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Secretary of the Interior Issues Order to Protect California From the Effects of Drought and Climate Change

On January 3, 2017, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, issued a Secretarial Order (Order) instructing the U.S Department of the Interior (DOI) and its bureaus to implement actions necessary to address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and wildlife. In the Order, Secretary Jewell stated that:

“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 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Bay-Delta)[.]”

To that end, the Order instructs DOI, and, in particular, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (the Bureau) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in accordance with advice from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): “…to complete the technical, scientific, and analytical work necessary to make permitting, regulatory, and other decisions associated with various water initiatives.”

The California WaterFix project (WaterFix) is the State’s plan to upgrade infrastructure near the Bay Delta, which will supply water to more than 25 million people. The Bureau is the lead agency on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued for WaterFix in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Final EIS was released on December 30, 2016, along with a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) issued in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Order directs the Bureau and FWS to take all steps necessary to issue: 1) a Draft Biological Opinion (BiOp) required by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for WaterFix in January 2017; 2) a Final Draft BiOp by March 2017; and 3) a Final BiOp by April 2017.

The Order directs the Bureau, FWS, and USGS to use the “Adaptive Management Framework” to guide scientific studies related to, and the monitoring of, species during the implementations and operations of WaterFix. The Adaptive Management Framework was previously prepared in conjunction with the preparation of plans for WaterFix.

The Order instructs the Bureau and FWS to work with other state and federal agencies to complete the “recently reinitiated consultation” of the long-term effects of the operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project.

The Order is one of Secretary Jewell’s final actions intended to address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and wildlife, before the Obama Administration prepares to transition out of the White House. As the Trump administration moves into the White House, it will be interesting to see how the goals of the Order, and the many other initiatives championed by Secretary Jewell, are affected.

(Martin P. Stratte)