[Federal Register: November 26, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 228)]
[Page 66478-66479]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for Issuance of
an Incidental Take Permit Associated With a Habitat Conservation Plan
for the San Diego County Water Authority, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of
1969, as amended, we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) are
advising the public that we intend to gather information necessary to
prepare, in coordination with the San Diego County Water Authority
(Authority), a joint programmatic Environmental Impact Report/
Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) on the San Diego County Water
Authority Subregional Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat
Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) proposed by the Authority for portions of
San Diego and Riverside County, California. The HCP is being prepared
under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Endangered Species Act of
1973, as amended, (ESA); whereas the NCCP is being prepared under the
State of California's Natural Community Conservation Planning Act.
    The purpose of the EIR/EIS is to analyze the impacts of an
incidental take permit which the Authority will request from the
Service for 29 federally listed threatened or endangered species and 55
unlisted species, should they become listed under the ESA during the
term of the permit. This analysis is needed under NEPA because the
proposed Federal action of issuing an ESA permit may affect the human
environment by authorizing take of listed species that could occur from
development, operations, and maintenance activities over an
approximately 2,034,787-acre planning area in roughly the coastal half
of San Diego County and the extreme southwestern portion of Riverside
County. The proposed NCCP/HCP would identify those actions necessary to
maintain the viability of coastal sage scrub and other habitat types in
the planning area.
    We provide this notice to: (1) Advise other Federal and State
agencies, affected Tribes, and the public of our intentions; (2)
announce a public meeting and the initiation of a 30-day scoping
period; and (3) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of
issues to be included in the EIR/EIS. We invite written comments from
interested parties to ensure that the full range of issues related to
the permit request are identified.

DATES: The Service and the Authority will hold a joint public scoping
meeting on December 11, 2003, from 10 a.m. until 12 noon. The Service
will accept written comments at the meeting and for 30 days after the
date of publication of this notice.

ADDRESSES: The meeting will be held at the San Diego County Water
Authority Board Room, 4677 Overland Avenue, San Diego, California
92123. Comments should be sent to Mr. James Bartel, Field Supervisor,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010
Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92009; facsimile (760) 431-

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sandra Marquez, Fish and Wildlife
Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES), telephone
(760) 431-9440 for general information; or if you have questions about
the meeting, contact Tim Cass, Senior Water Resources Specialist, San
Diego County Water Authority, telephone (858) 522-6758.


Availability of Documents

    Background material may be obtained by contacting Tim Cass by phone
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or by letter sent to the San
Diego County Water Authority, 4677 Overland Avenue, San Diego,
California 92123.


    Federal agencies are required to conduct NEPA analyses of their
proposed actions to determine if the actions may affect the human
environment. The Service expects to make a decision on issuance of an
ESA section 10(a)(1)(B) permit application expected to be submitted by
the Authority. Therefore, the Service is seeking public input on the
scope of the required NEPA analysis, including the range of reasonable
alternatives and associated impacts of any alternatives.
    Section 9 of the ESA and Federal regulations prohibit the ``take''
of animal species listed as endangered or threatened. Take is defined
under the ESA as follows: to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound,
kill, capture or collect listed wildlife, or to attempt to engage in
such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). Harm includes habitat modification that
kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential
behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering. Under
limited circumstances, the Service may issue permits for take of listed
species that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise lawful
activities. Regulations governing permits for threatened and endangered
species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 and 50 CFR 17.22.
    If the Service decides to approve the NCCP/HCP, we would authorize
incidental take of the California

