The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) have approved the San Diego County Water Authority’s (Authority) Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP), which is expected to contribute to the conservation of San Diego County’s natural resources, while providing a more efficient endangered species permitting process for the Authority. The 55-year plan satisfies the requirements for incidental take authorization under California’s Natural Community Planning Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.
The comprehensive plan covers 63 plant and animal species and their habitats that may be adversely affected by Authority activities, including the construction, operation, repair, and maintenance of current and future water supply infrastructure facilities. The 63 species include 26 plants, 13 birds, nine reptiles, eight mammals, five invertebrates, and two amphibians. Of the 63 species covered by the plan, 18 are currently listed as endangered or threatened under the state and/or federal Endangered Species Acts. The plan covers roughly 922,000 acres in San Diego County, which encompasses areas served by the Authority and its member water agencies. The plan also includes a small portion of land in south-central Riverside County.
The Authority submitted the NCCP/HCP, along with a draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), to FWS and DFG in March 2010 (pdf) as part of its application for an incidental take permit. A final EIR/EIS was issued by the Authority and FWS in February 2011 (pdf) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act. A record of decision (pdf) was issued under NEPA in September 2011. The final NCCP/HCP and EIR/EIS documents are available here.
Concurrent with approval of the NCCP/HCP, FWS issued an incidental take permit (pdf) to the Authority that allows limited impacts to the listed species. If any of the remaining species covered by the plan become listed in the future, they will automatically be added to the permit.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the three agencies “worked closely and collaboratively to find a way to comprehensively address potential endangered species impacts from the water authority’s projects and activities.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 9, 2012, Mike Lee). Jim Bartel, field supervisor for FWS’s Carlsbad office, also stated that the plan “is a great example of innovative and effective environmental planning.”