FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s long-awaited habitat conservation plan – 14 years in the making – could finally be nearing completion.
Then again, it’s been nearing completion for the past few years.
Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said the plan has been completed and work is continuing to get the environmental impact report ready for release. Both plan and report could get released at the same time by year’s end, he said.
“That’s dependent on how long the Fish and Wildlife Service takes to review the documents,” Okita said.
Then comes a public review period and public meetings. The Solano County Water Agency, participating cities and various participating special districts would consider approving the plan. Everything could be finished in 2014, Okita said.
The habitat conservation plan addresses 36 species of rare plants, animals, birds and fish in the county protected by the Endangered Species Act. Among them are the red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander, the Suisun thistle, the alkali milk-vetch, the tricolored blackbird, the giant garter snake and the vernal pool fairy shrimp.
Activities that disturb endangered species habitat would no longer be treated by federal and state wildlife agencies on a case-by-case basis, but with a master strategy. The goal is to streamline the permitting process and also make clear in advance what habitat needs to be preserved in return.
The backbone of the proposed conservation strategy is creating a reserve system of some 25,000 acres to protect habitat at various locations for the 36 endangered species. Among the ideas is protecting up to 15,000 acres of valley floor grasslands and vernal pool areas, 5,970 acres of farmland used as foraging habitat and 3,300 acres of upland hills.
Under the habitat conservation plan, developers building on rare species habitat would pay to create and manage the reserve system. That could include buying credits at local “conservation bank” preserves, paying for conservation easements or land preservation or paying impact fees to an appropriate agency.
County cities that use Lake Berryessa reservoir water are participating in the habitat conservation plan, including Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made this a requirement of the 1999, 25-year Solano Project water contract renewal.
The Solano County Water Agency launched planning for the local habitat conservation plan in September 1999. At the time, some officials estimated the work could be completed in six years.
In 2006 and 2007, the Solano County Water Agency released draft versions of the plan. For the past five years, it has been poised to release a public draft version and environmental impact report. Water officials said delays came about as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Department of Fish and Game assigned new officials to work on the project.
In late 2011 and 2012, the Solano County Water Agency made presentations to various city councils on the plan in anticipation of its summer 2012 release. But that release didn’t come about.
Agencies required to participate in the habitat conservation plan because of the Lake Berryessa federal water contract are the Solano County Water Agency, Vacaville, Fairfield, Suisun City, Vallejo, Solano Irrigation District and Maine Prairie Water District.
In addition, voluntarily participating are Rio Vista, Dixon, Reclamation District 2068, Dixon Resource Conservation District, Dixon Regional Watershed Joint Powers Authority, Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District and the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.