Most of us know that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is the state agency in charge of administering the California Endangered Species Act, which is the state’s version of the federal Endangered Species Act. CDFW is also the state agency that regulates certain work activities within streambeds. Under the California Fish and Game Code, CDFW has regulatory authority over the installation of culverts, bridge supports, erosion controls, or other such work within streambeds. But beware! CDFW’s regulatory reach has been extended significantly. A recent decision by a California Court of Appeal now gives CDFW regulatory authority over the mere taking of water out of its natural flow for agricultural purposes, even if the streambed itself is not altered to facilitate the taking of that water.
By way of background, before a person may start work in a streambed, typically he or she must submit a “notification” to CDFW informing the agency of the nature of the work and any anticipated impacts to waterways or special species habitats within or adjacent to those waterways due to that work. If CDFW determines the work may “substantially adversely affect” any fish and wildlife resources, then the agency will attempt to negotiate a “streambed alteration agreement” with the party. These agreements often include significant, and sometimes quite onerous, conditions and restrictions on development. Moreover, the whole process can take several months and typically requires some form of environmental clearance under the California Environmental Quality Act. Only after both (i) CDFW and the party performing the work have signed the agreement and (ii) all other necessary approvals have been obtained may work in the streambed commence.
In Siskiyou County Farm Bureau v. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Third District Court of Appeal determined Continue reading