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Public Notices

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SPK-2014-00187, Emergency Drought Barriers

Published Feb. 27, 2015
Expiration date: 3/30/2015

Sacramento District

Comments Period: January 29, 2015 – March 30, 2015

SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is evaluating a permit application to construct the Emergency Drought Barriers project, which would result in permanent impacts to approximately 0.75 acres (20 linear feet) and temporary impacts to approximately 3.14 acres (583 linear feet) of waters of the United States in Sutter Slough, Steamboat Slough, and False River. Temporary fill would be installed starting May and removed November. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed activity and to solicit comments.

AUTHORITY: This application is being evaluated under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 for structures or work in or affecting navigable waters of the United States, Section 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (as codified in 33 USC 408 commonly referred to as Section 408) for the alteration or occupation or use of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works project and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.

APPLICANT: California Department of Water Resources, Attn: Paul Marshall, 1416 9th Street, Room 215-37, Sacramento, California 95814-5511

LOCATION: The proposed project consists of three separate locations, Sutter Slough, Steamboat Slough, and False River (Figures 1 & 2).

The proposed Sutter Slough site is located approximately 1.25 miles downstream from the confluence of Sutter Slough and the Sacramento River at the northwest end of Sutter Island. The site is approximately 1 mile southwest of the community of Courtland and 7 miles northwest of Walnut Grove, Latitude 38.323069°, Longitude -121.588910°, on the border between Yolo and Sacramento Counties (Figure 3).

The proposed Steamboat Slough site is located approximately 0.95 mile downstream from the confluence of Steamboat Slough and the Sacramento River, between Sutter and Grand Islands. The site is approximately 2.1 miles south-southeast of the Sutter Slough site and 5.25 miles northwest of Walnut Grove, Latitude 38.293707°, Longitude -121.582812°, in Sacramento County (Figure 4).

The proposed False River site is located approximately 0.4 mile east of the confluence of False River and the San Joaquin River, between Jersey and Bradford Islands. The site is approximately 4.75 miles northeast of Oakley, Latitude 38.057057°, Longitude -121.670432°, in Contra Costa County (Figure 5).

The applicant has proposed the use of three potential material stockpile locations. All stockpile locations are existing Department of Water Resources (DWR) storage facilities at the Port of Stockton, Rio Vista, and the community of Hood (Figure 6).

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The applicant is proposing to construct three temporary salinity/drought barriers in response to the current and forecasted drought conditions in the State of California. The temporary barriers would be rock (rip-rap) structures installed within Sutter Slough, Steamboat Slough, and False River. All structures would be trapezoid-shaped barriers with a wide base tapering to a 12-foot-wide crest installed perpendicular to the channel. The Sutter and Steamboat Slough barriers would serve two important drought management purposes: redirect freshwater flows into the central Delta; and create a hydrologic barrier to repel high-salinity water. The False River barrier would be a physical barrier to reduce the intrusion of high-salinity water into the central and south Delta.

Rock fill would be placed along the base of the levees for support at the Sutter and Steamboat Slough sites. The levees at the False River site were identified as weaker than those at the northerly sites due to peat soil foundations. The False River site would have transitions to the levees with 75-foot-long sheet pile walls supported by king piles and buttressed with rock. Refer to the impact maps in Figures 3 through 5 for additional design information. The applicant is currently finalizing project design drawings.

The proposed rock barriers would be installed at each of the sites in spring (beginning around May 1st) and removed in November. The timing of project removal would coincide with the beginning of the rainy season and the migration period for fall-run Chinook salmon. All material removed from the sites would be transported, primarily by barges, to nearby DWR stockpile locations. Potential locations are identified in Figure 6. This authorization would remain valid for a period of 10 years with installation of the barriers being limited to 3 years within that 10-year period. These three years could be consecutive if drought conditions persist. 

The Sutter and Steamboat Slough sites would be designed to allow fish passage and manage water quality on the downstream side of the barriers using a combination of an overflow weir and the installation of four 48-inch culverts with slide gates at each barrier. The overflow weir would be designed to be inundated in the event of a very high tide or high river discharge. The False River barrier would not include an overflow weir or culverts due to alternate routes for fish passage. Tidal flows would be the main factor influencing water quality conditions at this barrier. Fish movement can occur through the adjacent San Joaquin River and through other channels, including Fisherman’s Cut and Dutch Slough, during the False River closure.

Vessel traffic would be blocked at each barrier site. Boat ramps would be provided on either side of the Steamboat Slough barrier to allow vessels up to 24 feet and 10,000 pounds to be moved around the barrier by equipment and an operator provided by the State of California. Boats heading into Sutter Slough would be directed by signage to Steamboat Slough for passage. Larger vessels would have to transit the Sacramento River channel between Courtland and Rio Vista. Boat access would not be provided at the False River site since alternative routes are available via the Stockton Deep Water Ship Channel in the San Joaquin River between Antioch and eastern Delta locations, or via Fisherman’s Cut to south Delta destinations. 

Appropriate navigation signage would be installed at each of the barrier sites and would comply with navigation requirements established by the U.S. Aids to Navigation System and the California Waterway Marker system, as appropriate. Signs would be posted at upstream and downstream entrances to each waterway and/or other key locations, informing boaters of the restricted access. A Notice to Mariners would include information on the location, date, and duration of channel closures. Signs would be posted on each side of each barrier, float lines with orange ball floats would be located across the width of the channels to deter boaters from approaching the barriers, and solar-powered warning buoys with flashing lights would be present on the barrier crest, as well, in order to prevent accidents during nighttime hours.

