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El Nino, California environmental law and practical realities

So much for the drought?

As noted in one California media outlet, ocean-based atmospheric changes "will produce a winter of heavy rains in California, perhaps on a record-breaking level."

That is likely to be blissful music to the ears of many Californians, but the promised antidote to scorched earth is not without a potentially stark downside.

Unduly heavy and sudden rains mean flooding. In California, that often results in mudslides, houses and commercial buildings that lose structural integrity owing to compromised foundations, traffic-related snafus of nearly immeasurable dimensions and myriad other adverse outcomes.

The above-cited news article makes two central comments regarding the expected weather change. First, the state will necessarily have to take purposeful and timely action to prepare for heavy rains and mitigate their negative consequences to the fullest extent possible. And, second, existing state environmental law could be an obstacle that undermines efforts to do that.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted in 1970. As the aforementioned article notes, the legislation has been expanded over the years through litigation to now encompass virtually all activities that potentially affect the environment.

And that will certainly include the clearing/draining of flood drains. The San Diego Union-Tribune points out that, although "flood prevention projects are designed to help, rather than hurt, the human community and physical environment," blowback can still be expected via lawsuits focusing on the CEQA.

The paper notes that such suits are often filed by individuals and groups who merely seek "to extort some private advantage unrelated to the statute's main purposes."

A meaningful response to that in the instant and singular case marked by impending El Nino conditions might be a temporary and emergency provision tacked on to CEQA that helps clear out objections and expedites the cleaning/drainage work that is of dire necessity.

Beyond that, notes the Union-Tribune, CEQA requires significant revision generally, given that it has evolved over time "into a vicious statutory animal far different from the expectations of its legislative sponsors."

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