[[Page 66479]]

gnatcatcher and 11other identified federally listed animal species
through issuance of an ESA incidental take permit. The NCCP/HCP,
coupled with an Implementation Agreement, could also form the basis for
issuing an incidental take permit for identified non-listed animal
species, should these identified species be listed during the term of
the permit. Although take of plant species is not prohibited under the
ESA, section 9, identified plant species, both listed and unlisted,
would be included on the permit in recognition of the conservation
benefit provided for the species if the Service finds these species are
adequately covered under the NCCP/HCP.
    On March 25, 1993, the Service issued a Final Rule declaring the
California gnatcatcher to be a threatened species (50 FR 16742). The
Final Rule was followed by a Special Rule on December 10, 1993 (50 FR
65088) to allow take of the California gnatcatcher pursuant to section
4(d) of the ESA. The Special Rule defined the conditions under which
take of the coastal California gnatcatcher resulting from specified
land use activities regulated by state and local government, would not
violate section 9 of the ESA. In the Special Rule the Service
recognized the significant efforts undertaken by the State of
California through the Natural Community Conservation Planning Act of
1991 and encouraged holistic management of listed species, like the
coastal California gnatcatcher, and other sensitive species. The
Service declared its intent to permit incidental take of the California
gnatcatcher associated with land use activities covered by an approved
subregional NCCP prepared under the NCCP Program, provided the Service
determines that the subregional NCCP meets the issuance criteria of an
incidental take permit pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA and
50 CFR 17.32(b)(2). The Authority currently intends to obtain the
Service's approval of the NCCP/HCP through a section 10(a)(1)(B)

Proposed Action

    The Service will prepare a joint EIR/EIS with the Authority, lead
agency for the NCCP/HCP. The Authority will prepare an EIR in
accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Authority
will publish a separate Notice of Preparation for the EIR.
    The purpose of this subregional NCCP/HCP is to establish a long-
term plan for the conservation of covered species and the habitats
associated with Authority activities. The proposed NCCP/HCP will give
the Authority increased regulatory certainty, and give the Service and
the CDFG increased certainty that lands will be conserved to provide
regional habitat resource protection. The Authority proposes to
approach project design, implementation, and maintenance in a
systematic, ecologically sensitive manner which focuses on the
avoidance and minimization of impacts to sensitive species and habitats
that may be affected by Authority activities. Authority activities
subject to the NCCP/HCP are anticipated to include certain specific
development projects (such as expansion of existing reservoirs,
relocation of pipelines, and construction of new pipelines and support
facilities) and operation and maintenance activities necessary to
ensure the proper functioning of existing and future Authority

Preliminary Alternatives

    The EIR/EIS for the San Diego County Water Authority Subregional
NCCP/HCP will assist the Service during its decision making process by
enabling us to analyze the environmental consequences of the proposed
action and a full array of alternatives identified during preparation
of the NCCP/HCP. Although specific programmatic alternatives for the
proposed action have not been prepared for public discussion, the range
of alternatives preliminarily identified for consideration include:

Alternative 1, No Action/Project-by-Project Authorization

    The Authority would continue to seek permits for activities that
could affect listed species through continuing project-by-project
review and permitting pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act
and sections 7 and 10 of the ESA and in accordance with existing
habitat management efforts. The Authority would not participate in an
existing NCCP/HCP nor prepare their own plan.

Alternative 2, Participation in an Existing NCCP/HCP

    The Authority would participate in one or more of the existing
land-use-based subregional NCCP/HCPs in the region, such as the
Multiple Species Conservation Program in the southern and central
portions of San Diego County, the draft Multiple Species Habitat
Conservation Program in the northwestern portion of San Diego County,
and/or the draft Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan in
southwestern Riverside County.

Service Scoping

    We invite comments from all interested parties to ensure that the
full range of issues related to the permit request are addressed and
that all significant issues are identified. We will conduct
environmental review of the permit application in accordance with the
requirements of the NEPA of 1969 as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.),
its implementing regulations (40 CFR parts 1500 through 1508), and with
other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, policies, and
procedures of the Service for compliance with those regulations. We
expect a draft EIR/EIS for the San Diego County Water Authority NCCP/
HCP to be available for public review during Summer 2004.

    Dated: November 20, 2003.
D. Kenneth McDermond,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento,
[FR Doc. 03-29605 Filed 11-25-03; 8:45 am]