2-Gates CEQA Exemption Withdrawn
Map diagram of the Two Gates Project in the Delta
Courtesy of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Click to enlarge.
The Two Gates Project proposes an alternative management strategy to achieve protection goals of the federal Endangered Species Act for Delta smelt. The Project seeks to provide "equal or improved protection" to Delta smelt (including reduced entrainment at the state and federal export pumps near
Tracy) with higher than the minimum allowed water
exports described in the big projects' Operations Criteria and Plan Biological Opinion Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives, while operating within other water management requirements (such as the State Water Board's Decision 1641 from 2000) that apply in the Delta.
BREAKING NEWS 1.12.10- The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority has withdrawn the CEQA exemption for 2 Gates.
On December 28, 2009 in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended rejecting issuance of a Clean Water Act 404 Discharge Permit for the project. USEPA also referenced a 12/21/09 Bureau of Reclamation letter which states that "...scientific reviews of the proposal have identified major questions regarding the scientific assumption that underpin the project and, as a result, whether the project is likely to produce the desired result and whether it would be cost-effective." USEPA and C-WIN agree with the Bureau of Reclamation!
The San Luis-Delta Mendota Water Authority was issued a CEQA exemption for this (non) project by the State. Why is the State proceeding with this project when the Bureau of Reclamation has shelved it?
The U.S. Department of Interior has stated that further study is needed before it can even determine if this project is necessary. Interior's Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta (p 10) indicates that 2-Gates may not be necessary at all:
"As the reviews have proceeded, it has become clear that the project purpose could most expeditiously be advanced by first proving (or disproving) the underlying hypothesis that must be established for the 2-Gates project to be effective as a potential water supply enhancement. Indeed, if the hypothesis that smelt move with turbid waters can be demonstrated in the field, it may be possible to adjust pumping rates without the physical installation of the gates (for example, by increasing pumping rates during clear water periods)."
A single Delta smelt, an endangered fish in the Delta, which was once abundant.
In particular, the Two Gates Project is intended to demonstrate that operable gates, strategically placed in the central Delta and managed in conjunction with some restrictions on Old and Middle River reverse flows which occur when the pumps operate intensively, can provide equal or greater protection for Delta smelt than just having restrictions on Old and Middle negative (upstream toward the export pumps) flows alone. Two Gates is to test this premise.
The CalFed Science Review Panel summarized the project purpose quite well: “In short, the Two Gates Project aims to increase export levels above current levels set by recent legal opinions and currently extant [biological opinion]s.” Staff from the Bureau of Reclamation readily acknowledged that Two Gates is “a conveyance project” during recent Stockton public meetings. They also admitted that no effort had been undertaken to ascertain whether there were alternate methods of evaluating the project’s scientific hypotheses, other than barriers. In other words, the project is essentially an export scheme masquerading as a scientific experiment.
C-WIN, together with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, harshly criticized the Two Gates Project in comments on the project's environmental review documents. Its stated purpose is to keep a listed species (the Delta smelt) out of its identified Critical Habitat (the southern Delta river channels). This is contrary to recovery policies of both the California and federal Endangered Species Acts. It also conflicts with the San Joaquin River Restoration Program/Settlement Agreement by increasing predation and entrainment of San Joaquin River Chinook salmon and steelhead. Given the massive hemorrhaging of the Delta’s biological tapestry and its collapsing pelagic and salmonid fisheries and native lower tropic communities, the slipshod environmental documents from the Bureau is as unbelievable as it is outrageous. Read our comment letter on the project.