State Water Board Permit Will Accelerate Critical Habitat Work

Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a General Order and Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) that will help PCI and our partners streamline permitting and implementation for important habitat restoration projects.

Salmonid habitat restoration projects similar to PCI’s work for the SF Zen Center, shown here, will be easier to implement with the new General Order.

The State Water Board adopted the General Order and certified the PEIR for Restoration Projects Statewide on August 16.

Previously, the State Water Board issued a general Water Quality Certification for small habitat restoration projects. Projects could only qualify if they did not exceed five acres or a cumulative total of 500 linear feet of stream bank or coastline. Larger restoration projects often had to obtain individual water quality certifications and/or waste discharge requirements, and securing individual authorization was time-consuming and increased the cost of regulatory compliance.

The adoption of the new General Order and accompanying PEIR was eagerly anticipated according to PCI Principal Environmental Planner/Project Manager Carrie Lukacic.

“The General Order not only makes it easier and less cumbersome to secure a permit from the Regional Water Board, it may provide CEQA compliance for restoration projects,” she says. “We are excited to work with our local folks at the Regional Water Board and look forward to introducing the use of available permitting efficiencies to others not as familiar with the use of the tools available for permitting restoration activities. We now have a method to permit both large- and small-scale restoration, which should help increase the pace and scale of critical habitat improvement needs.”

The General Order will provide coverage for the following kinds of restoration projects:
-Improvements to Stream Crossings and Fish Passage
-Removal of Small Dams, Tide Gates, Flood Gates, and Legacy Structures
-Bioengineered Bank Stabilization
-Restoration and Enhancement of Off-Channel and Side-Channel Habitat
-Water Conservation Projects
-Floodplain Restoration
-Removal or Remediation of Pilings and Other In-Water Structures
-Removal of Nonnative Terrestrial and Aquatic Invasive Species and   Revegetation with Native Plants
-Establishment, Restoration, and Enhancement of Tidal, Subtidal, and Freshwater Wetlands
-Establishment, Restoration, and Enhancement of Stream and Riparian Habitat
-Upslope Watershed Sites

A bird’s-eye view of the habitat-enhancement design for the SF Zen Center.

CEQA Toolbox 1: Program-level documents save time and money

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) allows for the preparation of programmatic environmental impact reports (EIRs) and mitigated negative declarations (MNDs) when a project includes a series of related actions that can be characterized as one large project. Programmatic analyses are often used for activities that are linked geographically or when an agency wants to evaluate rules or requirements that guide how a program must operate. The programmatic approach works especially well when the program’s individual activities have generally similar environmental effects that can be mitigated in similar ways. The benefits of such documents are that they allow a comprehensive examination of a project and promote “tiering” when later activities within the program are undertaken. The use of tiering can expedite environmental review by eliminating repetitive analysis of issues and potential impacts adequately addressed in the program EIR or MND.

The Sonoma Resource Conservation District Board of Directors recently adopted an MND for their Sonoma County LandSmart© Program On-the-Ground. PCI worked with District staff to develop a program-level document that will allow specific projects to be implemented without further CEQA review.

The LandSmart Program is a regional collaborative program that helps grape growers, ranchers, and other rural and agricultural land managers meet regulatory requirements while supporting productive lands and improving water quality and wildlife habitat.

Projects implemented under the LandSmart© Program will be small-scale, consisting primarily of stabilization of eroding streambanks, development of stable stream crossings, improvements to access roads and decommissioning of unused roadways, installation of pipelines and diversions to move water to stable areas for discharge, establishment of vegetative cover, and invasive species control. The District will evaluate individual LandSmart© projects using an Environmental Review Checklist to determine if impacts were adequately addressed in the program document and to identify Best Management Practices and mitigation measures required at an individual project location. Individual projects that do not conform to the program requirements will require additional analyses; however, projects that meet the LandSmart© program requirements are cleared for implementation. The programmatic MND will save the Sonoma Resource Conservation District both time and money while paving the way for positive changes for water quality and wildlife habitat.