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. http://landsmart.org/

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.