Fate still unclear for nine species in Delta water tunnel plan
The state’s ambitious plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has two main goals: improve water supplies and remove dozens of native animals from the endangered species list. Yet for nine key species – including salmon, Delta smelt and greater sandhill cranes – it remains unclear whether the plan will ultimately help or hurt.
The first complete draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan was released to the public last week. The $25 billion project calls for two giant water diversion tunnels on the Sacramento River, 100,000 acres of habitat restoration and other projects. Although it took seven years of study and encompasses more than 34,000 pages, the project’s effect on nine imperiled species is officially “not determined,” according to federal wildlife agencies.
Those nine species include some of the same imperiled fish that are symbolic of the Delta’s environmental troubles and which originally prompted the plan: Delta smelt, longfin smelt, three runs of chinook salmon, green and white sturgeon, and steelhead. The last is the greater sandhill crane, a majestic bird that roosts on land where tunnel construction is proposed.
Critics said they are surprised that a project intended to restore wildlife cannot clearly demonstrate whether these critical species will benefit or not.
“The whole idea is that it would be a conservation plan that has this (water) conveyance facility in it,” said Osha Meserve, a Sacramento attorney who represents local agencies in the north Delta. “This indicates it is not a conservation plan for those species.”
The project is overseen by the California Department of Water Resources. But the “not determined” findings come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. They are cooperating with DWR in preparing the document and are guided by federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act.
DWR and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reached a significantly different conclusion in the same document. These agencies evaluate the document under a different law, the California Environmental Quality Act, and concluded it will have a “less than significant” effect on the nine species – essentially a positive conclusion under the law.
The plan must satisfy both laws, as well as the federal Endangered Species Act.
“The federal agencies just decided it was too early for them to make that determination, ...
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/12/18/6009767/fate-still-unclear-for-nine-spe...