Delta tunnel: DWR plans for ESA consultation under Trump administration

On June 18, 2020, the Department of Water Resources submitted an application to the US Army Corps of Engineers for a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit for the Delta tunnel.

Getting federal permits for the Delta tunnel is complicated by Attorney General Becerra’s lawsuit over the Bureau of Reclamation’s new Long-Term Operations  for the Central Valley Project.  Reclamation has reportedly refused to be the lead agency for the Environmental Impact Statement for the Delta tunnel under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA.)  Instead, the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be the NEPA lead.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is also expected to be the lead agency for developing a Biological Assessment of the Delta tunnel project for evaluation of the project under the federal Endangered Species Act.

DWR’s Section 404 Application has the following timeline for obtaining permits (p 31.)

Other permits USACE Delta tunnel

Under ENDANGERED SPECIES (p. 31-31), the Department of Water Resources states that submittal of a BA (Biological Assessment),” is anticipated for late-2020:

The federal action agency will determine if its action may affect a listed species or critical habitat and develop a biological assessment (BA) consistent with this determination. If the action is likely to adversely affect the listed species or critical habitat, the federal action agency will request formal consultation with the Services (United States Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service) and this consultation will result in the Services’ issuance of biological opinions. It is anticipated the proposed Delta Conveyance Project will have effects on listed species requiring formal consultation.

DWR will work with USACE to define the scope of the Section 7 consultation process and development of the BA. Submittal of a BA is anticipated for late-2020. Informal coordination with the Services has begun and is ongoing.

The timeline in DWR’s Section 404 application is the same as the timeline reported to the Kern County Water Agency Board earlier this year:

KCWA Delta tunnel timeline

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Endangered Species Act consultation for the Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project was a source of outrage by environmental and fishing groups, who characterized the Biological Opinion as dismantling protections for endangered species.  It seems likely that an ESA consultation in 2020 for the Delta tunnel will also be highly controversial.

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