The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the San Diego County Water Authority have entered into a long-term agreement that will help conserve San Diego County’s natural heritage for future generations while providing a more efficient endangered species permitting process for the Water Authority as it builds and maintains vital water supply infrastructure.
The Water Authority and the state and federal wildlife agencies signed an Implementing Agreement for a multiple species conservation plan, known as a Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP), that meets the requirements of the state’s Natural Community Conservation Planning Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.
The NCCP/HCP protects 63 plant and animal species and their habitats that may be adversely affected by the construction, operation, repair and maintenance of current and future Water Authority facilities. The 63 covered species include 26 plants, 13 birds, nine reptiles, eight mammals, five invertebrates and two amphibians.
Of the 63 covered species, 18 are currently listed as endangered or threatened pursuant to the state and/or federal Endangered Species Acts. Concurrent with signing the agreement, each wildlife agency issued the Water Authority an incidental take permit that allows limited impacts to those listed species. If any of the 45 covered species currently not listed as endangered or threatened become listed as such in the future, those species will automatically be added to the respective permit.
The comprehensive NCCP/HCP conservation strategy spans roughly 992,000 acres where covered activities could potentially occur in San Diego County and a small portion of south-central Riverside County. The Water Authority already has assembled 705 acres of preserve land to compensate for future impacts and the NCCP/HCP contains provisions for adding more preserve lands.
“This is a great example of innovative and effective environmental planning,” said Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Carlsbad Office. “Our 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.”
“The assembly, management, and monitoring of the preserve established under the Water Authority's NCCP will augment and enhance the other biological preserves established under other approved regional NCCPs and several other habitat conservation plans that are in progress,” said Ed Pert, South Coast Regional Manager for the Department of Fish and Game. “We worked collaboratively with the parties involved in the NCCP/HCP to ensure that habitat protection measures would also satisfy the Water Authority’s vital mission to provide the San Diego region with a safe and reliable water supply.”
“The big benefit for our ratepayers is that this plan will save time and money as we build and operate current and future projects,” said Ken Weinberg, Director of Water Resources for the San Diego County Water Authority. “This plan precludes the need to obtain individual federal or state endangered species permits for each of our activities or projects. It also simplifies future compliance with state and federal endangered species regulations. We are very grateful and appreciative for the wildlife agencies’ help and guidance through this process.”
The state’s Natural Community Conservation Planning program and federal Habitat Conservation Plan process promote coordination and cooperation among public agencies, landowners, and other interested parties to minimize conflicts during construction and other activities that may affect endangered or threatened species. The long-term goals of such habitat conservation plans are to provide for the recovery and persistence of populations of covered species and the ecosystems on which they depend.
A copy of the plan is available at: www.sdcwa.org/habitat-conservation.