Orange County Branch Newsletter

February 2018

ASCE OC Environmental & Water Resources Institute

Regulatory Challenges to Operating and Maintaining MWD Infrastructure

By Jennifer Marks, Senior Project Manager, Environmental Services, Psomas

In December, the ASCE OC EWRI Committee welcomed Deidre West, Senior Environmental Specialist at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), for a special presentation on the Regulatory Challenges to Operating and Maintaining MWD Infrastructure. Ms. West began the presentation with an overview of MWD as the largest wholesale water agency in the United States, and detailed the role of the Environmental Planning Section (EPS) which she manages. The EPS is primarily responsible for all coordinating California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and regulatory clearances for all MWD projects and action; providing technical environmental and planning support; assisting in legislative, federal, and State rulemaking; and reserve management.

Ms. West discussed recent projects and the continuing challenges EPS faces as the projects progress. The Foothill Feeder is a 20-foot diameter tunnel and a 16-foot diameter prestressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP). The Foothill Feeder PCCP is an aging pipeline that requires maintenance and repair. In order to perform the necessary inspections and repair, the pipeline needs to be shut down for a period of time and dewatered. The dewatering process requires approximately 5 to 6 days to accomplish and was originally covered in a series of environmental impact reports (EIRs). Specifically, the previous EIRs identified impacts to the federally endangered and State Fully Protected Unarmored Threespine Stickleback which were previously identified as fully mitigated through a release plan, scour protection, and biological monitors.

According to the previous EIRs, MWD was authorized to handle and relocate the fish. Recently, these findings were challenged and overturned, and new restrictions are being considered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for dewatering, an activity that was previously permitted. For the Foothill Feeder project, these new restrictions have required preparation of a new Supplemental EIR which is currently being prepared, and submittal of an Incidental Take Permit. This process is delaying the much-needed shut-down and maintenance of the Foothill Feeder.

Ms. West went on to discuss how these changes to regulations will drastically impact MWD and their routine maintenance of over 819 miles of pipelines.  Based on these restrictions, MWD will have to notify the CDFW of all shutdowns and dewatering. This process has the potential to take up to six to nine months per facility and will be very costly for MWD.

The ASCE OC EWRI Committee would like to thank Deidre West and Sean Carlson for a very informative presentation that was well received by approximately 50 attendees.  

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