Navigable Waters Protection Rule: Definition of “Waters of the United States”

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published the Final Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) in the Federal Register on April 21, 2020, with an effective date of June 22, 2020. Although several lawsuits have been filed, requests for an injunction of the NWPR’s June 22, 2020 effective date were denied by the U.S. District Court in California on June 19, 2020. Therefore, the NWPR is in effect while lawsuits proceed.

The NWPR is the second step in the implementation of the Presidential Executive Order “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule” signed on February 28, 2017. The NWPR limits the definition of Waters of the U.S. to four categories of jurisdictional waters: (1) the territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; (2) perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters; (3) certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments; and (4) wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters. The NWPR also describes 12 categories of exclusions from the definition of Waters of the U.S. These include: ephemeral features, groundwater, several types of ditches, prior-converted cropland, and waste treatment systems. Overall, the NWPR reduces of the list of aquatic features that meet the definition of Waters of the U.S. compared to the previous definition (2015 Clean Water Rule).

The USACE Regional Districts in California have indicated they are still receiving and interpreting guidance on how to implement the NWPR. Projects are still required to submit aquatic resources delineations to the USACE for verification. Additionally, pending lawsuits could result in changes, holds, or revocation of the NWPR in the future. ECORP continues to track pending lawsuits and work closely with USACE regulatory project managers to understand the implications of the NWPR for current and future projects and will manage these changes in an efficient manner.

If you have questions about the NWPR and implications for your project, please contact your ECORP project manager or for Northern California projects: Lourdes Gonzalez-Peralta at (916) 782-9100; San Diego area projects: Margaret Bornyasz at (858) 279-4040; Inland Empire area projects: Scott Taylor at (909) 307-0046; or Orange County area projects: Todd Chapman at (714) 648-0630.
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PCCP Moves Closer to Implementation

The Placer County Conservation Program (PCCP) is one step closer to final approvals! On July 9, 2020 the Placer County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the program. Approvals from the remaining stakeholders are anticipated later this summer, with full adoption potentially this fall/winter. The Final EIS/EIR was published on May 22, 2020.

The PCCP is a Habit Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan that allows for Placer County, City of Lincoln, Placer County Water Agency, and South Placer Regional Transportation Authority to receive Incidental Take Permits for Covered Species from the USFWS and CDFW. The PCCP also contains the County Aquatic Resources Program (CARP) that is intended to streamline the permitting under the Clean Water Act Sections 404 and 401. Land-use authorities (Placer County and City of Lincoln) will be able to authorize incidental take of state and federally listed species and minimal impacts to aquatic features for projects proposed by public and private entities who follow specific avoidance and minimization requirements. The PCCP also provides a streamlined process for satisfying project mitigation needs through the payment of special habitat fees and land conversion fees which ultimately support the Western Placer County In-Lieu Fee Program and establishment of the Reserve System. Participation in the PCCP is voluntary and will be encouraged by Placer County and City of Lincoln for all projects within the PCCP Future Growth Area.


ECORP has managed the regulatory permitting for several projects that are PCCP-compliant in anticipation of future participation and mitigation through the PCCP. We have qualified biologists with experience in preparing the supporting documentation needed for PCCP Participation Packages and in helping clients to meet the project design, avoidance, and minimization measures required by the PCCP. ECORP can also assist with the land dedication process for landowners who are interested in dedicating land to the PCCP to satisfy mitigation requirements.

If you have a project within the PCCP Plan Area, please contact Theresa Johnson at (916) 782-9100 to see how our permitting specialists can assist with your project planning and regulatory needs.
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Restoration Activities within the Oroville Wildlife Area

Over the last two years, an approximately 1,500-acre portion of the Oroville Wildlife Area (OWA), managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and located just west of the City of Oroville, California, was the site of a dual-purpose project that will reduce flood risks, increase wildlife habitat values, and improve public access for the region. The main objective of the restoration component of the project was to re-establish floodplain habitat for fish and wildlife species and reduce the stranding potential for anadromous fish species, including Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), California Central Valley steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris).

The multi-year project included the installation of a rock gabion inflow weir in the northeastern corner of the wildlife area to allow high water flows to pass over an existing levee and inundate the wildlife area during a 200-year flood event. In the southwest corner, a large gated culvert notch connection was installed to permanently restore connectivity between the Feather River and the historic floodplain. Work within the interior channels included mechanical removal of invasive primrose (Ludwigia peploides) by using a long-reach excavator, providing an immediate benefit to approximately 500-acres of open water previously clogged by the invasive plant and augmenting other, ongoing treatments of the primrose.

