News Worth Noting: State Water Board posts policy statements from the Cal Water Fix hearing; New study shows CEQA protects environment without stunting economic growth; Donner Lake to benefit from first multi-party water exchange
New Economic Study Shows CEQA Protects Environment without Stunting Economic Growth
BAE Urban Economics report includes quantitative analysis of CEQA’s impacts on litigation, development costs and affordable housing
Economic analysis firm BAE Urban Economics released a new report today that shows the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) supports economically and environmental sustainable development in California. The report was commissioned by the Rose Foundation in response to a number of flawed analyses released in recent years that inaccurately blame CEQA for economic challenges in the state.
“This report uses quantitative analysis to clarify that anti-CEQA rhetoric really has no basis in fact,” said Janet Smith-Heimer, President of BAE Urban Economics. “After extensive analysis, we found that CEQA does not have an actual dampening effect on California’s economy.”
The report includes a number of significant findings, including:
There is no quantitative evidence that CEQA has a retarding effect on the state’s economic prosperity.
Legislative changes to CEQA aimed at streamlining the CEQA process to encourage infill development are working. In San Francisco, only 14 environmental impact reports were prepared in the last three years. In that time, 100 projects proceeded with CEQA exemptions or expedited review.
Despite rapid population growth and development, the number of CEQA lawsuits statewide has remained constant over the past 14 years. Between 2013 and 2015, legal challenges were filed in 0.7 percent of projects subject to CEQA review.
Less than one percent of projects subject to CEQA review face litigation.
Direct costs for complete environmental reviews under CEQA typically range from 0.025% to 0.5% of total development costs.
California is the 11th most densely populated state in the nation. Its urban areas compare favorably to cities around the country with regard to the rate of infill vs. greenfield development.
The state’s largest cities show ongoing improvement in walkability. California is home to 12 of the nation’s 50 most walkable cities.
CEQA does not hamper the development of affordable housing in urban areas. Although the need to provide more affordable housing in California is undisputed, when compared to other states, California produces the second highest number of affordable housing units per 100,000 residents in the nation.
CEQA was signed into law in 1970 by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. CEQA requires public agencies to identify environmental impacts associated with development and to reduce or eliminate such impacts whenever feasible. The law provides provisions to ensure transparency and invites community involvement in development decisions.
“CEQA is often the only legal protection afforded to communities of color and low-income communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms,” noted Gladys Limón, Staff Attorney with Communities for a Better Environment. “It identifies environmental health and safety impacts that would otherwise be passed off to residents and taxpayers generally. CEQA ensures smart development that respects the right of a decent home and suitable living environment for every Californian.”
The report’s analysis includes:
A literature review of recent studies on CEQA’s impacts.
A detailed review of legislation, legal findings and regulatory changes intended to streamline the CEQA process, and the degree to which those efforts have been successful.
Five case studies that illustrate how the CEQA process works (a transit center in Anaheim, an affordable senior housing project in Richmond, a Specific Plan for the Millbrae BART station, a solar installation in the Mojave Desert, and the contested SCIG railyard development at the Port of Los Angeles).
An analysis of the direct costs for the environmental review portion of a project, placed into context of other planning and constructions costs.
A review of California’s ranking compared to other states with regard to infill development, population density, walkability (a key metric of sustainable development) and economic prosperity.
“Public enforcement of CEQA plays a crucial function in protecting public health and the environment in California’s most vulnerable communities,” said Sean Hecht, Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law. “At the same time, this report shows that litigation under CEQA affects only a small fraction of projects in the state.”
Donner Lake Will Benefit from First Multi-Party Water Exchange under Truckee River Operating Agreement
From the Department of Water Resources:
The Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) implemented in December 2015 provides new mechanisms for federal, states (California and Nevada), tribal and local agencies to address unique and challenging water management issues. This week, parties to TROA exhibited flexibility and cooperation by agreeing to a series of water exchange transactions, allowed under TROA, to maintain higher water levels at Donner Lake through August.
The upper 12 feet of Donner Lake is reservoir storage that is wholly owned and operated by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA). TMWA is obligated by a 1943 Indenture Agreement to operate the reservoir within a specified range during the months of June, July and August. However, the minimum elevation permitted during that period often results in undesirable impacts to recreational opportunities and aesthetics at the lake during the peak vacation period leading up to Labor Day.
Due to quickly diminishing runoff in the Truckee River Basin watershed this summer, local reservoirs, including Donner Lake, are being drawn down faster than normal. As a result, TMWA’s drought management and operations plan required releases from Donner Lake to be increased beginning in late July. These releases would have resulted in lowering the level of Donner Lake during the popular summer season to the minimum allowed by the Indenture Agreement.
To maintain Donner Lake levels as high as feasible through August, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) proposed a series of complex water exchanges between TMWA and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada that was accepted by the parties on August 3, 2016. As a result, the releases from Donner Lake were reduced to a flow rate of 15 cubic feet per second, as negotiated. This reduced flow will be maintained through August and is expected to limit the minimum Donner Lake water level to approximately 1.5 feet above the minimum level permitted at the end of August by the Indenture Agreement. This is above the maximum level the lake experienced during the entire 2015 drought-impacted summer season.
The multi-party voluntary exchange is the first significant transaction under TROA benefitting California interests since the historic agreement between the U.S. Department of Interior, the states of California and Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and TMWA took effect. TROA replaced an inflexible river management system that was more than a century old.
Every Californian should take steps to conserve water. Find out how at SaveOurWater.com.
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About News Worth Noting: News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations. News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms. If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.