In AquAlliance v. United States Bureau of Reclamation, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s (Bureau) decision to withhold information about the construction and location of water wells from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. However, the court did not overturn the District Court’s ruling required the agency to disclose the names and addresses of various water transfer program participants.
The data withheld in these FOIA requests, including a groundwater well’s location, construction, and depth, help the public assess the environmental impacts associated with water transfer programs utilizing groundwater substitution. By withholding this information, the Bureau did not allow the public to independently assess the cumulative impacts of a proposed water transfer program, nor verify the Bureau’s environmental impact findings in the project’s National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) documents. Without this information, concerned citizens have two options: (1) accept the agency’s explanation regarding why this information is unnecessary to assess the environmental impacts, or (2) legally challenge the agency for using an inadequate model in its Environmental Assessment (EA), without any guarantee that the environmental effects will be considered.