CF is a global consultancy that provides environmental policy and compliance services to irrigation districts, municipalities, and government agencies across the United States and the world. Its services include ensuring compliance with all relevant laws and regulations as infrastructure projects go through the complex permitting process. ICF also helps irrigation districts and other clients prepare for natural disasters, such as droughts.
In this interview, Pablo Arroyave, a principal at ICF, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Editor-in-Chief Kris Polly about ICF’s work with water projects and what every irrigation district should know about the permitting process.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Pablo Arroyave: I have spent the vast majority of my career thus far with the Bureau of Reclamation. I left in September 2017 after 21 years there, mostly in the mid- Pacific region. Since September 2017, I have worked for ICF as a water resource consultant in Sacramento, California. ICF was founded in 1969, and the part of the organization that I’m aligned with is the result of the acquisition by ICF of Jones & Stokes Associates a decade ago. ICF has a strong environmental compliance presence throughout the West and nationwide.
Kris Polly: What does ICF stand for?
Pablo Arroyave: ICF originally stood for Inner City Fund and was cofounded in Washington, DC, in 1969 by C. D. Lester, a Tuskegee Airman. It aimed to empower businesses and assist governments as part of the social and environmental movement of the 1960s, out of which national environmental regulations and other reforms emerged. The initials ICF no longer relate to that original mission of urban renewal, but the core purpose of navigating environmental regulations for multibenefit projects and policies remains.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about ICF as a company.
Pablo Arroyave: ICF provides professional services and technology solutions in areas critical to the world’s future, addressing some of the most complex challenges facing our clients. ICF has over 5,000 employees in 65 offices worldwide. We are a recognized leader in environmental services, specializing in regulatory compliance, permitting, and an array of integrated services in environmental planning and natural resource services. Certainly in the West, we’re recognized as leaders in permitting and all aspects of environmental compliance. While the last century was characterized by shaping society via infrastructure improvements, we believe that this century and centuries beyond will be characterized by addressing the management of resources, including water.
Kris Polly: So when someone is building a project, ICF helps them comply with state and federal permitting requirements?
Pablo Arroyave: That’s correct. Many of our clients have to go through a complex permitting process that ensures compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and state and municipal laws. Our services cover the whole gamut of permitting.
Kris Polly: Who are your clients?
Pablo Arroyave: We serve anyone seeking objective, science- based, and fair analytical advice. Our clients range from the smallest irrigation districts to the largest entities, including cities, counties, and federal and state agencies. I work directly with a handful of water agencies to provide advisory and policy services throughout the Central Valley of California. No matter what state you’re in, we’ve developed expertise and relationships based on our reputation for over 50 years.
Kris Polly: Do you operate internationally as well?
Pablo Arroyave: Yes. We’re headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, but have offices worldwide and operate internationally. We have been involved in everything from climate change research and planning to infrastructure improvements, public health, and emergency management. We work with some large, international companies. What sets us apart from other companies is that we treat each client’s problems as if they are our own. We make their world our world.
Kris Polly: Would you tell us about ICF’s involvement in water projects?
Pablo Arroyave: Right now, ICF is the environmental consultant for Sites Reservoir, a new off-stream water storage project in Northern California. ICF has provided environmental compliance services for California WaterFix, the Central Valley Project, California’s State Water Project, and small local projects. We have been involved in environmental compliance for much of the West’s water landscape, ranging from the Columbia River to the Colorado River. Our specialty is balancing the often-competing objectives of water supply, flood management, habitat functions, and public benefits. We have worked on habitat restoration projects for salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Battle Creek, the Trinity basin, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, just to name a few examples.
Kris Polly: Would you tell us more about Sites Reservoir?
Pablo Arroyave: Sites Reservoir is a proposed surface- storage project about 100 miles north of Sacramento. Its purpose is to store and release water that is not currently captured in wet years. Its proposed capacity is 1.8 million acre-feet. The Sites Project Authority, formed in 2010, is governed by a board of directors whose 15 members are drawn from seven regional entities, including local water agencies and counties. The board of directors also includes the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California as nonvoting members.
Kris Polly: What would be the primary use of the water stored in the reservoir?
Pablo Arroyave: The water yield would serve environmental purposes as well as municipal and irrigation demands throughout California, both Northern and Southern.
Kris Polly: What key things should water project designers and owners be aware of as they move through the permitting process?
Pablo Arroyave: Project proponents should be flexible, keeping an eye on primary project needs, but able to change course if there’s an advantage in taking a different approach. Getting the right multidisciplinary expertise involved early on in the project is also critically important. It takes experience and skill to be able to maneuver through some of those changes. For example, we’re helping the agencies under the U.S. Department of the Interior adapt streamlined processes associated with meeting National Environmental Policy Act and ESA requirements. The result is more concise compliance documents and shorter time frames for decisionmaking. This is an exciting, fast-paced time that is quite different from what we saw 2–3 years ago. This is not a new experience for ICF, as we also assisted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in completing its national pilot project for planning modernization and approval streamlining in 2013.
Kris Polly: I know every project is different and permitting requirements can vary, but is there any rule of thumb about how long a project proponent should expect the permitting process to take?
Pablo Arroyave: It really depends. On a small project with a small footprint, you can get through the process in a few months. If it’s a larger project like Sites requiring a number of permits and environmental compliance steps, it can take several years.
Kris Polly: I know ICF has worked on disaster recovery in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Has it also worked on disaster recovery in the lower 48 states?
Pablo Arroyave: Yes. We were been involved in drought- relief efforts several years ago. We helped with emergency wells that were put in place in the Central Valley. Currently, I work closely with clients to diversify their water portfolios, specifically in response to the challenges they faced in the 2013–2016 drought. We have also been involved in hurricane recovery efforts, helping provide easily accessible information to affected people and agencies.
Kris Polly: Does your company help with disaster preparedness?
Pablo Arroyave: We help water districts with drought contingency planning. The common denominator of drought contingency planning efforts, even for small irrigation districts, is the need to make sure that you’ve fully explored all the available options within your control. That may mean engaging in transfer markets. For example, if a particular purveyor can do without a certain volume of water for a period of time, it may choose to transfer that supply to a water user in need. The funding that results can allow completion of capital improvement projects that could strengthen future drought resilience for the purveyor. Drought contingency planning helps an organization focus on the resources it has and ensure that it is using those assets in the way that is best over the long term. Another aspect of our water practice is flood management preparedness. Whether the issue is not enough water or too much, ICF can help.