Interior Secretary orders review of California WaterFix

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell calls for expedited review of project.

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Source: ACWA

CALIFORNIA, JANUARY 5, 2017 -- U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has issued a Secretarial Order that directs federal officials to expedite the environmental review of the California WaterFix project as part of larger effort to take "timely actions" to address the effects of drought and climate change on California's water supply and imperiled wildlife.

The order outlines several actions that address critical water issues in California, including expedited actions ranging from fostering Delta smelt resiliency to asking the federal government to work for voluntary flow agreements that align with the Endangered Species Act. The order is specific to California.

The order calls out the California WaterFix project in particular, directing the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite its environmental review of the Delta tunnels project and issue a draft biological opinion on the project by the end of this month and a final draft biological opinion by March 2017. A final biological opinion is to be issued by April 2017, the order states.

"Long-term drought, fueled by climate change, has adversely affected the state's water supplies, exacerbated effects of water operations on imperiled species, impacted water quality, and added to the stressors affecting the health of California's unique ecosystems, particularly the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Bay-Delta)," the order states.

Gov. Jerry Brown praised the initiatives outlined in the order.

"Today's action tracks closely with the state's multi-pronged Water Action Plan and commits the federal government to a timely review of the California WaterFix project," Brown was quoted in the order. "This state-federal partnership is what's needed to improve water reliability for residents and farmers and protect vulnerable ecosystems."

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor called the order "a practical and broad-based strategy to help protect California's water lifeline for present and future generations."

"This order will ensure the integration of the department's actions with those of the state of California to provide a reliable drinking water supply for the public, sustain California's agriculture, and continue to protect the Bay Delta ecosystem and enhance the conservation of species," Connor wrote.

Federal officials stated in the order that it was "developed in consultation with the state agencies and other federal agencies" and specifies steps by Interior and its agencies to achieve "the state's co-equal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the environmental quality of the Bay-Delta."

The order states it is providing "direction for the Department, and particularly Reclamation and FWS, with scientific support and technical advice from the USGS, to complete the technical, scientific, and analytical work necessary to make permitting, regulatory, and other decisions associated with various water initiatives."

The order calls for the following six actions:
1. California WaterFix Environmental Review
2. Collaborative Delta Science Engagement Process.
3. Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy.
4. Re-initiation of Consultation under the Endangered Species Act on Coordinated Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project
5. Active Engagement in Development of Voluntary Agreements for Flow Requirements and Coordination on Flows with ESA Requirements.
6. Winter-run Chinook "Species in the Spotlight" Action Plan.

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