State Officials Move to Circumvent Federal Plans for California Water

Brian German Agri-Business, Water

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has released its draft Environmental Impact Report for the long-term operations of the State Water Project (SWP).  The announcement was made at the same time that California officials indicated they would be suing the Trump Administration over its plans for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The underlying issue both state and federal agencies are wrestling with is how best to manage California water to protect specific species and habitat.

California water

The draft from DWR allows water project operations to circumvent the proposed guidelines from federal agencies, while also remaining consistent with California regulation.  DWR will be seeking approval from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to operate the SWP in a manner more in-line with the California Endangered Species Act, which goes beyond provisions of the federal act.  DWR will be developing an application for a permit from CDFW under the California Environmental Quality Act, with CDFW expected to establish the specific requirements in the coming months.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service released updated biological opinions back in October incorporating updated data to guide water management in the SWP and the Central Valley Project (CVP).  California officials have declared the plans prepared by the federal agencies to enhance species protection and habitat management are “not scientifically adequate.”  Both the SWP and the CVP have been administered under the information provided by biological opinions that were issued more than a decade prior.

The effort to forgo the consideration of any new biological opinions in the management of California water was recently approved by California legislators through Senate Bill 1.  That legislation was ultimately vetoed by Governor Newsom, much to the dismay of many environmental groups.  The announcement from DWR and Governor Newsom will result in two significant water projects designed to function in unison being managed under conflicting environmental constraints. 

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West