ECORP Consulting, Inc. conducted cultural resources surveys and monitoring, as well as biological pre-construction surveys and monitoring for special-status anadromous fish species, giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas), Valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus), northwestern pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata)native bat species,and birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.ECORP worked closely with the project contractor and obtained numerous permit modifications, extensions, and authorizations necessary for the construction component of the project to be completed within the two-year timeframe. The primrose removal work resulted in the capture and relocation of three northwestern pond turtles along with countless Valley garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi)western yellow-bellied racers (Coluber constrictor mormon), and California kingsnakes (Lampropeltis californiae)As part of project mitigation, elderberry shrubs that were unavoidably affected were transplanted to a designated restoration area that is currently ongoing within the OWA. Restoration activities include 62 acres of riparian woodland and riparian scrub plantings, as well as additional elderberry shrubs. With this project entering the final stage, ECORP will conduct monitoring to evaluate the use of the new permanent notch connection and restored floodplain habitats by native fish species.

For more information, contact Krissy Walker Berry at (916) 782-9100.

 

OWA - Before
Interior Canal Prior to Project Commencement
OWA - After
Interior Canal After Primrose Removal and Excavation to Reduce Fish Stranding Potential
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ECORP Biologists Identify First Known Cases of RHDV-2 in California

Since March 2020, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Serotype 2 (RHDV-2) has been spreading through wild and domestic lagomorphs in the western U.S. and Mexico, causing large mortality events. RHDV2 is highly contagious and is extremely persistent in the environment.

In early May, just days after ECORP biologists were alerted by a colleague in Arizona to the westward progress of the virus, ECORP biologists reported an unusual number of dead lagomorphs on a site in the Coachella Valley in Riverside County. At the request of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), ECORP collected a specimen and transported it to a lab for necropsy which confirmed the death was attributable to RHDV-2. Ultimately over fifty dead lagomorphs were found in the area over the course of just a few weeks. In the weeks since, cases have also been reported in San Diego, Orange, and San Bernardino counties.

jackrabbit . 2

CDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working to limit transmission and have published guidance. All ECORP field staff have implemented decontamination procedures to prevent transmission between project sites.

Below you can find links to some resources related to this disease:
Decontamination protocols: USDA-APHIS website
For more information, please contact Don Mitchell at (909) 307-0046.
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ECORP Biologists Fill Their Nets During San Joaquin River Fish Rescue

ECORP prepared the EIR and helped Madera County acquire all of the regulatory permits for the Common Diversion Facility Project located within the San Joaquin River in Madera County, California. The Project involved the replacement of seven river intakes with one single intake pipe that includes a state-of-the-art fish screen. As a part of the effort, ECORP Senior Fish Biologists Brian Zitt and Tom Scofield conducted a fish rescue within the river, while a small area was dewatered to make way for the Phase 1 intake infrastructure. During the effort, over 1,200 individuals, consisting of primarily native Kern brook lamprey (Lampetra hubbsi) and partially armored threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus microcephalus)were safely captured and relocated to a section of the river outside of the Project area.
The Project is a two-year effort, so come 2021, ECORP will have its seine nets at the ready to relocate more fish.
For more information, contact Brian Zitt at (714) 648-0630 or Tom Scofield at (916) 782-9100.

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Necessity is the Mother of, Uhm…RVing?

RVing

Ever think you’d have a corporate account with a motorhome rental company?  Neither did ECORP, but when some California counties ordered hotels closed early this spring we had to scramble to figure out how to not lose the survey season for many of our crucial government projects while still following our “one person per vehicle” social distancing policy. Our botanists and wildlife biologists got temporary homes on wheels, and rare plant, desert tortoise, and Mohave ground squirrel surveys pushed forward.

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ECORP is Growing!

ECORP feels fortunate to be able to grow our staff through this challenging time. Here are some highlights of staff who have joined ECORP during the first half of 2020:
David Atwater, Senior Environmental Planner, San Diego Office
David Atwater has over 14 years of experience managing the preparation of environmental compliance documents for transportation, development, engineering, environmental, and planning projects throughout California. He specializes in infrastructure projects, including both transportation (e.g., freeways, railroads, ports, roadways) and utilities (e.g., water and sewer lines, pump stations, reservoirs, wastewater treatment plants). Mr. Atwater has worked with a diverse range of clients, assisting them with navigating often complex environmental regulations and policy documents and identifying innovative solutions to assist in the maintenance and protection of environmental quality. He is the current American Public Works Association San Diego Chapter Young Professionals Committee chair. He is a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona with a B.S. in Urban and Regional Planning with an Interdisciplinary Minor in Geographic Information Systems Applications.

