Reasons for Exemption
The proposed action is statutorily exempt under CEQA Statute 21080(b)(4) and categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) under the State CEQA Guidelines Sections 15307, 15308, and 15301(i).
A. Actions to Prevent or Mitigate an Emergency
California Public Resources Code, Division 13, Section 21080(b)(4) provides that specific actions necessary to prevent or mitigate an emergency are exempt from CEQA. Sonoma Water’s forecasts indicate that Lake Mendocino storage will drop below 30,000 acre feet during August 2020 unless the TUCP is approved. Water supplies sufficient to support survival of listed Russian River salmonid fisheries, agricultural and municipal use, and recreation are threatened. Without the proposed change, Sonoma Water would need to release additional stored water from Lake Mendocino to meet Decision 1610 minimum instream flow requirements, which would result in the significant depletion and potential elimination of water supplies for water users in Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County (above the confluence with Dry Creek), which would cause serious impacts to human health and welfare, and which would reduce water supplies needed for fishery protection and stable flows in the Upper Russian River during the fall migration when spawning state and federally listed fish species are most sensitive to flow and water temperatures. Water supplies for domestic and municipal uses of Russian River water would be severely impaired. Furthermore, if the upcoming Water Year 2021 is a dry year, carryover storage in Lake Mendocino from 2020 will be crucial for the continued recovery of the Russian River salmonid fishery and for water supply reliability during 2021.
B. Actions by Regulatory Agencies for Protection of Natural Resources and the Environment
CEQA Guidelines Sections 15307 and 15308 provide that actions taken by regulatory agencies to assure the maintenance, restoration, enhancement, or protection of a natural resource and the environment are categorically exempt. The proposed temporary urgency change to the Water Agency’s water right Permits 12947A,12949, 12950, and 16596 would conserve water in Lake Mendocino to support beneficial uses downstream of Lake Mendocino, including habitat for listed Russian River salmonid fisheries, agricultural and municipal use, and recreation. The Russian River Biological Opinion found that high flows in Dry Creek (above 90 cfs) were harmful to listed salmon, and limited the extent to which Sonoma Water could make releases from Lake Sonoma from July through October. Approval of the proposed temporary urgency change in the Lower Russian River is requested in order to avoid violation of the Incidental Take Statement contained in the Russian River Biological Opinion due to higher releases that would be required for Dry Creek to meet Decision 1610 minimum flow requirements in the Lower Russian River, if the Upper Russian River flows are reduced and the Lower Russian River minimum flow requirements are not reduced.
C. Existing Facilities
CEQA Guidelines Section 15301(i) provides, generally, that the operation of existing facilities involving negligible or no expansion of use beyond that existing at the time of the lead agency’s determination is categorically exempt from CEQA. The examples in subdivision (i) of Section 15301(i) specifically provide that the maintenance of streamflows to protect fish and wildlife resources is exempt. Sonoma Water’s request to change minimum instream flows would not expand Sonoma Water’s use or increase the water diversions available to Sonoma Water for consumptive purposes. The proposed changes in minimum instream flows would still be within the existing minimum instream flows established by Decision 1610.