CA Governor Signs Order for Levee Repairs

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2023


The Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that the governor has signed an executive order on levee repairs and debris removal to prepare for the upcoming wet season. The order was reportedly made in anticipation of potentially record-setting rainfall and snow for the second consecutive winter in California as the current El Niño weather pattern continues to develop in the Pacific Ocean.

According to reports, the order will serve as an addition to proposals the governor made in May for permitting and project review reforms. The new order will reportedly expedite the repairs and removal to help communities that were inundated with precipitation this past winter.

Current News

According to the release from Governor Newsom's office, by acting now, the order will allow affected communities to accelerate work to restore levee function and river channel capacity that was degraded by the previous winter’s storms and floods. 

Last winter’s historic storms reportedly damaged levees and left debris in river channels that exacerbated the risk of flooding for the next winter. Damaged levees provide less protection from high water flows, and debris and vegetation within river channels reduce capacity to move high water flows.

“The State has experienced over 30 atmospheric rivers since December 2022, resulting in compounding and cumulative impacts across California, including record or near record amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada,” the order states.

The order will reportedly streamline public agencies’ emergency levee repair and debris removal work and applies to areas including the San Joaquin River and tributaries, the Tulare Lake Basin and tributaries, the Salinas River and tributaries, the Pajaro River and tributaries and other coastal streams between the Pajaro River and the Ventura River.

Finally, the order will reportedly suspend certain laws, regulations and criteria in existing orders for emergency levee repair and debris removal projects. The suspension will reportedly include:

  • Lake and streambed alteration agreement laws and regulations implemented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife;
  • Limiting provisions in State Water Board water quality certifications that would otherwise limit circumstances under which a public agency could rely on emergency regional general permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers;
  • Waste discharge requirements laws and regulations implemented by the Water Boards for projects that do not require an Army Corps of Engineers emergency permit; and
  • The California Environmental Quality Act.

The order also reportedly includes several “common-sense” conditions to protect the environment and natural resources, drawn from the existing regulatory expertise at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Water Resources and the Water Boards.

“Removal must expeditiously occur before the next rainy season begins in fall 2023 in order to mitigate the risk of additional flooding and allow for continued recovery efforts,” the order reads.

According to a report from The Hill, the executive order will also suspend the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as far as emergency repair and removal work is concerned. 

Additionally, the new order will reportedly emphasize that all the suspensions apply to only the repair and replacement of existing conveyance and flood-control infrastructure, as well as to debris and sediment removal and vegetation management.

CA Infrastructure Permitting Reform

In May, Governor Newsom proposed plans for new permitting and project review reforms to help streamline and implement infrastructure projects. The proposals were expected to help streamline project approval and completion to “maximize California’s share of federal infrastructure dollars and expedite the implementation of projects that meet the state’s ambitious economic, climate, and social goals.”

According to the release, California reportedly planned to invest up to $180 billion over the next 10 years in clean infrastructure, thanks to funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. The latest proposal also anticipates to create 400,000 jobs in the process. 

Newsom’s plan would reportedly also allow state agencies to use new types of contracts, in hopes of helping to maximize taxpayer dollars and speed up the timeline of projects in the state of California. It would also ensure appropriate environmental review and community engagement.

The announcement followed a report from earlier that week from Infrastructure Advisor of California and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Forward that urged permitting reform.

The proposals were expected to:

  • Cut project timelines by more than three years;
  • Save businesses and state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars; and
  • Reduce paperwork by hundreds of thousands of pages.

On the same day as the announcement, Governor Newsom also reportedly signed an executive order to establish a strike team in order to accelerate clean infrastructure projects. The team was expected to implement an “all-of-government strategy for planning and development.”

Together, this legislative package and executive order planned to:

  • Speed up construction;
  • Expedite court review;
  • Streamline permitting;
  • Address cumbersome CEQA processes; and
  • Maximize federal dollars.

Examples of projects that could potentially be streamlined included:

  • Hundreds of solar, wind, and battery storage projects;
  • Transit and regional rail construction;
  • Clean transportation, including maintenance and bridge projects;
  • Water storage projects funded by Proposition 1;
  • Delta Conveyance Project;
  • Semiconductor fabrication plants; and
  • Wildlife crossings along the I-15 corridor.

The legislation would reportedly build on the administration’s actions to reform the California Environmental Quality Act. The proposal also stated that it “complements actions the Governor and the Legislature have taken to streamline state laws to maximize housing production, with 20 CEQA reform bills signed into law in recent years.”

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Flood Barrier; Green Infrastructure; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Jobs; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Stormwater; water damage

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