Stephanie Castle, Ph.D., Staff Biologist, Rocklin Office
Stephanie Castle joined the Natural Resources Department as a Staff Biologist in the Rocklin office this April. Stephanie graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Environmental Biology and a Ph.D. in Ecology. Dr. Castle has extensive experience in wetland, plant, and restoration ecology as well as endangered species management. Following graduation, she spent 5 years working with the interagency Amargosa Vole Team where she was involved with ecological research, population monitoring, habitat restoration, and conservation of the federally and state-endangered Amargosa vole in wetlands of the Mojave Desert.

Christina Congedo, Senior Biologist, San Diego Office 
Christina Congedo graduated from San Diego State University with an M.S. in Biology with an Ecology emphasis. Since graduating, she has been working in the environmental consulting sector, primarily on large-scale utility projects. Her areas of expertise include botanical surveys, vegetation mapping, focused sensitive species surveys, nest surveys, managing biological and aquatic resources surveys, wetland delineations, compliance monitoring and mitigation, and biological technical report writing. While she has worked all over southern California and the desert regions of Nevada, she feels most at home in the valleys, foothills, and mountains of San Diego County in the scrub and woodland habitats.

Michael DeGiovine.2Michael DeGiovine, Staff Archaeologist, San Diego Office 
Michael DeGiovine has over 15 years of experience in cultural resources management. In the field he has been crew chief and field director and has also contributed to several reports. His participation in projects ranges from small parcel surveys, to renewable energy transmission and production projects (500kV lines, solar energy plants), to transportation projects. He received his B.A. from U.C. San Diego and his M.A. from California State University, Fullerton.

Michelle Wilson, Senior Environmental Planner/Senior Biologist, Rocklin Office 

Michelle Wilson is a senior environmental planner/senior biologist with more than 27 years of experience, authoring and managing CEQA and NEPA documents, permitting, and biological services. In addition to her work as a consultant, Ms. Wilson has been a senior planner for Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department and Santa Barbara County’s Flood Control District/Water Agency and has worked for a large oil and gas company on California’s Central Coast as Environmental Health & Safety Advisor. Her past project experience also includes authoring and managing CEQA documentation for a number of water, wastewater, and alternative energy infrastructure projects.


Laurel Zickler-Martin, Staff Archaeologist, Rocklin Office
Laurel Zickler-Martin has 10 years of experience in cultural resources management, primarily in California and the Great Basin, with additional project experience in Oregon and Washington. This experience encompasses stints with the U.S. Forest Service and the State Historic Preservation Office, as well as with cultural resources management firms on CEQA and Section 106 projects for the Bureau of Land Management, FEMA, Caltrans, the California High Speed Rail Authority, Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and various county and municipal departments. She completed her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Washington, obtained a certificate in Cultural Resources Management Archaeology from South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington, and received her M.A. in Anthropology from California State University, Sacramento.

Also joining our staff in 2020 are:
  • Alexandra Dorough, Assistant Biologist, Redlands Office
  • Hannah Kang, Assistant Biologist, Rocklin Office
  • Ciera Martinez, Administrative Assistant, Rocklin Office
  • Steven Wintergerst, Associate Archaeologist, Redlands Office
To view our open positions, please visit the careers section of our website at:
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Governor Newsom Signs Executive Order N-54-20 Addressing AB 52 and CEQA Notification Requirements during COVID-19 State of Emergency

