The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is proposing to implement the 2021 Emergency Drought Salinity Barrier Project (Project). The Project consists of installation of a temporary emergency drought salinity barrier across West False River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). The barrier will be constructed of embankment rock (riprap). The purpose of the Project is to control saltwater intrusion into the Central and south Delta and conserve water in upstream reservoirs for other uses. Pursuant to Clean Water Act section 401, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) has authority to consider whether a proposed activity involving a discharge to navigable waters complies with applicable water quality standards and other appropriate requirements of state law and to issue a water quality certification if those requirements will be met. The State Water Board concludes that, as conditioned herein, water quality certification may be issued.
During drought conditions, the release of water stored in upstream reservoirs may be insufficient to repel salinity moving upstream from San Francisco Bay. According to DWR’s analyses, without the protection of the drought salinity barrier, saltwater intrusions could render Delta water unusable for agricultural needs, reduce habitat value for aquatic species, and affect roughly 25 million Californians who rely on the export of this water for personal use. Installation of the temporary rock barrier at West False River would limit salinity intrusion into the Central and south Delta and would potentially conserve water for a variety of uses system-wide.
On May 10, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a Proclamation of State of Emergency (May 2021 Proclamation) due to drought conditions and directed DWR, among other things, to implement plans that address potential Delta salinity issues, including installation and removal of emergency drought salinity barriers as needed. The May 2021 Proclamation mandates that such emergency barriers be designed to conserve water for use later in the year to meet state and federal Endangered Species Act requirements, preserve to the extent possible water quality in the Delta, and retain water supply for human health and safety uses. The State Water Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are also directed to immediately consider any necessary regulatory approvals needed to install emergency drought salinity barriers. Additionally, the May 2021 Proclamation suspends Water Code section 13247, which requires state agencies to comply with water quality control plans approved by the State Water Board, and suspends the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for purpose of implementing actions such as the Project.
Installation and removal of the Project will require a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. DWR is seeking emergency authorization under USACE’s Regional General Permit (RGP) 8 – Emergency Repair and Protection Activities.