CDFW Issues Permit to DWR for Long-Term Operations of the State Water Project

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Aerial view looking east along San Joaquin River in the foreground is Mandeville Tip County Park, part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in San Joaquin County, California.

Aerial view looking east along San Joaquin River in the foreground is Mandeville Tip County Park, part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in San Joaquin County, California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.  Today, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for long-term operations of the State Water Project (SWP). The permit covers four species protected under the California Endangered Species Act: Delta smelt, longfin smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and spring-run Chinook salmon.

DWR Director Karla A. Nemeth and CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham issued the following statement:

“California’s water operations need to support our communities while protecting our fish and wildlife. This Incidental Take Permit (ITP) enables this balance. Most importantly, it ensures that our state water infrastructure operates in a manner protective of fish species listed under state’s endangered species law. It does so in many ways, including by dedicating water for Delta outflows during drier periods when fish and habitat need it the most. The permit also provides flexibility to capture and store water during wet years for both water supply and the environment. The ITP also better utilizes existing infrastructure to improve habitat conditions; creates a new barrier to minimize entrainment of migrating salmon at SWP pumps; and commits significant new funding to ecosystem improvements and expanded scientific research. It enables adaptive water management based on scientific monitoring while providing final decision-making authority to CDFW on operational changes that protect fish. Together, DWR and CDFW will implement this permit to meet the needs of Californians and our state’s natural environment.”

DWR’s final environmental document can be found here and CDFW’s ITP can be found here.

Background

Under the California Endangered Species Act, DWR is required to obtain an ITP to minimize, avoid and fully mitigate impacts to threatened or endangered species as a result of State Water Project operations.

In past years, DWR obtained coverage for SWP operations under CESA by securing a consistency determination from DFW based on federal biological opinions issued by federal regulatory agencies. In 2018, as federal agencies were working to update biological opinions, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum to greatly accelerate their completion.

In February 2019, state agencies announced they would for the first time pursue a separate state permit to ensure SWP’s compliance with CESA. Pursuing a separate permit enables the state to avoid relying on federal permits and provides the opportunity to utilize transparent, science-based guidelines to establish rules to protect endangered fish.

In November 2019, DWR issued a draft document prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that identified potential operational changes to protect species and manage the SWP based on real-time conditions in the Delta ecosystem, including additional flows dedicated to the environment. After a public comment period, DWR developed and submitted an application for an ITP to DFW in December 2019.

DWR certified its final environmental document on March 27, and DFW issued the ITP on March 31.

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