State Releases Draft EIR, Announces Intent to Pursue Litigation Over Federal BiOps

  • by Will Holbert
  • Nov 26, 2019
  • Water News

The California Natural Resources Agency and California Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 21 released a Draft Environmental Impact Report that acknowledges Voluntary Agreements as a potential path forward in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. Prepared by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the draft EIR is the first step in an environmental review of long-term operations of the State Water Project (SWP).

Unfortunately, however, the state also announced that it intends to sue federal agencies that recently released biological opinions, or BiOps, regarding the coordinated long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and SWP. A news release from the state asserts  that the federal BiOps “are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.”

“The draft EIR released by DWR expressed encouraging support for Voluntary Agreements as the best path forward for securing the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta,” said ACWA Executive Director Dave Eggerton. “However, we are very disappointed by the state’s announcing its intention to litigate over proposed operations of the state and federal projects.”

“The threat of litigation could cancel out years of dedicated efforts by many diverse stakeholders to forge a new and collaborative approach that can work for the environment, our economy and all Californians,” Eggerton said. “Voluntary Agreements must remain the highest priority and represent a necessary alternative to years of litigation that will benefit neither fish nor communities.”

According to DWR, its draft proposal differs from the federal BiOps in several primary ways, besides not seeking an increase in SWP exports:

  • Gives the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) authority to stop SWP operational changes if it determines they will violate California Endangered Species Act (CESA) standards, instead of relying on federal Endangered Species Act standards.
  • Includes multiple alternatives that provide a block of environmental water that can be used to offset pumping impacts in the Bay-Delta, with adjustments made over time as new scientific information is learned.
  • Provides clear direction on when Bay-Delta pumping can be increased during storm events and caps the amount that exports can be increased in those events.
  • Includes updated modeling and quantitative analyses to support habitat actions in summer and fall to benefit Delta smelt.
  • Includes specific protections for longfin smelt, a protected species under CESA, and a commitment to implementing a longfin smelt science plan.

DWR’s draft EIR will be available for public comment through Jan. 6, 2020. DWR anticipates completing a final document in early 2020, with a permit from CDFW expected to follow.

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