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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service Issue Biological Opinions regarding California WaterFix ‘Tunnels Project’

On June 23, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued their respective Biological Opinions (BiOps) for the California WaterFix project, a proposed project to convey water in tunnels to be built beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The BiOps analyze the effects of the proposed California WaterFix project on species listed and critical habitat designated under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The BiOps conclude that California WaterFix is not likely to jeopardize the listed species or adversely modify their critical habitat. Issuance of the BiOps marks the end of formal ESA § 7 consultation between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) and the two wildlife agencies, which the Bureau initiated in July 2016 with its submission of a Biological Assessment for the California WaterFix.

The California WaterFix project has its origins in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). The planning process for BDCP began in 2006 when updates to the State Water Project (SWP) and coordinated operations of the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) were initially proposed. BDCP was a plan to update the SWP by adding new points of diversion on the Sacramento River in the north Delta and by providing for large-scale species conservation through a 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Communities Conservation Plan.

Planning and environmental review has been ongoing since 2006. The concept for California WaterFix was announced in July 2015, when the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Bureau issued a revised environmental review document under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that included a non-habitat conservation plan alternative known as “California WaterFix” as the preferred alternative in replacement of the BDCP alternative.

Until any necessary project-level review occurs, ESA consultation is complete. Separate environmental review of the California WaterFix is ongoing, however. The CEQA and NEPA processes require further agency action before they will be complete. The California WaterFix proponents must also obtain take coverage pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act, Fish & Game Code § 2081.

The State Water Resources Control Board’s change petition hearings for the California WaterFix are still ongoing.   Per the Hearing Officers’ October 2016 notice, Part 2 of those proceedings—which addresses effects of DWR and the Bureau’s change petition on fish and wildlife and recreational uses—is scheduled to begin no earlier than 30 days after the completion of the CEQA, ESA, and California Endangered Species Act processes. The Hearing Officers have explained the associated documents for the ESA, CEQA and California Endangered Species Act processes will be included as exhibits in the hearing record on the change petition.


The issuance of the BiOps marks a significant step in the 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. There are still more environmental review and permitting processes to be completed before the California WaterFix project will get underway, however. The NMFS BiOp and related appendices is available online at The FWS BiOp is available online at:

(Rebecca Akroyd, Dan O’Hanlon)