On April 22, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-54-20 to address the need to extend certain government functions and legal requirements as a result of the March 4 State of Emergency regarding COVID-19. This included, among other things, a suspension of certain legally mandated timeframes for tribal consultation in CEQA, which were set forth by the amendments of Assembly Bill 52. Section 9 of the Executive Order (EO) states:
The timeframes set forth in Public Resources Code sections 21080.3.1 and 21082.3, within which a California Native American tribe must request consultation and the lead agency must begin the consultation process relating to an Environmental Impact Report, Negative Declaration, or Mitigated Negative Declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act, are suspended for 60 days.
The applicable timeframes in Section 21080.3.1 pertain to the amount of time a tribe has to respond to a project notification letter from a CEQA lead agency, and the amount of time within which the lead agency must initiate consultation, if requested. Under normal circumstances, a tribe has 30 days to respond to request consultation (21080.3.1[b][2]), and the lead agency must initiate consultation within 30 days of receiving that request (21080.3.1[e]). The EO suspends those timeframes until June 21, 2020, unless otherwise rescinded, extended, or modified. This will affect projects in the following manner:
  • If an initial project notification letter was mailed pursuant to 21080.3.1(d) before April 22 and the 30-day response window had not closed by that date, then the requirement for the tribes to respond within 30 days of that notice has been suspended. As a practical matter, this means that under these circumstances, tribes have until June 21, or the end of the 60-day suspension, to request consultation.
  • If a tribe has responded to a project notification letter within 30 days, and tribal consultation has yet to be initiated pursuant to 21080.3.1(e), then the requirement for the CEQA lead agency to initiate consultation within 30 days of that request has been suspended. This means that lead agencies have until June 21, or the end of the 60-day suspension, to initiate consultation.
This is important because CEQA documents cannot be released until consultation, if requested, has been initiated. For some projects, this means that the release of some CEQA documents may be postponed until after June 21.
The timeframes in Section 21082.3 pertain to the ability of the CEQA lead agency to take action on a CEQA document after consultation has concluded or a good faith effort has been made. Under normal circumstances, when a tribe failed to respond to the notice within 30 days, the CEQA lead agency can adopt or certify the CEQA document without further consultation (21082.3[d][3]). Under this EO, because the timeframe for tribes to respond to request consultation has been suspended, the lead agency cannot take such action under 21082.3(d)(3) simply because the tribe failed to respond within 30 days.
Lastly, the requirement to notify tribes by letter within 14 days of determining that an application for a project is complete or a decision by a public agency to undertake a project (21080.3.1[d]) appears to be unaffected by this Executive Order, which specifies only the affected timeframes as being “within which a California Native American tribe must request consultation and the lead agency must begin the consultation process.”
The Executive Order also suspends the requirements for physical posting of a hard copy document in a public location as well as physical posting of notices at the County Clerk’s office and the State Clearinghouse. Because most physical government offices are closed, the EO allows online posting of documents and notices, which must be posted for the same amount of time as the physical copy.
For more information, contact Lisa Westwood, RPA  at (916) 782-9100 or Anne Surdzial ,  AICP at (909) 307-0046.
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ECORP Assists Hangar 24 Charities with Airfest! 2019

hangar fest
ECORP Assists Hangar 24 Charities with Airfest! 2019
Flying Tigers

Flying Tigers Then and Now. P-40 Tomahawk and A-10 Thunderbolt.

Earlier this year, ECORP assisted Hangar 24 Charities with discounted and pro-bono environmental services to facilitate the 2019 Airfest! at Redlands Municipal Airport.  The annual event raises money which is donated to the variety of veterans’ and children’s charities that Hangar 24 Charities supports.
For a number of years, the event has used a parcel of land adjacent to the airport for some of their parking. The parcel is known to harbor a population of the federally listed (endangered) San Bernardino kangaroo rat (SBKR).  ECORP biologists worked with the Charities’ staff to consult with the Palm Springs office of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop a plan that would allow the event to take place without causing harm to SBKR.  USFWS completed an extraordinarily expedited Biological Opinion (BO) with the Federal Aviation Administration under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Biplane

John Melby Makes a Pass in the Hangar 24 Muscle Biplane


ECORP biologists implemented the terms of the BO, including pre- and post-event surveys and collection of high-resolution low-altitude aerial imagery using one of our Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – monitoring during pre-event fencing of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs, including areas with concentrations of SBKR burrows), and assisting the parking volunteers in directing parking away from the ESAs.
The two-day event, which featured military and civilian aircraft from across the nation in both static and aerial displays and flyovers, was a huge success, raising tens of thousands of dollars for Inland Empire veterans’ and children’s charities while still protecting the SBKR population.
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ECORP Welcomes Christina Torres

ChristinaTorres-photoChristina Torres joined the ECORP Biological Resources Group as an Assistant Biologist in the San Diego office. She graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. Upon graduation, she spent some time in the Sierras conducting reptile surveys, vegetation surveys, and small mammal trapping for a megafires project with the U.S. Forest Service and UC Davis. In 2018, she was introduced to the world of honey bees, working as a lab technician for a bee lab at UC Davis. Christina worked on a multitude of projects that focused on the effects of various abiotic and biotic factors on honey bee health.
   
Samantha Alfaro Joins ECORP
Samantha AlfaroSamantha Alfaro joined the ECORP Environmental Resources Group as an Environmental Scientist in the San Diego office. She recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a B.A. in Environmental and Ocean Science and a minor in Economics. She joined ECORP part-time while finishing her degree and transitioned to full-time just in time to orchestrate the office move. Sam’s role at ECORP involves providing administrative support to ensure efficient office operation. Additionally, she has been providing technical support on various projects as she works towards a larger role in CEQA and regulatory services.
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