This just in … DWR Statement Regarding Delta Independent Science Board Comments on RDEIR/SDEIS

From the Department of Water Resources:

Statement from Cassandra Enos-Nobriga, program manager for the California Department of Water Resources, about the Delta Independent Science Board comments on the Partially Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIR/SDEIS) for California WaterFix:

The Department of Water Resources is grateful for the Independent Science Board (ISB) review of the California WaterFix/Bay Delta Conservation Plan RDEIR/SDEIS.  The ISB’s comments will help ensure the state’s approach to protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta uses the best possible scientific methods, coordination and inquiry.  The ISB’s specific comments on various resource chapters of the RDEIR/SDEIS will enhance analysis of the proposed project by DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and improve the final environmental impact documents.

The ISB found much to laud in the new documents, including for example that:

  • The new Sections 1 through 4 are well-written;
  • Section 2 provides the great service of summarizing how the previous draft was revised in response to project changes and public input;
  • Section 4 presents an impressive amount of detailed information; and
  • if the comprehensive “Resource Restoration and Performance Principles” listed in the environmental documents are adhered to, the project should have minimal impacts on biological resources that might be affected by construction or operations.

Several of the ISB’s comments warrant clarification:

In developing California WaterFix, three new alternatives were added to the existing 15 already being considered to meet the project objectives and purpose and need. The primary change with the RDEIR/SDEIS is that there is a different proposed project (preferred alternative). The California WaterFix does not have a 15-year time period as stated in the ISB comments.

The 21 other conservation measures in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are part of the alternatives that include a Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP).  A portion of many of the conservation measures also would serve as mitigation to offset construction related impacts, including construction of the conveyance project.  Elements of the conservation measures, including restoration, that offset construction related impacts remain as part of the proposed California WaterFix project and non-HCP/NCCP alternatives.  Other conservation measures that make up the HCP/NCCP alternatives will be or are being pursued through other projects and programs at the state, federal or local level.

Some comments of the Delta ISB relate to issues beyond the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and beyond the scope of an EIR/EIS.  The purpose of an EIR/EIS is to identify and evaluate the potential impacts of a project on the existing environment.  The major focus of the CEQA/NEPA environmental review requirement directs the lead agency to focus on how construction and operation of the proposed project would adversely impact existing resources. CEQA and NEPA do not direct an agency, beyond a cumulative impact analysis, to specifically analyze how other future actions, unrelated to the proposed project, also could affect the environment.  So, for example, while DWR appreciates the importance of understanding the viability of future levee programs and the environmental effect of levee failure, such an assessment falls outside the scope of CEQA and NEPA requirements and instead would occur as a part of a feasibility study related to engineering design.

An EIR/EIS should not be speculative.  CEQA specifically directs an agency not to speculate and to terminate discussion of an impact where it is too speculative for evaluation.  However, for example, the ISB reviewers state that they would like to see in the draft environmental review documents greater detail about the effects of changed water availability on agricultural practices in the San Joaquin Valley.  Although some degree of forecasting may be appropriate in certain situations where the indirect actions are reasonably certain to occur, such speculation in this instance would not be reasonably foreseeable and therefore inappropriate in an EIR/EIS.

To a large extent, CEQA and NEPA direct that an EIR/EIS follow a certain format related to defining the environmental setting/affected environment and then sequentially analyzing impacts of how the proposed action would cause potentially significant impacts to that existing environment.  The environmental setting should be focused on the physical conditions which exist within the area and will be affected by the project.  This area is limited to only that where significant impacts would occur.  While the ISB reviewers state that they would like to see greater detail on a “landscape” level, an EIR/EIS does not call for such an analysis. The state, however, is working to improve its landscape-level understanding of resource management.  Similarly, efforts are underway to better articulate how the California EcoRestore program will be properly and effectively coordinated with other restoration programs.

The ISB reviewers state that they would like to see more detail on adaptive management.  An EIR/EIS is required to present all feasible mitigation to avoid or substantially reduce potentially significant impacts and develop a monitoring program for the implementation of the mitigation that is required.  Where the mitigation relies on the future development of a detailed plan, performance standards must be included within the measure’s description; however, comprehensive adaptive management programs are not necessarily a specific element of that mitigation plan.  An EIR/EIS does not call for a comprehensive summary of adaptive management principles.  Nonetheless, DWR puts adaptive management into practice on a regular basis and will continue to do so for any future project.

The ISB expresses interest in greater detail.  But an EIR/EIS should not be judged as a comprehensive treatise on Delta challenges or even a primer for policy makers.  It is one piece of the overall panoply of information to be utilized in decision-making, and its boundaries are narrowly prescribed by law.

We welcome the Delta ISB’s interest in how the State intends to manage water supplies and protect invaluable natural resources in the Delta, and we hope to continue working collaboratively with both the ISB and the Delta Stewardship Council toward that goal.

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