Coalition requests SWRCB to dismiss California WaterFix Change Petition due to unstable project description, CCWD Settlement Agreement Proposal
The Planning and Conservation League, the CSPA, Restore the Delta, C-WIN and others have written a letter to the State Water Board,requesting the California Water Fix petition be dismissed. The letter reads:
“Events have moved quickly this week regarding the California WaterFix Change Petition proceeding, to say the least. We write to urge once more that the Hearing Officers dismiss the Change Petition, this time because it is now demonstrable that the State Water Board is confronted with an unstable project description.
We appreciate that the Hearing Officers suspended the hearing schedule until it completes its next ruling “in the near future.” Petitioners stated March 28 that they have had “recent success settling issues raised in the EIR/EIS process and ongoing discussions with protestants.” (March 28 letter, page 1) The next day, March 29, Contra Costa Water District (CCWD) announced and disseminated its proposed settlement agreement with DWR mitigating costs and impacts of the California WaterFix project, assuming the latter goes forward. At the pre-hearing conference in January, various parties suggested to the Hearing Officers and staff they were open to settlements with DWR in exchange for resolving protestants.
The content of CCWD’s proposed settlement agreement involves new project facilities and accompanying impacts not originally contemplated by the Change Petition or the Board’s original Notice of Petition and Hearing last October. Its effect on financing is unknown. These new project components must be described in a complete petition and subjected to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. These new components pertain to changes in points of diversion in both the Delta (e.g., the CCWD “secondary conveyance” point) as well as a change in the place of use of water diverted at the Freeport regional diversion facility. Additionally, we think it is necessary to restart the process because other parties may be excluded who, because of the CCWD settlement, may wish to protest the Change Petition but may not at present because the Board’s deadline for protest submissions lapsed in January 2016 and was reliant on the Change Petition and Notice of October 30, 2015, which is now outdated. If other settlements are entered, the petition will need to describe them and undertake environmental review of them, in a manner consistent with due process rights to protest.
In conclusion, the Hearing Officers should dismiss the Change Petition without prejudice until such time as there is a stable, complete and fully evaluated (i.e., CEQA-compliant) project description for California WaterFix. We request that the Hearing Officers consider and assess the reasonableness of dismissing the petition in its next ruling, regardless of whether Petitioners provide assurance of no further delays. To continue this process seems to us like attempting to audit a bank while a robbery is under way. It cannot possibly result in an accurate accounting, to say the least, let alone protect the due process rights of those for whom the project results in redirected impacts.
Thank you for considering our latest request. We look forward to your ruling in the near future.”
View a copy of the letter here: Coalition Request for Dismissal Unstable Project Description
SWIFT launches “A Practitioner’s Guide to Instream Flow Transactions in California”
New guide helps California water rights holders understand their options for keeping water instream
From the Small Watershed Instream Flow Transfers Working Group (SWIFT):
The Small Watershed Instream Flow Transfers Working Group (SWIFT) announced today the release of a new resource for landowners and water diverters in California: A Practitioner’s Guide to Instream Flow Transactions in California. This handbook is a practical guide, written in layman’s terms, to navigating the complex world of water rights for the purpose of leaving water instream to benefit fish and wildlife resources.
With California’s trout and salmon, waterfowl, and other species under increasing pressure from drought, habitat loss and other factors, SWIFT member s say it is vitally important that California use all available tools to help keep enough water in streams to restore and sustain the state’s unique fish and wildlife.
“We wrote this new guide to help water users – and those assisting them, like consultants, land trusts, watershed groups, and resource conservation districts – better understand their options for keeping water instream in California,” said Amy Hoss of The Nature Conservancy.
SWIFT was formed in 2011 and is composed of Alford Environmental, American Rivers, Scott River Water Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited—all organizations experienced in working with water users and resource agencies to complete the instream flow dedication process with the State Water Board.
The Guide describes some of the most common types of instream flow transactions and how to navigate the State’s instream flow dedication process to change a water right (as permitted by California Water Code Section 1707), and provides case studies to show how the process has worked in real life.
“We realized that we had a lot of collective experience in helping willing water rights holders to use legal tools for the purpose of dedicating water rights to environmental benefits, so we compiled this guide to document the lessons we’ve learned and to offer helpful suggestions to others,” noted Mary Ann King of Trout Unlimited.
Carson Cox of American Rivers added, “Particularly in the face of the extended drought, water diverters who are willing and able to use their water rights to help fish and wildlife deserve our full support. We hope this Guide makes the process a little less complicated and helps facilitate more water in our rivers and streams.”
“Instream dedications are a voluntary procedure that can allow a water user to have flexibility in letting water stay instream while protecting the water right. Irrigators within our stream system have dedicated seven water rights to instream use for salmon and steelhead benefit during the low flow season,” commented Sari Sommarstrom of the Scott River Water Trust.
Chris Alford of Alford Environmental remarked, “Tremendous opportunities exist to use water rights in a way that benefit fish and wildlife in addition to other water uses. We want to make sure that water users who would like to use some or all of their existing water rights instream have information about what their options are.”
San Joaquin River Restoration Project releases draft environmental document on new groundwater banking project
From the San Joaquin River Restoration Program/Bureau of Reclamation:
“The San Joaquin River Restoration Program has released for public review a draft environmental assessment/initial study for a new groundwater recharge banking project in Tulare County. The proposed project includes constructing a 532-acre groundwater recharge basin, installing a 4.5 mile pipeline connecting the new recharge basin to the Friant-Kern Canal, and installing eleven groundwater recovery wells within the Pixley Irrigation District.
These actions would allow the Pixley and Delano-Earlimart Irrigation Districts to expand groundwater recharge efforts and improve groundwater levels. The proposed project would also contribute to the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s goal of reducing or avoiding adverse water supply impacts to Friant Division long-term contractors.
The Bureau of Reclamation would provide partial funding for construction of the proposed project, under Public Law 111-11, which authorizes Reclamation to provide financial assistance to local agencies within its Central Valley Project for planning, designing and constructing local facilities to bank water underground or recharge groundwater.
The Draft EA/IS was prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act. Reclamation is the lead agency in accordance with NEPA, and Pixley Irrigation District is the lead agency in accordance with CEQA. The Draft EA/IS may be viewed at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_projdetails.cfm?Project_ID=25157.”
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