Draft environmental documents for the long-term operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, plus an update on the biological opinions

Aerial view looking East along San Joaquin River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Photo by Ken James / DWR

Explainer post on what these environmental documents are all about and how they interface with the biological opinions, plus an update from Paul Souza on the biological opinions

On July 11, the Bureau of Reclamation released draft environmental documents for the Reinitiation of Consultation on the Coordinated Long-Term Operation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) for public comment. The comment period on the draft documents closes on August 26.

REINITIATION OF CONSULTATION ON WATER PROJECT OPERATIONS

Currently, Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations are based on biological opinions issued in 2008 and 2009 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

In August 2016, Reclamation requested reinitiation of consultation on water project operations from USFWS and NMFS citing the status of species, improvements in science, and new information from collaborative science processes.  Reclamation outlined the proposed changes to operations in the biological assessment which was submitted to USFWS and NMFS on January 31, 2019.  The biological assessment incorporates new science into Central Valley Project and State Water Project operations to include flow and non-flow actions designed to improve water supply and reliability, while protecting endangered species.

The USFWS and NMFS are evaluating the proposed action; USFWS is evaluating the effects on Delta Smelt while NMFS is evaluating effects on salmon and other species present in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, the Delta and Pacific Ocean.  The federal fish agencies are working to issue two fully coordinated biological opinions which are expected at the end of the month.  There is a separate but similar process underway at the state for compliance with the state’s endangered species and environmental regulations.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENTS

The EIS provides information on the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of potential modifications to the long-term operation of the CVP and SWP.  Reclamation has selected Alternative 1 as the preferred alternative, which includes a combination of flow-related actions, habitat restoration, and other measures intended to increase water deliveries while also protecting fish and wildlife.  Alternative 1 corresponds to the Biological Assessment that Reclamation submitted to the USFWS and NMFS.  The No Action Alternative would be the continuation of the current operation of the CVP and SWP, including the 2008 and 2009 RPA actions from that biological opinion.

PROPOSED ACTIONS IN ALTERNATIVE 1

Shasta Cold Water Pool Management actions include reducing flows from Keswick Dam in the fall in the wetter years, spring pulse flows, and implementation of a tiered strategy that allows for strategically selected temperature objectives, based on projected total storage and cold water pool, meteorology, Delta conditions, and habitat suitability for incoming fish population size and location. There is a very complicated formula for determining actions to be taken for winter-run chinook salmon redds.

Old and Middle River-Based Entrainment Management actions include maximizing exports by incorporating real-time monitoring of fish distribution, turbidity, temperature, and modeling into the decision support for OMR management; increasing exports during storm-related events; and real-time decision making and salvage thresholds.

Summer/Fall Delta Smelt Habitat actions include using structured decision-making to implement Delta Smelt habitat actions.   There are also actions intended to improve Delta Smelt food supply and habitat.

Habitat Restoration actions listed are the creation of additional spawning habitat by adding gravel to the Sacramento River on an annual basis; creation of 40 to 60 acres of side channel and floodplain habitat at multiple sites; and screening of small diversions.  On the American River, increase woody material, gravel augmentation, and floodplain habitat.  Gravel augmentation, rearing habitat, and temperature management actions on the Stanislaus River.

Modifications of facilities, such as modifying the Delta Cross Channel, and making improvements to the Tracy Fish Collection Facility and the Skinner Fish Collection Facility.

Intervention actions include increasing winter-run hatchery production; trap and haul of adult salmon and sturgeon in the Sutter and Yolo Bypass; and trap and haul of juvenile salmon and steelhead in drought years.  Actions would be taken to reduce predation at the Head of Old River Barrier.

Other actions include changes to Delta Cross Channel operations; aquatic weed removal in Barker Slough and Clifton Court; supplementation of the wild Delta Smelt population with captively produced Delta Smelt, and construction of the new conservation hatchery for Delta smelt by 2030.  Drought and dry year planning, including working with DWR to develop a voluntary toolkit for the operation of Shasta Reservoir during critical hydrologic years.

BENEFITS OF ALTERNATIVE 1

Alternative 1 would increase exports by 592,000 acre-feet and reduce Delta outflow by 632,000 acre-feet.  Because implementation of alternative 1 would deliver more surface water to the San Joaquin Valley, under this analysis, the groundwater levels in the San Joaquin Valley would improve.

EFFECTS OF ALTERNATIVE 1

The 133-page analysis of environmental consequences analyzes the effects of the alternatives on water quality in the rivers and the Delta, surface water supplies, groundwater levels, tribal resources, air quality, greenhouse gases, aquatic resources, economics, land use, recreation, environmental justice, power generation, and others.

TIMELINE FOR COMPLETION

Comments are being accepted on the draft EIS through August 26.  Reclamation anticipates responding to comment through the fall with a final EIS being issued in December 2020 and a Record of Decision in January of 2021.

VIEW DOCUMENTS
HOW TO SUBMIT COMMENTS

Submit written comments via email to sha-mpr-bdo@usbr.gov or by mail to Reclamation Bay-Delta Office, 801 I Street, Suite 140, Sacramento, CA 95814-2536.  All comments must be submitted by August 26, 2019

UPDATE ON THE BIOLOGICAL OPINIONS

I received an email at the end of last week from the Pacific Southwest Regional Fish and Wildlife Director Paul Souza via the Department of Interior with an update on the biological opinions.  Mr. Souza is the federal lead official on the consultation and coordinating efforts; he is working with the inter-agency consultation team to resolve outstanding issues.  The upshot of his email was that the federal fisheries agencies have engaged an independent scientific panel to provide an analysis of the biological opinions.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Bureau of Reclamation are working together as one federal team to collaborate on this project to ensure the highest standard of scientific integrity is achieved,” said Mr. Souza.  “The proposed action incorporates important strategies that will help conserve fisheries. With this additional time, we’re able to provide independent peer reviewers with a second opportunity to review the proposed action and supplemental documents to see how the goals of providing water supply for project users and protecting fisheries are being simultaneously met. Our team of scientists, engineers, and legal experts looks forward to receiving the new round of comments and will incorporate them as appropriate.”

We had to ask for a couple of extensions because we needed the time to get it right. We’re going above and beyond the call of duty with scientific review,” Mr. Souza continued. “This week was a very important benchmark for us because we went so far to ask for a second review because we care so deeply about the integrity of the scientific review. On Tuesday of [last] week I’m happy to say we provided a second scientific independent review panel with updated documents from the Bureau of Reclamation, from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and from the National Marine Fisheries Service.”

For a second time we’re embarking on a robust comment period. This really is a partnership between the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Reclamation in concert with the State of California. We look forward to getting these comments and taking the next step to refine these documents even further… [and] strike that important balance between providing water for farms and communities and protecting the environment,” Mr. Souza concluded.

The biological opinions are now expected at the end of August.

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