Comments Period: July 31, 2015 – August 31, 2015
SUBJECT: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, (Corps) is proposing to issue Regional General Permit (RGP) X, for minor discharges associated with the SMUD Upper American River Project (UARP). The purpose of the RGP is to implement an expedited permit review process for minor discharges into waters of the U.S. that require a Department of the Army (DA) authorization under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. This notice is to inform interested parties of the proposed RGP and to solicit comments.
AUTHORITY: This RGP is being evaluated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for the discharge of dredged or fill material in waters of the United States.
LOCATION: This RGP is applicable to all waters of the U.S. and includes the entire UARP within the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) boundary and those areas directly adjacent to the boundary where project activities would occur. The RGP area is located in El Dorado County, California and is shown on the attached SMUD UARP Overview drawing dated October 9, 2013, and prepared by SMUD.
The RGP authorizes permanent and temporary discharges of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the U.S., including wetlands, associated with the following activities conducted in the UARP:
1. Constructing, improving and maintaining road crossings;
2. Constructing, maintaining, and improving boat ramps located in project-related reservoirs;
3. Maintaining existing hydroelectricity facilities including, but not limited to, wall leakage repair, gate/trash rack maintenance, minor dredging, and concrete resealing;
4. Constructing, maintaining, and improving trails, campground/recreational facilities, weirs, and other structures and fills; and
5. Maintaining fish and other aquatic wildlife passage by moving or repositioning material within a streambed.
The enclosed Draft RGP contains the proposed terms and conditions.
Background. In accordance with Corps regulations at 33 CFR 322.2(f), RGPs are DA authorizations that are issued on a regional basis for a category or categories of activities when:
a. Those activities are substantially similar in nature and cause only minimal individual and cumulative environmental impacts; or
b. The general permit would result in avoiding unnecessary duplication of the regulatory control exercised by another Federal, state, or local agency provided it has been determined that the environmental consequences of the action are individually and cumulatively minimal.
The UARP is a 688 MW hydroelectric project consisting of 11 reservoirs, 8 powerhouses, numerous tunnels, penstocks. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a new license to SMUD on DATE for the UARP. Each year, SMUD completes a variety of operation and maintenance projects as part of the UARP, some of which require authorization from the Corps under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The majority of these projects are evaluated and authorized under the Corps Nationwide Permit Program.
Environmental Setting. The UARP site ranges in elevation from 995 feet at White Rock Powerhouse to 6,545 feet at Rubicon Reservoir. The landscape and topography of the UARP area reflects this change in elevation. Large expanses of exposed granite rock are common in the upper elevations. Former valley glaciers moved many miles down the west slope of the mountains, carving out the steep-walled river valleys characteristic of the range. The cutting action of streams has continued the process, deepening the canyons of the Rubicon River, Silver Creek, and the South Fork American River. Canyon wall vertical drop is as much as 1,000 feet in some places and as steep as 100 percent, rendering some of the river canyons nearly inaccessible. The UARP is located at the upper reach of the South Fork American River watershed.
Biological resources within the UARP are as varied as the elevations and types of ecosystems in which they are found. At the mid-elevation range (1,500 to 5,000 feet), a wide variety of plant and animal resources can be observed. Typical trees include ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white fir, black oak and incense cedar. In the higher elevation range (above 5,000 feet) the ecosystem is somewhat less diverse. White fir, ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, western juniper, red fir and lodgepole pine are dominant trees, with huckleberry oak , various Ceanothus sp. and manzanita the dominant shrubs. Granite outcrops are commonplace, with very little vegetation found in some areas.
With few exceptions, the high mountain lakes and streams above 6,000 feet were, historically fishless, but dominated instead by amphibians, insects and small aquatic invertebrates, such as fresh-water shrimp.
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.
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORIZATIONS: Water quality certifications or waivers, as required under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) and the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB), are required for this RGP. SMUD is currently in the process of applying for a Section 401 Certification from RWQCB for projects not covered by the Section 401 Certification for UARP-FERC No. 2101 from the SWRCB. SWRCB has issued a Section 401 Certification for UARP-FERC No. 2101.
HISTORIC PROPERTIES: The issuance of the RGP will have no potential to affect cultural resources listed in, or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Corps will initiate any required consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for individual activities that may qualify for authorization under the RGP, if issued.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The issuance of the RGP will not affect Federally-listed threatened and/or endangered species. The Corps will initiate any required consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act for individual activities that may qualify for authorization under the RGP, if issued.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT: The issuance of the proposed RGP will have no effect on Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Corps will initiate any required consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, pursuant to Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for individual activities that may qualify for authorization under the RGP, if issued.
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-2013-01098 must be submitted to the office listed below on or before August 31, 2015.
Lisa Gibson, 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 Lisa Gibson, 916-557-5288, Lisa.M.Gibson2@usace.army.mil.