[Federal Register: November 15, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 219)]
[Page 69348-69350]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 091305C]

Notice of Intent to Conduct Public Scoping Meetings and to 
Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement Related to the Bi-State Water 
Diversion Habitat Conservation Plan for the Walla Walla River Basin

AGENCIES: Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Interior; National Marine 
Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to conduct scoping meetings.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine 
Fisheries Service (Services) advise interested parties of their intent 
to conduct public scoping under the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA), to gather information to prepare an Environmental Impact 
Statement (EIS). The Services anticipate receiving permit applications 
from Gardena Farms Irrigation District (GFID), Hudson Bay District 
Improvement Company (HBDIC), and the Walla Walla River Irrigation 
District (WWRID). Other surface water diverters in the Walla Walla 
Basin, such as independent irrigators, ditch companies, and other local 
governments, may also apply. The permit applications would be submitted 
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the incidental take of 
listed species through actions associated with the Bi-State Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Walla Walla River Basin. Given the 
present list of likely permit applicants, the geographic scope of the 
permit would be that portion of the mainstem Walla Walla River 
downstream from the Walla Walla River Irrigation District's diversion. 
If other surface water diverters apply for permits, the geographic 
scope would be expanded accordingly to include those stream reaches 
within the Walla Walla Basin that are potentially affected by those 
diversions. The proposed actions to be covered by the permit would be 
those activities undertaken by the applicants that are associated with 
the diversion and delivery of surface water.

DATES: Four scoping meetings will be held in November 2005. They will 
include one meeting for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian 
Reservation (CTUIR), one for all interested and affected agencies, and 
two for the public. Meeting locations and times will be published in 
the local newspapers of record:
    1. Public scoping meeting, November 16, 2005, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
    2. Public scoping meeting, November 17, 2005, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
    3. Agency scoping meeting, November 17, 2005, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
    4. CTUIR scoping meeting, November 18, 2005, 9 a.m.-10 a.m.Written 
comments should be received on or before December 30, 2005.

ADDRESSES: The meeting locations are:
    1. Public scoping meeting,Washington State Department of 
Transportation (Conference Room) 1210 G Street, Walla Walla, WA 99362.
    2. Public scoping meeting, Milton Freewater Library (Albee Room), 8 
SW 8th Avenue, Milton-Freewater, OR 97862.
    3. Agency scoping meeting, Washington State Department of 
Transportation (Conference Room) 1210 G Street, Walla Walla, WA 99362.
    4. CTUIR scoping meeting, 73239 Confederated Way, Mission, OR 
    All comments concerning the preparation of the EIS and the NEPA 
process should be addressed to: Ms. Michelle Eames, FWS, 1103 East 
Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington 99206, facsimile 509-891-6748; or 
Mr. Dale Bambrick, NMFS, 304 S. Water Street, Suite 200, Ellensburg, WA 
98926, facsimile 509-962-8544. E-mail comments may be submitted to the 
following address: WallaWallaHCP@fws.gov. In the subject line of the e-
mail, include the document identifier: Walla Walla HCP-EIS.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michelle Eames, FWS, (509)-891-6839, 
or Dale Bambrick, NMFS, (509) 962-8911.


Statutory Authority

    Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1538) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 17.21(c), 17.31(a)) prohibit the ``taking'' of 
animal species listed as endangered or threatened. The term ``take'' is 
defined under the ESA to mean harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, 
kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such 
conduct (16 U.S.C. 1532(19)). ``Harm'' is defined by FWS regulation to 
include significant habitat modification or degradation where it 
actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential 
behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, and sheltering (50 
CFR 17.3). NMFS' definition of harm includes significant habitat 
modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures fish or 
wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, 
including breeding, feeding, spawning, migrating, rearing, and 
sheltering (64 FR 60727, November 8, 1999).
    Section 10 of the ESA and implementing regulations provide for the 
issuance of incidental take permits (ITPs) to non-Federal applicants to 
authorize incidental take of endangered and threatened species (16 
U.S.C. 1539(a); 50 CFR 17.22(b), 17.32(b)). Any proposed take must be 
incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, must not appreciably reduce 
the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild, 
and must be minimized and mitigated to the maximum extent practicable. 
In addition, an applicant must prepare an HCP describing the impact 
that will likely result from such taking, a plan for minimizing and 
mitigating the impacts of such incidental take, the funding available 
to implement the plan, alternatives to such taking, and the reason such 
alternatives are not being implemented.
    NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) requires that Federal agencies 
conduct an environmental analysis of their proposed actions to 
determine if the

[[Page 69349]]

actions may significantly affect the human environment. Under NEPA, a 
reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed project is developed 
and considered in the Services' EIS. Alternatives considered for 
analysis in an EIS may include: variations in the scope or types of 
covered activities; variations in the location, amount, and types of 
conservation measures; timing of project activities; variations in 
permit duration; or a combination of these elements. In addition, an 
EIS will identify potentially significant direct, indirect, and 
cumulative effects on biological resources, land use, air quality, 
water quality, water resources, socioeconomics, minority communities, 
cultural resources, and other environmental issues that could occur 
with the implementation of the applicant's proposed actions and 
alternatives. An EIS will identify all potentially significant 
environmental effects and what steps will be taken to reduce these 
effects, where feasible, to a level below significance.


