Final documents for Cal Water Fix, California's infrastructure modernization plans, released

Officials believe the plan is the best way to guard against water supply disruptions.

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SACRAMENTO, CA, DECEMBER 23, 2016 -- Following 10 years of study and hundreds of public meetings, state and federal officials today released the final, refined environmental documents for California WaterFix, an effort to modernize the state's water infrastructure in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The project's lead agencies -- the California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- identified WaterFix as the preferred alternative to modernize California's primary water delivery system in the Delta. Officials believe the plan is the best way to guard against water supply disruptions, and improve conditions for threatened and endangered fish.

The project consists of three new intakes in the northern Delta and two 35-mile-long tunnels to transport water to the existing pumping plants in the south Delta. New intakes and tunnels also would help guard water supplies against saltwater intrusion as sea levels rise and in the event of an earthquake or storm powerful enough to destroy levees in the low-lying Delta.

"WaterFix will secure water supplies for 25 million Californians and prepare for a future marked by rising seas, seismic threats and more extreme weather," said Mark Cowin, Director of the California Department of Water Resources. "After years of scientific study and analysis, we have found the best solution for protecting both the Delta's ecosystem and a vital water supply for California."

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn called the release of the documents a "milestone."

"ACWA supports a long-term Delta solution as a key element of the comprehensive strategy outlined in Governor Brown's California Water Action Plan. All elements of that plan – including investments in surface and groundwater storage, sustainable groundwater management, ongoing improvements in water-use efficiency and development of a more effective water market – must move ahead to create a more resilient water system that can meet today's challenges and those on the horizon," Quinn said.

"We are glad to see this milestone for the WaterFix and encourage all interested parties – including our federal partners – to remain engaged and work together to implement long-term solutions for the Delta," Quinn added.

The Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today describe environmental impacts that could arise from the project and includes measures to avoid or minimize those impacts. The document, known as Alternative 4A, was chosen because of its ability to provide a reliable source of clean water while minimizing unnatural flows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that harm native fish and habitat, officials said in a press release.

More than 100 alternatives also were considered in the development of the WaterFix EIR/EIS and screened out for lack of feasibility or public benefit, officials said. Now that the EIR/EIS is completed, biological opinions are expected to be finalized in early 2017, clearing the way for final environmental clearances, completion of other necessary agreements, and construction that could begin as soon as 2018.

WaterFix is the state's plan to upgrade infrastructure in the estuary where two major rivers -- the Sacramento and San Joaquin -- meet before flowing to San Francisco Bay. The Delta provides critical habitat for wildlife, including several endangered or threatened species of native fish. The state's two biggest water projects, the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, deliver water that passes through the Delta. Together, the two projects deliver water to 25 million people across California.

Water project operations in the south Delta are increasingly curtailed to protect listed fish species. WaterFix aims to reduce that conflict so that water supplies are stabilized and harmful reverse flows for fish are reduced, officials said.

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metroplitan Water District of Southern Califonria, called the release of the final environemtnal documents "historic."

"This historic milestone completes the process of identifying the preferred project to modernize the state water system, reduce environmental conflicts and increase water supply reliability for California," Kightlinger said in a written statement.

"We need a future water system that can capture sufficient supplies when storms reach Northern California. This critical mission cannot be performed by anything smaller than what is proposed," Kightlinger added. This final proposal reflects a project downsizing of 40 percent from what public water agencies had originally identified, a tough but necessary compromise with the wildlife regulatory agencies."

California WaterFix is a key element of the Brown Administration's five-year plan to build more reliable, resilient water systems and to restore important ecosystems. The basic elements of WaterFix were chosen in order to satisfy the 2009 Delta Reform Act, which established the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The 2009 law directed state agencies to analyze a reasonable range of Delta conveyance alternatives, including various routes and carrying capacities.

Today's final EIR/EIS was refined after more than 300 days of public review and 600 public meetings throughout the state about the draft versions. It includes responses to and revisions based on more than 30,000 public comments. The final environmental documents are available here.

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