As efforts continue to plan and obtain all permits for a single tunnel project to modernize Delta conveyance, the Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) ongoing environmental review process will provide the public an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed project, including the potential environmental impacts and associated mitigation measures, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
DWR recently hosted a series of webinars to provide background information related to preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Delta Conveyance Project. The fourth and final webinar covered Environmental Justice-related topics, including state, federal and DWR-specific policies, DWR’s Environmental Justice Community Survey (Your Delta, Your Voice) and how Environmental Justice issues will be presented in the Draft EIR.
DWR is committed to meaningful and productive engagement with Environmental Justice communities throughout the course of the proposed Delta Conveyance Project planning process, specifically working to build relationships and provide information about the project, potential impacts, and ways for members of Environmental Justice communities to be involved in the process. In this spirit, DWR is preparing an Environmental Justice chapter in the Draft EIR to document consideration of Environmental Justice concerns and disclose potential effects of the Delta Conveyance Project that may be disproportionate on Environmental Justice communities.
As information about the proposed Delta Conveyance Project is collected and shared, it is important to keep in mind these critical aspects of the project, including DWR’s approach to Environmental Justice outreach/engagement and how it will be treated in the Draft EIR:
- Understanding various Environmental Justice policies and practices provides important context for Delta Conveyance Project-specific actions
- Federal: Federal Environmental Justice policy is guided by two executive orders that stipulate actions to address Environmental Justice in minority and low-income populations and how to integrate Environmental Justice with climate resiliency efforts. While not required for DWR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the federal lead agency for purposes of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), will require compliance with these executive orders as part of the NEPA process.
- California: The California Natural Resources Agency established an Environmental Justice policy that applies to DWR and defines Environmental Justice communities as “those where residents are predominantly minorities or low-income; where residents have been excluded from the environmental policy setting or decision-making process; where they are subject to a disproportionate impact from one or more environmental hazards; and where residents experience disparate implementation of environmental regulations, requirements, practices and activities in their communities.”
- State Environmental Requirements and the Delta Conveyance Project: Lead agencies are not required and typically do not include an Environmental Justice analysis in CEQA compliance documents. However, state legislation, executive orders and policies do instruct state agencies to consider the impacts of their actions on Environmental Justice communities, so DWR is preparing an Environmental Justice chapter in the Delta Conveyance Project Draft EIR to document consideration of Environmental Justice concerns and disclose potential effects of the project on these populations that also aligns with NEPA Environmental Justice requirements.
- Environmental Justice community survey objectives and use in the environmental review process
- The goal of the Your Delta, Your Voice survey was to gather information from disadvantaged communities in the Delta about how they work, live, recreate and experience the Delta. It also aimed to understand how the community values and uses its natural, economic and social resources.
- Information gathered from the survey will: 1) inform the proposed Delta Conveyance Project environmental and planning process, particularly the Environmental Justice chapter of the Draft EIR by identifying resources these communities rely on for potential evaluation that are not captured by geographic location; 2) increase awareness of the proposed project; and 3) increase Delta region disadvantaged community members interest in participating in ongoing public engagement activities related to the project.
- Survey design and outreach intended to promote accessibility
- Because the Environmental Justice survey took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was designed to be accessed from a variety of remote platforms (computer, tablet, smart phone), available in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Chinese) and publicized in several ways, including on Spanish language media, extensively on social media, postcards sent to people in the Delta region and many more.
- The survey team also worked with community organizations and networks to promote the survey, including visiting local food banks, schools, post offices and other community gathering places.
- Follow-up in underrepresented communities is ongoing
- The Environmental Justice survey team heard from many Delta residents, but several important regional and ethnic perspectives were not represented by participants of the survey.
- To reach these other populations, project representatives have been attending local Delta festivals and events to engage one-on-one with community members about the project.
- They’ve prioritized reaching out to people in Antioch, Pittsburg, Elk Grove and Stockton while also focusing on providing information to Hispanic and fishing communities.
- Improving outreach and engagement to improve participation in project planning
- The Environmental Justice survey resulted in many important findings about life and the culture of Delta communities. It also provided better insight into how best to communicate with these residents moving forward, particularly the importance of providing information both written and verbally in multiple languages.
- The project team will use what they learned to continue to improve their outreach and engagement approaches and will continue to refine this approach based on what they hear from Delta residents about what works and what doesn’t.
- Beyond the survey, DWR is committed to ongoing outreach, engagement and relationship building in these communities to encourage participation in project planning, specifically around relevant issues and areas of potential direct or indirect impact.
- Overview of the Environmental Justice Analysis in the Draft EIR
- The Environmental Justice analysis in the Draft EIR will draw on the analyses of potential adverse environmental impacts to other resource areas. Impacts are considered to disproportionately affect Environmental Justice communities if they occur in census blocks groups with 50% total minority populations and/or where low-income households are more than 20% of the entire population, which applies to entire Delta region.
- The Environmental Justice study area in the Draft EIR consists of all locations where identified Environmental Justice populations intersect with any potential temporary or permanent physical effects of the project.
- Study area overall is 61% minority and 26% Hispanic
- 34% of households in the study area are considered low income
- The Draft EIR Environmental Justice analysis considers the following factors to determine whether environmental effects are disproportionately high and adverse on Environmental Justice populations:
- Effects on the natural or physical environment
- Potential effects, including cumulative and multiple hazardous exposures, on Environmental Justice populations compared to those of the general population
- Findings from the Environmental Justice survey
- Mapping of the project footprint census tracts and block groups to identify the presence of Environmental Justice communities
- Significant impacts on other resource areas
- Mitigation measures that could have their own impacts on Environmental Justice populations
- Several Environmental Justice-related topics such as air quality, physical community impacts, social and economic characteristics, and public outreach and coordination will also be addressed in other chapters in the Draft EIR.
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