In 2004, the Long-Term Central Valley Project and State Water Project Operations Criteria and Plan (OCAP) was issued by both Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources which defined planned operations of the two water projects to meet system needs. As required by the federal Endangered Species Act, Reclamation sought consultation with the federal fish and wildlife agencies, and subsequently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion in 2008 for the Delta smelt, and the National Marine Fisheries followed the next year with a biological opinion for the Chinook salmon and other species. Those biological opinions were provisionally accepted by Reclamation.
Soon after, lawsuits were filed in the District Court for the Eastern District that challenged various aspects of the biological opinions and Reclamation’s acceptance of them. Put simply, after several rounds through the courts, the biological opinions for Delta smelt and salmon were found to be inadequate for various reasons and ordered to be rewritten. Those decisions were appealed and in 2014, the biological opinions upheld, and the order to rewrite them rescinded. The Delta smelt cases were submitted to the Supreme Court for review, but the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case. (For a more detailed legal history, see Biological Opinions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: A Case Law Summary)
The District Court also ruled and the Appellate Court subsequently confirmed that Reclamation must conduct a NEPA review to determine whether the acceptance and implementation of the RPA actions outlined in the 2008/2009 biological opinions would cause a significant effect to the human environment. Reclamation then initiated preparation of these documents in 2011. The District Court has ordered this final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision to be completed on or before December 1, 2015.
(For more on the biological opinion process, check out the Notebook glossary entry: biological opinion)
Reasonable and Prudent Alternative actions
If US FWS or NMFS determine through the consultation process that the project or action is likely to jeopardize listed species, they will issue a biological opinion that lists Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) actions, which are alternative methods of implementing the project or actions that need to be taken that would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy to listed species or modify critical habitat.
US FWS and NMFS have concluded that operation of the CVP and SWP would jeopardize the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon, and they issued biological opinions identifying several RPAs such as pumping restrictions, habitat restoration, and specific monitoring and reporting requirements.
The draft EIR evaluates the potential impacts of implementing the various RPAs on water project operations and the environment, and reflects Reclamation’s own analysis of the effects of modifications to the long-term operations of the CVP and SWP. The draft EIR acknowledges that many of the provisions of the RPAs identified in the biological opinions require further study and monitoring and further environmental documentation necessary before any future facilities can be constructed or modified.
The RPAs identified in the biological opinions specify a wide range of actions with many variables in their implementation. During the development of alternatives, 23 alternative concepts were identified, which were then whittled down to 17 concepts that are included in one or more of the five specific alternatives:
Alternative 1: Reflects conditions without implementation of the biological opinions.
Alternative 2: Identified as a ‘preliminary proposed action’ that includes implementation of most of the RPA actions.
Alternative 3: Alternative based on scoping comment from Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, Oakdale Irrigation District, and South San Joaquin Irrigation District
Alternative 4: Also based on a scoping comment from the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta
Alternative 5: Based on comments from environmental interests groups.
The analysis also considers a No Action Alternative as well as a Second Basis of Comparison. The No Action Alternative consists of the operation of the water projects including full implementation of the RPAs as defined in the biological opinions; the Second Basis of Comparison reflects analysis of operations without implementation of the RPAs identified in the biological opinions. (The Second Basis of Comparison is the same as Alternative 1.)
The draft EIS does not specify a preferred alternative; that will be identified in the final documents.
Submitting your comments
Four public meetings will be held to gather public input on the environmental analysis. The meetings will be held at the following locations:
Sacramento: Wednesday, September 9, 2015, from 2 to 4 p.m., John E. Moss Federal Building, Stanford Room, 650 Capitol Mall, Sacramento, CA 95814.
Red Bluff: Thursday, September 10, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m., Red Bluff Community Center, 1500 S. Jackson Street, Red Bluff, CA 96080.
Los Banos: Tuesday, September 15, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m., Los Banos Community Center, Grand Room, 645 7th Street, Los Banos, CA 93635.
Irvine: Thursday, September 17, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m., Hilton Hotel Irvine/Orange County Airport, 18800 MacArthur Boulevard, Irvine, CA 92612.
Chapter 18: Public Health: Regulatory environment and compliance requirements; public health issues related to water supplies, mosquitoes, Valley Fever, high concentrations of mercury in fish and shellfish; impact analysis; evaluation of alternatives