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U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources Release Final Environmental Documents for the California WaterFix Project

On December 22, 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued a joint news release announcing the availability of the Final Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California WaterFix project (EIR/EIS). The EIR/EIS analyzes the environmental impacts that could arise from a project to modernize California’s water infrastructure, and analyzes 18 project alternatives. The EIR/EIS concludes that the alternative known as “California WaterFix,” also known as Alternative 4A, is the best option for increasing water supply reliability and addressing current Delta ecosystem concerns while seeking to minimize environmental impacts. The release of the EIR/EIS marks a significant step in a water infrastructure planning process that began more than a decade ago, to find the best solution for both protecting the Delta’s ecosystem and providing a vital water supply for California.

The EIR/EIS was prepared to satisfy the Bureau’s and DWR’s respective obligations to satisfy the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIR/EIS was prepared jointly by DWR and the Bureau. The final EIR/EIS was refined from the earlier draft versions released in 2013 and 2015, after more than 300 days of public review and 600 public meetings throughout the state. The EIR/EIS also includes responses to and revisions based on more than 30,000 public comments received on the earlier versions of the EIR/EIS. The EIR/EIS is available at

The release of the final EIR/EIS for the WaterFix project is just one step in a multi-step process that involves numerous agencies and several concurrent administrative processes.

To complete the CEQA process, DWR must certify the EIR as adequate in compliance with CEQA.

The WaterFix project is an effort to update California’s water conveyance system with the dual goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem protection. As with most proposals regarding a change in California’s water status quo, the project has garnered significant attention and controversy. The release of the final EIR/EIS represents progress in a decade-plus process to develop and analyze a project that can improve water infrastructure in the face of increasing conflict between regulatory mandates and water supply needs. At its core, the WaterFix project is a project regarding the future of water in California, and therefore, it has implications for every Californian that has an interest in or a reliance on the water conveyed through the Delta. As the lengthy administrative process for WaterFix and all of its necessary approvals meanders onward, there remains significant uncertainty regarding what California’s water future will look like.

(Elizabeth Leeper, Daniel O’Hanlon)