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Posted 4/26/2016

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By Robert Kidd

When state flood control agencies face the need for federal permits – even for projects intended to make us all safer – it can get frustrating for everyone.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District hosted a three-workshop series this winter with California’s Department of Water Resources with one goal in mind: clarify Corps / DWR interactions and turbocharge the two agencies’ partnership on behalf of all Californians.

“We gathered our key personnel together to clear the path for a more efficient process that will keep the public safe,” said Nancy Haley, chief of the Northern California regulatory branch for the Corps’ Sacramento District. “Flood risk management is a huge job for DWR and the Corps shares that same sharp focus.”

“It was essential to have representatives from upper management all the way down the chain to the project managers – all in the same room hearing the same message,” said Kelly Briggs, environmental program manager for DWR.

Over 130 staff participated in the series, including individuals from a broad suite of DWR programs such as Flood Management, the State Water Project, Integrated Water Management and the Bay Delta Office. Partner agencies were also invited. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board, Delta Stewardship Council, California Natural Resources Agency and California Department of Fish and Wildlife took part in the workshops.

Haley and Briggs proposed and organized the workshop series after having worked together on numerous projects involving the Corps and DWR since 2008. The two agencies signed a memo of understanding Aug. 14, 2015, to emphasize their commitment to partner on integrated California water management solutions.

“Kelly came up through the State’s flood management group to her current role as a program manager, so she’s very aware of both tactical operations and the 30,000-foot strategic view,” said Haley.

“We have a great relationship with the Corps and that is absolutely vital in order to get work done efficiently for all Californians,” said Briggs.

“We [DWR and the Corps] are often working in the same footprint and there are efficiencies to be gained by better understanding one another’s needs, goals and processes,” said Briggs. Wetland delineation, permit applications, infrastructure performance, environmental protection and water management are critical issues for both agencies.

“[Corps and DWR] folks work within different authorities, each group needing to address their own standard operating procedures, policies, timelines and requirements,” said Briggs. “We were able to drill down into very specific details during our workshops.”

The workshops covered a broad range of topics, including the Corps’ regulatory authorities under the Rivers and Harbors Act and Clean Water Acts; jurisdictional determinations; minimum standards for wetland delineations and drawings; mitigation standards and checklists; water quality certifications; consultations for endangered species, essential fish habitat, historic and cultural resources; and tribal coordination.

“We developed the basic content for these workshops from our quarterly public workshops that explain the Corps regulatory process,” said Haley. “Several representatives of our operations division also took part in the workshops, which expanded the perspective on issues challenging DWR and the Corps on a day-to-day basis.”

“DWR is a multifold agency, as is the Corps of Engineers, but at the end of the day we’re all accountable for delivering public service and we’re on the same team,” said Briggs. “Our interest is in the missions we share, including flood protection, water supply, ecosystem resource preservation and dam safety.”

“Absolutely, DWR helps keep us all safe in California,” said Haley.

California DWR regulatory U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workshop