A study to define the feasibility of various approaches to improving habitat along California’s Yuba River is now underway.

A federal cost-sharing agreement was approved between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Yuba County Water Agency, the non-federal partner, for the $5.14 million feasibility study.

image - Melissa Hallas listening during public meeting
“The goal of the feasibility study is to present science- and logic-based options for restoration of the Yuba River ecosystem,” said Melissa Hallas, Sacramento District’s lead planner for the Yuba River study. “As planners, we help decision-makers identify water resources problems, conceive solutions, and compare the inevitable conflicting values inherent in any solution and shape recommendations.”

“We’re pleased the Corps has initiated this study,” said Curt Aikens, YCWA’s General Manager.  Aikens added, “It will be helpful to identify practical options to restore salmon and steelhead habitat in the Yuba River watershed.”

A reconnaissance study, completed by the Corps in October 2014, identified federal interest in studying ecosystem restoration for the Yuba River Watershed. A Chief's Report was signed by Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on June 20, 2019, meaning the project can now be submitted to Congress for project authorization. 

Finding Balance: A Corps Feasibility Study

How does one eat an elephant … one bite at a time, right?

That one-liner describes how an incredibly complex task can be accomplished by stating a goal, gathering facts, initiating action and formulating an overall plan from a series of achievable actions using available resources.

That also describes a feasibility study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, though we’d work hard to avoid harming an actual elephant.

Since February 2012, Corps feasibility studies are guided by our "3x3x3 Rule": producing the report in no more than three years; with cost not greater than $3M; and involving three levels of Corps experts throughout the study process. Complex studies may require time and funds beyond three years and three million dollars to complete, but those complex studies are the exception rather than the rule.

A Corps feasibility study involves assessing problems and opportunities related to water resources; finding alternative solutions to those problems; alternative comparison; and selection.

The study incorporates quality engineering, economics, real estate and environmental analysis within a Project Delivery Team. The PDT develops the feasibility report through several iterations, with the draft report growing over time and confirmed at milestones throughout the study process.

A typical Corps PDT includes a project manager, a planner, a civil engineer, a geotechnical engineer, an hydrologist, an hydraulic engineer, a biologist or other environmental specialist, a cost engineer, a real estate specialist, and an historian/archaeologist. Each is responsible for identifying water resources problems and assisting in formulating solutions to those problems. The key to a successful feasibility study is this interdisciplinary approach to solving problems. 

Coordination with state and federal resource agencies and tribal leadership begins with the outset of the scoping phase at the district level. 

That communication and collaboration follows throughout the study, minimizing any possible delays and maximizing time invested. For example, established roles of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries are retained and re-emphasized in the feasibility study process with a focus on early coordination. 

Feasibility study review includes both internal and external review, all detailed in the study’s review plan. External reviews include formal periods for public review during initial scoping and during formulation of the environmental impact documents.

The final product, an integrated feasibility study report, presents science-based decisions and the reasons that led to those decisions. 

After all reviews are successful, results of the feasibility study become a Chief’s Report and can be presented to Congress for funding consideration.

Current Status

 Chief's Report Signed -- June 20, 2019

 Agency Decision Milestone -- June 15, 2018

 Public Comment for Draft Report - Closed Feb. 23, 2018 

  Public Meetings on Draft Feasibility Report -- Jan./Feb 2018

  Draft Feasibility Report -- Jan. 2018

 Tentatively Selected Milestone Meeting -- Winter 2017

  Value Engineering Study -- April 2016

  Alternatives Milestone Meeting -- March 2016

  Public Scoping Meetings -- Oct. / Nov. 2015

  Resource Agency Scoping Meetings -- Oct. / Nov. 2015

image - scenic view of Yuba River