NEWS WORTH NOTING: Reclamation, DWR take steps to improve habitat for endangered salmon at the Yolo Bypass; Sierra Nevada Conservancy awards $3M+ for restoration projects; Attorney General Becerra denounces EPA actions to allow indirect water pollution; EPA Issues guidance on 401 certification

Reclamation, DWR take steps to improve habitat for endangered salmon at the Yolo Bypass

Agencies to increase floodplain fisheries-rearing habitat and improve fish passage at Fremont Weir

The Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have evaluated options to improve fish passage and increase floodplain fisheries-rearing habitat in the Yolo Bypass, near Sacramento. These options explore how to benefit Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and the southern distinct population segment of North American green sturgeon. The agencies released environmental documents that analyze six action alternatives including a headworks structure at Fremont Weir and downstream channel improvements.

“The Yolo Bypass is both a prominent element of California’s flood control system and a critical migration corridor for fish,” said Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant. “This project shows what we can do when we work with our state and local partners to address fish and water supply reliability in California. I look forward to our work together to restore habitat while continuing existing land use.”

The project aims to increase the connection of water and fish entering the Yolo Bypass, California’s largest continuous floodplain made up of 59,000 acres. This project will also provide seasonal inundation that mimics the natural process of the Yolo Bypass floodplain during winter and improves connectivity within the bypass and to the Sacramento River. This enables juvenile salmon to feed in a food-rich area for a longer time, allowing them to grow rapidly in size and improving their chances of survival as they travel to the ocean.

The project primarily consists of a new structure at the head of the Fremont Weir, also known as a headworks structure, and channel improvements to an outlet and downstream channels. The new construction would connect floodplain habitat over the winter, when flooding occurs. Connecting floodplain habitat over the winter avoids significant impacts to land uses by operating within existing hydrology and outside of the agriculture season.

The project meets requirements of the National Marine Fisheries Service 2009 Biological Opinion on the Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project (LTO) and is part of the Reinitiation of Consultation (ROC) on LTO.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement is prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and available at https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=30484. Hard copies of the documents can be reviewed at the Bureau of Reclamation, Bay-Delta Office, 801 I Street, Suite 140, Sacramento, CA. Call to make an appointment (916-414-2400). To request a copy of the documents, contact Ben Nelson at 916-414-2424 (TTY 800-877-8339), bnelson@usbr.gov.

For additional information on the Yolo Bypass Salmonid Habitat Restoration and Fish Passage Project, visit https://www.usbr.gov/mp/bdo/yolo-bypass.html.

Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board Awards More Than $3 Million for Restoration Projects

From the Sierra Nevada Conservancy:

At its quarterly meeting, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) Governing Board approved a total of $3,122,551 in funds for five different projects focused on improving watershed and forest health throughout the Sierra Nevada.

Each of the selected projects strike at the heart of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), SNC’s large-scale restoration initiative designed to improve ecosystem and community resilience in the Region.

“The projects authorized for funding by our board today will provide community protection and improve forest and watershed health more broadly,” said Sierra Nevada Conservancy Executive Officer, Angela Avery. “These are great examples of the type and kind of work that the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program is focused on implementing with our partners across the region.”

Four of the approved projects are specifically forest health grants funded through Proposition 1 (The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014) and Proposition 68 (The California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018). The Yuba Watershed Institute was awarded $300,000 for its ‘Inimim Forest Restoration Project – Phase 1 to aid in forest restoration and watershed health in Nevada County. Sagehen Creek Field Station, a research and teaching facility of the University of California at Berkeley located in the Tahoe National Forest, was awarded $1 million for its Pushing the Larger Landscape Into Resiliency Through Fire project. An additional $721,487 was authorized to the Sierra Foothill Conservancy in Mariposa County for the Von Der Ahe Forest Enhancement Project and $506,714 went to the Plumas Audubon Society for its efforts to improve the health of the forests in the Genesee Valley, a significant tributary to the north fork of the Feather River.

Finally, $594,350 was allotted for the Blacksmith Project, an undertaking by the El Dorado National Forest to aid in landscape resilience and improve growing conditions for trees in a 6,000-acre area east of Georgetown, Ca. Funding for this project came from CAL FIRE’s California Climate Investments (CCI) grant program, which puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work throughout the state to help improve public health, the environment, and the economy by reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs).

