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Imperial Valley Water Officials Set Ultimatum To Protect Salton Sea

Photo caption: Sunrise at the Salton Sea in Imperial County on April 15, 2015.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Sunrise at the Salton Sea in Imperial County on April 15, 2015.

Imperial Valley Water Officials Set Ultimatum To Protect Salton Sea

GUEST:

Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, California Natural Resources Agency

Transcript

Imperial Valley's water district, the Imperial Irrigation District, is demanding state water officials have a 10-year plan for the management of the Salton Sea by the end of the year or it will not agree to a proposed Colorado River drought deal.

The Salton Sea is shrinking due to a water transfer deal that sends water to San Diego County and the Coachella Valley. As the lake recedes, wildlife habitat is being lost and playa, the lakebed, is exposed, causing a health hazard due to an increase of dust in the air.

"We don't want to operate any longer on this sort of incremental best efforts manner in which we've been operating these many years," said Kevin Kelley, the Imperial Irrigation District's general manager.

Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, said he believes the state will have a plan by the end of the year. The plan will detail the type of projects that will be built as the Salton Sea recedes.

"If we have this 10-year roadmap then all of us, all of the stakeholders and the state can collectively emerge from this cave that we're in at the Salton Sea and that we can participate as a water stakeholder in a drought contingency plan for the Colorado River," Kelley said.

Once the 10-year plan is in place, Wilcox said the state will begin working with a consulting firm and the California Department of Water Resources Division of Engineering to develop the construction design for the projects in the 10-year plan, as well as the environmental documentation that goes along with it.

"2017 will be a very important year for us in turning the corner from planning to action," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said there has been a good amount of progress on the Salton Sea in the last few years, but not as much progress on the ground. He said that will be changing in the next two to three years.

Mitigation water will no longer be put in the sea by the end of 2017, thus speeding up the evaporation of the sea. Wilcox said the sea won't further recede due to the decrease in water going into the sea until 2018 when construction on the 10-year plan is expected to begin.

"I think that gives us almost no time for delays," he said.

Wilcox said that he believes the dust, air-quality and habitat issues can be addressed in time if the necessary funding is there.

"I think that a funding plan to accompany this roadmap is essential to convincing people that live nearest the Salton Sea that it's a document we can believe in," Kelley said.

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