The Delta Stewardship Council voted 4-1 to direct staff to extend the comment period on the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Fifth Staff Draft of the Delta Plan.
The vote took place at its November meeting, and additionally the Council will offer more chances for public input on the draft EIR across the state, as the members directed staff to set up more field hearings in the coming months.
The Council decided that staff should add more time to the comment period to allow more groups, organizations and members of the public a chance to let their voices be heard.
“We received 16 requests for extensions from a broad variety…those in the water world, environmentalists, the Delta community,” said Council Executive Officer Joe Grindstaff. “Everybody wants more time.”
The Council staff released the draft EIR in November, originally providing a 60-day comment period. This extension adds another 30 days, which means comments are due Feb. 2.
The Council also has the discretion to expand the comment period again, if it deems the move appropriate.
This option may be most appealing to the lone “no” vote, Council member Don Nottoli, who wasn’t against adding more time, he just wanted the Council staff to add even more days.
“The magnitude [of this process in creating the EIR for the Delta Plan] demands more time,” Nottoli said. “This plan is for well into the future. It is historic. I think 60 [more] days are optimal.”
By setting the original time frame for 60 days, the Council staff already exceeded what was required by law. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) only calls for a 45-day comment period for this type of draft EIR. Now this time is doubled.
“I think it’s important to reiterate that we’ve gone over and beyond what the law requires,” said Chief Counsel Chris Stevens, who added that the Council will hold hearings to take oral testimony during the EIR comment process, which also aren’t required by law.
The draft EIR analyzes the environmental impacts of the suite of 12 regulatory policies and 61 recommendations contained in the Fifth Staff Draft Plan. CEQA also requires a lead agency to use its independent judgment to formulate and evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives to the project being assessed. Consequently, the draft EIR also analyzes five alternatives, including: (1) a no project alternative; (2) two alternatives with increased emphasis on water supply reliability; (3) one alternative with increased emphasis on Delta ecosystem restoration; and (4) one alternative with increased emphasis on protection and enhancement of Delta communities and culture.
The five alternatives studied were based on (but not taken verbatim from) comments, input, and in some cases alternative plans received from statewide water users, environmentalists, Delta interests and communities.
The draft EIR concludes that the draft Delta Plan, comprised of the 12 proposed regulations and 61 recommendations, is environmentally superior to the alternatives because it advocates a hybrid regulatory and collaborative approach for achieving the coequal goals of water supply reliability and restoring the Delta ecosystem.
Eventually, this version of the EIR, which is a draft programmatic document, will become a final EIR that needs to be certified by the Council. The Council will use the final EIR to complete its work.
“[The final EIR] will inform your decision in adopting a Delta Plan,” Stevens told the Council.
To view the draft EIR, click here.
Comments are currently being accepted orally (at hearing dates specified on the council’s website), in writing and online.