Temporary solar-powered monitoring instruments would be placed at appropriate locations upstream and downstream at each site to monitor water quality and salinity parameters like dissolved oxygen, turbidity, salinity (EC), river stage, and flow velocity. Additional monitoring, including the use of DIDSON cameras, would be used to assess the Sutter Slough and Steamboat Slough sites for interaction with and passage of migratory fish through the culverts. One 48-inch culvert would remain fully open at all times at these barriers primarily for fish passage. Four permanent water quality and/or flow monitoring stations would be installed on 12-inch steel piles near the False River site. 

The attached project location map and overview drawings provide additional project details. For more information, please visit the State of California Emergency Drought Barriers website at

PURPOSE AND NEED: Based on the available information, the overall project purpose is to prevent the intrusion of saltwater into the Delta. The applicant believes there is a need to reduce the water supply risk for delta and upstream users. The applicant has stated that water quality conditions in the Delta are declining due to the severe drought conditions and have already approached human health criteria at many locations in the South Delta and as far south as the State Water Project and Central Valley Project intakes. These and projected conditions put several communities and local water purveyors at risk. Increased salinity levels and reduced levels of cold water in upstream reservoirs also have an adverse effect on sensitive aquatic resources in the Delta and waterways below the reservoirs.

Construction of the barriers would allow the retention of additional water available for upstream community needs and cool water to protect natural resource values later in the year. Additional water would be retained in upstream reservoirs for later use, as less water would need to be released for water quality earlier in the year.

Models and projections prepared by the applicant show that there may be insufficient water in natural runoff or stored in reservoirs that can be released to keep salinity intrusion out of the Delta without exhausting stored water before the end of the year. Given current reservoir storage and expected runoff, projections indicate that low river inflows will allow salinity intrusion to the extent that interior portions of the Delta will exceed water quality objectives by May. Once salinity intrudes into the Delta, moving it back toward San Francisco Bay is difficult; thus, high salinity could persist for an extended period if high winter and spring freshwater flows are not available to move it back downstream.


The Corps is currently processing this permit application under normal procedures. If the conditions change, the permit application may be elevated to emergency procedures as defined in regulations.

    Environmental Setting. The Project is located within the legal Delta, which includes 700 miles of channels and approximately 8,000 acres of tidal marsh. The Delta includes approximately 57 islands, many of which support farmland and/or residential housing.

    Alternatives. At this time, the applicant has not provided information concerning project alternatives. Additional information concerning project alternatives may be available from the applicant or their agent. Information on other alternatives is currently being developed and will be considered during the review process for this permit application. All reasonable project alternatives, in particular those which may be less damaging to the aquatic environment, will be considered.

    Mitigation. The Corps requires that applicants consider and use all reasonable and practical measures to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. If the applicant is unable to avoid or minimize all impacts, the Corps may require compensatory mitigation. The applicant has proposed to restore all temporary impacts to pre-project conditions and is currently developing compensatory mitigation options for 0.75 acre of permanent impacts.

OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certification or a waiver, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), is required for this project. The applicant has submitted an application which is currently being reviewed by the SWRCB.

HISTORIC PROPERTIES: The applicant has submitted a cultural resources inventory which includes a records search, pedestrian survey, and Native American consultation. No known cultural resources were identified within the project’s area of potential effect. The applicant’s consultant is still preparing an evaluation of the levees and a concrete structure discovered at the site. Once the evaluation of potential resources is complete, the Corps will initiate consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, as appropriate.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: The proposed activity may affect Federally-listed endangered or threatened species or their critical habitat. The Corps will initiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, as appropriate.

ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The proposed project may adversely affect Essential Fish Habitat. The Corps will initiate consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, pursuant to Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as appropriate.

The above determinations are based on information provided by the applicant and our preliminary review.

EVALUATION FACTORS: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the described activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefit, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the described activity, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the described activity will be considered, including the cumulative effects thereof; among those are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food and fiber production, mineral needs, consideration of property ownership and, in general, the needs and welfare of the people. The activity's impact on the public interest will include application of the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (40 CFR Part 230).

The Corps is soliciting comments from the public, Federal, State, and local agencies and officials, Indian tribes, and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the preparation of an Environmental Assessment and/or an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.

SUBMITTING COMMENTS: Written comments, referencing Public Notice SPK-2014-00187 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before March 30, 2015.

William Guthrie, Project Manager
US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District
1325 J Street, Room 1350
Sacramento, California 95814-2922

The Corps is particularly interested in receiving comments related to the proposal's probable impacts on the affected aquatic environment and the secondary and cumulative effects. Anyone may request, in writing, that a public hearing be held to consider this application. Requests shall specifically state, with particularity, the reason(s) for holding a public hearing. If the Corps determines that the information received in response to this notice is inadequate for thorough evaluation, a public hearing may be warranted. If a public hearing is warranted, interested parties will be notified of the time, date, and location. Please note that all comment letters received are subject to release to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. If you have questions or need additional information please contact the applicant or the Corps' project manager William Guthrie, 916-557-5269,

Attachments: 6 drawings