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California Assesses Draft SEIS From Bureau of Reclamation

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Comments on a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation to secure water supplies are being accepted until the May 30 deadline, but California in partnership with Arizona and Nevada have already responded to the federal agency in a letter dated April 6, 2023, which states their joint position.

SEIS is a process used by federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impact of proposed actions and alternatives. Agencies utilize this process after an Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared, but additional information is needed, or significant changes have occurred.

In this case the issue involves a means to secure water supplies through 2026 considering the severe drought and its impact on the Colorado River and other reservoirs.

Regarding challenges facing water purveyors, the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal intends to address the issues of reduced inflows and declining reservoir levels while achieving needed water use reductions through 2026 to protect critical infrastructure and minimize implementation delays, based on a report from the California Natural Resources Agency dated April 11, 2023.

According to that report, in January California submitted a modeling proposal as part of the SEIS process, a model built on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts meant to address reduced inflows and declining reservoir elevations.

Meanwhile, Reclamation’s draft SEIS evaluates potential modifications to the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines that govern operation of the Colorado River’s major dams and reservoirs.

Since the January submission, California’s Colorado River water contractors and entitlement holders have closely collaborated with the Bureaus of Reclamation to initiate efforts to develop agreements and conserve up to 400,000 acre-feet of water per year through 2026 for the benefit of the Colorado River System as part of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, funded through the Inflation Reduction Act.

On April 6, Arizona and Nevada joined California in a joint response letter to Reclamation providing input on the Voluntary Program’s longer-term durable system efficiency improvements project funding component by recommending measures including turf removal, local supply and augmentation projects, agricultural efficiency improvements, conveyance modernization and automation, as well as storage projects to achieve verifiable reductions in the use of or demand for water supplies.

 They recommended that the SEIS includes the following practices:

·         Compensation for a temporary or multiyear voluntary reduction in the diversion of water or consumptive water use.

·         Voluntary system conservation projects that achieve verifiable reductions in use of or demand for water supplies or provide environmental benefits in the Lower Basin or Upper Basin of the Colorado River.

·         Ecosystem and habitat restoration projects to address issues directly caused by drought in a river basin or inland water body.

“In order to encourage participation in loner-term and more durable conservation projects, and therefore achieve greater system benefits, agreements for participation in this phase of the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program should provide sufficient flexibility for the contractors to manage their water supplies in wet and dry years and meet new storage obligations, while reducing overall demands on the system.”

In addition to other recommendation, the representatives from Arizona, California and Nevada provided a list of the types and nature of projects which should qualify for inclusion in the SEIS.

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