DWR, as the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), will decide the range of reasonable alternatives for the environmental impact report (EIR).
CEQA requires that an EIR include a detailed analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to a proposed project. CEQA requires that an EIR evaluate alternatives to the proposed project that are potentially feasible and would attain most of the basic project objectives while avoiding or substantially lessening the project’s potential impacts. Likewise, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that a range of reasonable alternatives that meet the purpose and need statement of the action be analyzed at an equivalent level of detail in an environmental impact statement (EIS). Generally, a range of reasonable alternatives is analyzed to define the issues and provide a clear basis for choice among the options.
CEQA requires that the lead agency consider alternatives that would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant impacts of the proposed project. However, numerous alternatives that have slight variations are not necessarily required. The lead agency determines the alternatives to be analyzed in detail in an EIR. Section 15126.6[a] of the state CEQA Guidelines provides that:
[a]n EIR shall describe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or to the location of the project, which would feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project but would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project, and evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives. An EIR need not consider every conceivable alternative to a project. Rather it must consider a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives that will foster informed decision making and public participation. An EIR is not required to consider alternatives which are infeasible. The lead agency is responsible for selecting a range of project alternatives for examination and must publicly disclose its reasoning for selecting those alternatives. There is no ironclad rule governing the nature or scope of the alternatives to be discussed other than the rule of reason.
The Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) NEPA regulations states that the lead agency in an EIS shall “rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated. Devote substantial treatment to each alternative considered in detail including the proposed action so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits. Include reasonable alternatives not within the jurisdiction of the lead agency” (CEQ NEPA Regulations 40 CFR 1502.114). In addition, CEQ has issued guidance on alternatives, stating, “For some proposals there may exist a very large or even an infinite number of possible reasonable alternatives…When there are potentially a very large number of alternatives, only a reasonable number of examples, covering the full spectrum of alternatives, must be analyzed and compared in the EIS…What constitutes a reasonable range of alternatives depends on the nature of the proposal and the facts in each case.” (See Council on Environmental Quality’s Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ’s National Environmental Policy Act Regulations; 2(a).)
Under these principles, the EIR (and EIS) needs to describe and evaluate only those alternatives necessary to permit a reasonable choice and “to foster meaningful public participation and informed decision making” (State CEQA Guidelines Section 15126.6[f]). The EIR scoping process is used by the lead agency to gather input on alternatives to the proposed project. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the CEQA lead agency to determine a reasonable range of alternatives to a proposed project for analysis in the EIR.