Additional information about these projects and the programs that fund them can be found at www.sierranevada.ca.gov in the June 2019 Board Meeting materials.

About the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program: The Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) is a state agency whose mission is to improve the environmental, economic, and social well-being of the 25-million-acre Sierra Nevada Region. The SNC leads the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), a large-scale restoration program designed to restore the health of California’s primary watershed and create resilient Sierra Nevada Communities. Additional information about the SNC and the WIP can be found at www.sierranevada.ca.gov.

Attorney General Becerra Denounces EPA Actions to Allow Indirect Water Pollution

From the Office of the Attorney General:

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of an 11 state coalition, today filed a comment letter denouncing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions to abandon protections of rivers, creeks and lakes under the Clean Water Act (CWA). On April 23, 2019, the EPA issued new guidance that would exclude any discharge of pollutants that reach waters of the United States through groundwater from CWA permitting requirements. The new guidance contradicts EPA’s prior long-standing position regarding indirect discharges to waters of the United States and is in conflict with the CWA and Supreme Court case law. EPA’s guidance would give polluters free rein to direct pollutants such as wastewater, sewage, and industrial runoff into groundwater that is connected to a river, creek or a lake and avoid CWA liability for polluting these waterways.

“The EPA should get back to its mission of protecting the environment, not polluters,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The EPA’s plan to roll back Clean Water Act protections and allow polluters to threaten the health of Americans is unlawful. If you pollute a waterway, you should bear the costs of damage done to public health and the environment.”

In conflict with the CWA, the EPA’s plan would severely undermine CWA’s effort to protect and improve the quality of U.S. waters. The coalition argues that indirect discharges of pollutants into these waters are subject to CWA permits under the law. California maintains a strong interest in upholding these protections, as our state is authorized to issue CWA permits to safeguard water quality and relies on them to protect California waters from out-of-state pollution. Additionally, aside from CWA, no other federal statute or program provides these protections against the indirect discharges of pollution into U.S. waters.

The Attorneys General assert in the comment letter that the EPA’s action is more than an interpretation, but rather a legislative agency rule and subject to the federal Administrative Procedure Act. By issuing the rule without prior notice and opportunity for public comment, EPA’s action is unlawful.

Attorney General Becerra filed the letter along with the Attorneys General of Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

EPA Issues Guidance on Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification

From the US EPA:

As directed by President Trump, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released guidance on Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) that provides recommendations to clarify and streamline the 401 certification process and to promote greater investment in and certainty for national infrastructure projects while continuing to protect local water quality.

Under Executive Order 13868, “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth,” EPA was directed to issue guidance for federal permitting agencies and state and authorized tribal authorities to modernize previous guidance and clarify existing CWA Section 401 requirements.

EPA’s “Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Guidance for Federal Agencies, States, and Authorized Tribes” provides clarification and recommendations on CWA Section 401 certifications in the following specific areas:

  • Statutory and regulatory timelines for review and action on a CWA Section 401 certification;
  • The appropriate scope of CWA Section 401 certification conditions; and
  • Information within the scope of a state or authorized tribe’s CWA Section 401 review.

EPA’s new guidance, which replaces EPA’s prior interim guidance from 2010, also provides additional recommendations to federal agencies, states and authorized tribes to promote early collaboration and coordination through the 401 certification process. Executive Order 13868 also directed EPA to propose new rules modernizing the agency’s CWA Section 401 implementing regulations by August 8, 2019. The agency intends to propose regulations that may help further clarify and streamline CWA Section 401 certifications. Since the Executive Order was issued on April 10, 2019, the agency has initiated formal consultations with its state, local, and tribal partners, as well as outreach with its federal partners on this rulemaking effort and invited written pre-proposal recommendations through a public docket. The agency is carefully reviewing the input received through these engagements and the docket prior to issuing a proposed rule.

Background

Section 401 of the CWA provides states and authorized tribes with an important tool to help protect water quality within their borders in collaboration with federal agencies. The rules governing this authority have not been updated in nearly 50 years. In addition, evolving case law and EPA’s outdated guidance have caused some confusion and resulted in delays in certain infrastructure projects with potentially significant national benefits.

To read the guidance and to learn about the CWA Section 401 water quality certification process, please visit https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401.

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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.

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