Rejecting the call by fishermen, Tribes, conservationists, family farmers and environmental justice advocates to terminate the Delta Tunnels plan, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on January 4 issued a Secretarial Order that will mandate the completion of Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial California WaterFix process “in a timely manner.”
The final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017 — and the decision to sign a Record of Decision will be made by the next Secretary under the Trump administration, according to the order.
The Obama administration order directs the Department of Interior and its agencies to “take timely actions to help address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and imperiled wildlife.”
Regarding the Delta Tunnels project, the order directs Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “to allocate available resources, as necessary, to complete in a timely manner the Biological Opinions under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and a Record of Decision on the environmental documents for California WaterFix.”
The Secretarial Order directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to “take all necessary actions” to issue an initial Draft Biological Opinion in January 2017 and a final Draft Biological Opinion by March 2017 after incorporating the results of “independent scientific peer reviews.” Following these reviews, a final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017.
The order also specifies that the Department, working with the State and others, “will promptly review and consider any information received after publication of the Final EIR/EIS and issuance of the Biological Opinions, and will then be prepared to sign a Record of Decision. This decision will be made by the next Secretary.”
In a press release, Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor claimed, “This Secretarial Order is 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.”
Governor Jerry Brown lauded the Interior Secretary’s order, referring to the WaterFix’s so-called coequal goals of water reliability and ecosystem restoration.
“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,” said Brown. “This state-federal partnership is what’s needed to improve water reliability for residents and farmers and protect vulnerable ecosystems.”
In addition to the section of the order directing the the speedy completion of the California WaterFix, the agency ordered other related actions, including: a collaborative Delta science engagement process; a Delta smelt “resiliency” strategy; reinitiation of consultation under the Endangered Species Act on coordinated long term operations on the Central Valley Project and State Water project; active engagement in the development for flow requirements and coordination on flows with ESA requirements; and a winter-run Chinook “Species in the Spotlight” Action Plan.