The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its intention to once again update water management plans for California. Earlier in the month, Reclamation announced the reinitiation of consultation on its Long-Term Operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Director of Sustainability for Western United Dairies and the California Cattle Council, Aubrey Bettencourt explained what that means for water management protocols.
“What they’re saying in practical terms is, ‘we’re going to update our operations orders for the system and it needs to go through another environmental review as a result,’” said Bettencourt. “They intend to update their operations plan and that they feel that what they’re updating in those operations plans had not been considered for environmental impact under the existing review that was done, or biological opinions that were done, on the previous plan.”
Current operations orders were unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service back in 2019. The orders had been reviewed and approved under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act as having no significant harm. Prior to the confirmation of those orders, it had been approximately 10 years since new biological opinions had been released.
“The Bureau is intending to update in a very short turnaround between 2019 and 2022, less than three years. It’s only been two years operating under existing orders,” Bettencourt noted. “To update their orders in such a significant manner that it would require an additional environmental review when the existing orders, for only two years, haven’t had a problem according to the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.”
Several lawmakers have expressed concern about Reclamation’s recent action. In a press release, the lawmakers voice opposition to “the Biden administration’s reckless, anti-scientific, and politically-motivated attempt to rewrite the 2019 biological opinions.” The lawmakers are calling for the defense of the 2019 opinions to provide more stability in California’s water management approach.