Environmental Protection

What is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and should I ever need to read one?

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an EIR to be prepared for any project that may generate a significant impact on the environment. An EIR is an analytical report that describes a proposed project, discusses the impacts or potential impacts that would be generated by implementing the project and recommends ways these impacts can mitigated (mitigation measures). If impacts cannot be mitigated to reduce the impact to a level of insignificance, they are identified as “unavoidable adverse impacts” of the project. In reality, only the larger project proposals have EIRs prepared because most medium and small projects are either exempt from CEQA or are allowed to have a much briefer analysis prepared.

EIRs must be circulated for a 45 day public review period before they are finalized. They are usually the most important and useful source of public information about a proposed plan or development project and are reviewed by individuals and public agencies as a means to ensure their concerns about a project are adequately considered during decision-making deliberations on the project.

CEQA contains voluminous requirements regarding the content of EIRs and the EIR process. Go to the “Governor’s Office of Planning and Research” link on my links page for more information on CEQA and EIRs.

 

What is the difference between and EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)?

EIRs are analytical reports required for certain development projects by the California Environmental Quality Act. An EIS is an analytical report required by the National Environmental Quality Act for federal projects. While both types of reports have similarities, EIRs are required for any private or public project which may generate a significant impact on the environment in California which also needs approval from a local, regional or State agency. An EIS is prepared only for large federal governmental projects or large projects that receive federal government funding. For more on EIRs, see the previous question “What is an Environmental Impact Report?”

What is a wetland and why should I preserve it if it’s on my property?

A wetland is generally defined as an environmental habitat created by the interface of land and water, such as a spring, marsh, swamp or estuary. While some biologists classify open water body habitats, like a lake, pond or stream, as a separate habitat, others classify open water bodies also as wetlands. Wetlands, including non-marine open water habitats, are critical to sustaining wildlife as an important drinking water source and breeding area for various animal food sources lower on the food chain. Although wetland vegetation can differ ranging, from bullrushes to alder trees, all wetland vegetation provides important cover allowing many animals to hide from their predators. Wetland vegetation also provides a great place for many birds, reptiles and amphibians to nest and raise their young. In California 90% of wetland habitats have been lost since the arrival of Euroamericans, by large land conversions to support agriculture, urban uses, harbors and other development.

Both the state and federal governments have recognized the important of wetland habitats as the “life blood” for animal species and the fact that they are a diminishing resource by enacting regulations to protect wetlands from conversion. The California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are the two agencies charged with administering these regulations. Go to my links page to visit their websites and find out more about the importance of wetlands and regulations to protect them.

 

What is a riparian corridor and what is its significance?

 A riparian corridor is a creek, river or other flowing stream and its associated vegetative habitat. The vegetation along the sides of streams are very different from plant species beyond the corridor because riparian vegetation can survive in soils with high hydric conditions. Therefore riparian corridors provide plant species that are rarely found elsewhere. This more specialized type of plant habitat provides special support characteristics for several wildlife species. The presence of water also provides a necessary drinking water source for many wildlife species (mammals, birds) and life source for other species (freshwater fish and amphibians). Please go to the question: “What is a wetland…?” to understand more about this “life blood” habitat for wildlife.

In addition to sustaining wildlife, riparian corridors are important for the conveyance and storage of flood waters. Eradicating stream channels will result in serious flooding impacts unless they are replaced with an engineered drainage system of drains, culverts, detention basins and similar infrastructure. In some instances, it may be necessary to replace small riparian corridors with engineered drainage systems. However, doing so is typically very costly and it removes a natural resource for wildlife and terminates a visual resource and recreational amenity for people.

 

Are there ways to receive financial benefits for preserving some of my property without selling it to a conservation group? 

There are three commonly used land use planning tools that provide some financial benefits available for people who preserve or conserve their property. Agricultural Preserve contracts provide a substantial reduction in property taxes in return to keeping farmland in crop or livestock production. The minimum term of an “Ag. Preserve” contract is 10 years, and it automatically renews each year until the owner terminates the contract. Open Space Easement contracts provide a reduction in property taxes in return for preserving land in open space. An important public benefit must be derived, such as providing an important vista that is cherished by the public or providing a permanent watershed area that feeds a public water supply. “Ag. Preserve” and Open Space Easement contracts are legal agreements between the property owner and the city or county. The entire site area of the parcel(s) is placed under contract.

A conservation easement is a legal restriction placed on all or a portion of the parcel that grants use rights to another entity. The property owner agrees to restrict uses within the easement by granting the authority to control or manage the land to a conservation organization or a local or State government agency. Land Trusts manage many conservation easement lands owned by private individuals across the country. Conservation easements are typically granted to preserve habitat or a scenic resource or to keep land in agricultural use.