In November of 2014, Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County submitted a petition to the State Water Resources Control Board to exercise its continuing authority over the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer (Quantification Settlement Agreement) and prevent an environmental and public-health crisis at the Salton Sea. This petition is a call to action for the State to meet its responsibility, outlined in the QSA, to restore the Salton Sea alongside the water transfer. The serious public and environmental health effects from the water transfer were known to all parties at the time the QSA was enacted. If the mitigation flows from the QSA stop after 2017 as scheduled, the Salton Sea will shrink dramatically resulting in thousands of acres of exposed shoreline causing large toxic dust storms, increased salinity levels in the water causing massive fish die-offs impacting the Pacific Flyway and surrounding ecosystems, and impacts on the regional economy, agriculture and diverse communities.
In May of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown established the Salton Sea Task Force to seek input from tribal leaders, federal agencies, local leaders, local water districts, and other public and private stakeholders and came up with a Salton Sea Management Program. This new program includes advisory committees (Air Quality, Project, Funding, Environmental Compliance, Public Outreach, Science Advisory, Long Range Planning) to help develop restoration goals. The Task Force and State Water Board were assigned to regularly monitor and assess progress on implementation of the program with periodic public workshops for public input. In addition, Bruce Wilcox, former IID Environmental Manager, was appointed assistant secretary for Salton Sea Policy at the Natural Resources Agency to oversee habitat restoration efforts at the Sea. In October of 2015, Governor Brown signed into law the Salton Sea Restoration Act requiring John Laird, Secretary of the Natural Resources, with guidance from the Salton Sea Authority to lead Salton Sea restoration efforts. This act required the Natural Resources Agency to submit to the Legislature a list of “shovel-ready” Salton Sea restoration projects. Governor Brown also allocated $80 million for Salton Sea restoration from the $7.5 billion water bond known as Proposition 1.
SSRREI Framework: The Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative is a joint effort between IID and Imperial County detailing short, medium and long-term implementation plans to ensure water throughout California, protect public health, develop carbon-free energy, restore ecosystems and provide economic growth. The framework includes a Salton Sea “Backbone” Infrastructure Project for the development of an infrastructure system that will collect, store, manage and release drainage water for future uses including habitat restoration and air quality mitigation.
Red Hill Bay Restoration Project: This project is a joint effort between IID, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge aimed at restoring and improving wetland habitat near the Red Hill Bay site on the south end of the Salton Sea. In addition to restoring valuable wetland habitat, this project will help analyze water quality with regards to selenium, salt and other components and analyze how effective covering exposed shoreline with wetlands can be. The project will cover 420 acres of exposed lakebed with water from the Salton Sea and Alamo River while creating habitat for wildlife and preventing toxic dust that would otherwise be airborne. Start Date: November 5, 2015 Cost: $3.5 million Acres: 420+
Habitat and Air Quality Project: The Habitat and Air Quality project aims to tackle dust mitigation by testing different techniques on exposed playa like enhancing native vegetation already established on the playa and capturing sand and dust through wind fetch systems like tillage. It will also create wetland habitat, in conjunction with the Salton Sea “Backbone” Infrastructure Project, over exposed playa with berms and flow-through water systems.
Species Conservation Habitat II: The Species Conservation Habitat II Project is a pilot project to create wetland habitat for fish and wildlife species that depend on the Salton Sea for their survival. This project will include floating islands, shallow and deep water habitat and structures for protection against predators.
Marine Habitat Pilot Project: The Marine Habitat Pilot Project is a joint effort between IID and Sephton Water Technology integrating desalination technology already taking place here at the Sea. This project aims to build a salinity-gradient solar pond which will generate energy needed to run a desalination module that creates distilled water for an adjacent diving bird habitat pond. This project will demonstrate the viability of desalinating water at the Sea, wetland habitat creation, renewable energy development and making use of the existing salt in the water. Start Date: 2016 expected Cost: $2.45 million Acres: 0.5
THE SALTON SEA CURRENTLY SUPPORTS APPROXIMATELY 40,000 ACRES OF SHORELINE HABITAT. MUCH OF THAT WILL BE LOST WITHOUT IMMEDIATE STATE AND FEDERAL ACTION.
IS IT ENOUGH?
These are all great first steps in mitigation at the Salton Sea but are they really enough to solve the accelerated consequences of the QSA? In 2007, the California Secretary for Resources recommended an $8.9 BILLION RESTORATION PLAN for the Salton Sea to the state legislature right before the economy crashed. Almost ten years later, our state is now offering LESS THAN 1% of that proposed budget in funds to help the region. DO YOU THINK THIS IS ENOUGH?
After the QSA mitigation flows stop at the end of next year, the rate at which water levels will drop and expose shoreline is much faster than the current pace of mitigation efforts at the Sea. It is estimated that around 70 thousand acres of shoreline containing harmful PM10 dust will be quickly exposed. The state’s proposed funding and restoration plans for the next few years plan to deal with only a few thousand acres of exposed shoreline. DO YOU THINK THIS IS ENOUGH?
In addition to threatening the health of so many communities living around the Sea, the risks of a shrinking Sea threaten the health of the ecosystems that depend on it. After the QSA mitigation flows stop at the end of next year, the rate at which water levels will drop and increase salinity levels is much faster than the current pace of habitat creation efforts at the Sea. It is estimated that salinity levels will reach 60ppt by 2018 killing off important fish populations (Tilapia, Desert Pupfish) that currently sustain migratory birds from all over the world. Another wetland habitat in California will be destroyed due to our neglect. DO YOU THINK THIS IS ENOUGH?
For more details and information on new and ongoing restoration efforts at the Salton Sea, the Quantification Settlement Agreement and what our state is doing to help please visit the following links:
Salton Sea Now – Imperial County & Imperial Irrigation District Programs
Salton Sea Management Program – California Natural Resources Agency
Quantification Settlement Agreement – State & Coachella, San Diego, Imperial Water Districts
Salton Sea Sense Independent Educational Blog