    The proposed EIS would analyze the potential issuance of two ITPs, 
one by NMFS and one by the FWS. To obtain an ITP, the applicants must 
prepare a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that meets the issuance 
criteria established by the ESA and Service regulations (50 CFR 
17.22(b)(2) 17.32(b), 222.307). Should a permit or permits be issued, 
the permit(s) may include assurances under the Service's ``No 
Surprises'' regulations. The NEPA scoping process will identify and 
evaluate the range of alternatives and issues to be addressed in the 
EIS. If additional potential applicants or conservation measures are 
identified that are distinctly different from those above, the scoping 
process may be revisited.
    The Walla Walla Basin is located in southeast Washington and 
northeast Oregon. The basin encompasses approximately 1,800 square 
miles (4,698 Km) in Columbia and Walla Walla, Counties in Washington, 
and Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa Counties in Oregon. The activities 
anticipated to be covered include all activities associated with the 
diversion and delivery of surface water that have the potential to 
affect species subject to protection under the ESA, as well as other, 
unlisted, species of concern to the Services.
    The species currently listed under the ESA that are being proposed 
for coverage under an ITP include the bull trout (Salvelinus 
confluentus), under the jurisdiction of the FWS, and the Mid-Columbia 
River evolutionarily significant unit of steelhead (Oncorhynchus 
mykiss), under the jurisdiction of NMFS, both currently listed as 
threatened. Other listed or unlisted species may also be considered and 
    Proposed conservation measures that the applicants may incorporate 
include, but are not limited to: curtailment of surface diversions, 
seasonal diversion reductions, water quality improvements, and physical 
habitat enhancements.
    A draft HCP, to be prepared by the applicants in support of their 
ITP applications, will describe the impacts of take on the proposed 
covered species, and will propose a conservation strategy to minimize 
and mitigate impacts on each covered species to the maximum extent 
practicable. The draft will also identify funding for the conservation 
plan, as well as the HCP alternatives and will explain why those 
alternatives are not being utilized. The Services are responsible for 
determining whether the draft HCP satisfies ESA section 10 issuance 
    Under NEPA, a reasonable range of alternatives to a proposed 
project must be developed and considered in the Services' EIS. The 
Services have identified the following preliminary alternatives for 
public comment during the public scoping period:
    Alternative 1: No Action Alternative - Under the No Action 
Alternative, an ITP would not be issued and an HCP would not be 
approved. The current FWS Settlement Agreement (Agreement) would 
continue through January 2007 and would need to either be extended or 
renewed for an additional time period, or end. If the Agreement is 
renewed, it could include additional instream flow requirements and/or 
other requirements. If the Agreement is not renewed or extended, then 
the districts could be open to enforcement actions due to ESA 
violations, and the stream could be dewatered again, as it was prior to 
2001. Continued operational and capital improvements could be made by 
the districts.
    Alternative 2: Proposed Action Alternative - NMFS and the FWS would 
each issue ESA incidental take permits, and full implementation of the 
HCP would occur. The HCP would include a set of conservation measures 
specific to each applicant that would minimize and mitigate the impacts 
of the project to the maximum extent practicable.
    Alternative 3: Programmatic HCP Alternative - Under this 
alternative, independent irrigators, irrigation districts, ditch 
companies, and/or municipalities may participate in the HCP described 
under the Proposed Action Alternative. They would participate by either 
signing a Certificate of Inclusion that would cover their activities 
under another applicant's permit, rather than developing a separate 
HCP; or through separate FWS and NMFS authoization under ESA Section 7 
or 10 to cover their activities. If these future participants do not 
adopt the HCP described under the Proposed Action, it is possible that 
additional NEPA review would be required at the time their request for 
ESA coverage is received by the Services. If participants choose to 
adopt the HCP, a site-specific plan would be developed and approved by 
both agencies. If the adoption includes modifications to the HCP, the 
Services would ensure that the NEPA review for the HCP included these 
conditions, and if not, would comply with NEPA to provide a review on 
such modifications.
    Alternative 4: Reduced Take Alternative - Under this alternative 
the proposed HCP would be modified by changing or adding measures to 
further reduce the amount and risk of incidental take. These measures 
could include different conservation measures, covered species, covered 
lands, covered activities, and/or permit duration. Additional project 
alternatives may be developed based on input received from the public 
scoping process.

Request for Comments

    The primary purpose of the scoping process is for the public to 
assist the Services in developing the EIS by identifying important 
issues and alternatives related to the proposed action. Each scoping 
meeting will allocate time for informal discussion and questions with 
presentations by the Services and potential applicants. All comments 
and materials received, including names and addresses, will become part 
of the administrative record and may be released to the public.
    Comments and materials received will be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the offices 
listed in the ADDRESSES section of this notice.
    The Services request that comments be specific. In particular, we 
request information regarding: direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts 
that implementation of the proposed HCP could have on covered species 
and their habitats and on the built, social, economic, natural and 
cultural environments; strategies for meeting the purpose and need, in 
particular strategies for improving instream flows; potential adaptive 
management and/or monitoring provisions; funding issues; existing 
environmental conditions in

[[Page 69350]]

the project area; other plans or projects that might be relevant to 
this proposed project; and minimization and mitigation efforts. The 
Services estimate that a draft EIS will be available for public review 
late in 2006.

Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations to attend and participate 
in public meetings should contact Michelle Eames (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). To allow sufficient time to process requests, 
please call no later than 1 week before the scheduled public meeting. 
Information regarding this proposed action is available in alternative 
formats upon request. A Spanish interpreter will be available at all 
public meetings.

    Dated: November 7, 2005.
Daniel H. Diggs,
Acting Deputy Regional Director, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 1, 
Portland, Oregon.

    Dated: November 7, 2005.
Angela Somma,
Division Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 05-22632 Filed 11-14-05; 8:45 am]