public confidence in the Bureau of Reclamation's and NOAA fisheries' ability to appropriately manage the resources that the public has entrusted to them," the Democrats wrote. The letter was signed by 19 House members.

NOAA officials, including the assistant regional administrator who supervised the rewriting, said the revisions were justified.

"This was just supervisor-employee stuff. I received a draft document that had some errors in it, and when those were corrected, it changed the conclusion," James Lecky, assistant regional administrator for the southwest region for NOAA, said in an interview yesterday.

He said he was confident that the conclusion that fish would not be harmed was accurate, but noted that a final version of the report still has not been issued.

"What got leaked was a very preliminary draft, and then a . . . more developed draft that had some different conclusions in it," he said.

U.S. Warns Citizens

About Sinai Peninsula

The United States warned citizens to avoid the northeastern Sinai Peninsula for the next three months after suicide bombings hit three Egyptian hotels in the area.

The attack on the five-star Taba Hilton hotel, which killed or wounded scores of people, slightly injured two American employees of the U.S. Embassy in Israel and their families, the State Department said.

In a public announcement, the department said Americans did not appear to have been targeted by the bombings in Taba, just across the border from the Israeli port Eilat, and in the vicinity of Nuweiba, an international ferry port. It said, however, that Americans in Egypt should exercise caution, remain vigilant and be aware that roadways outside Cairo, the capital, might be encumbered by extra Egyptian security personnel and equipment.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, discussing intelligence on the condition of anonymity, said officials suspect al Qaeda in the attacks.

-- From News Services