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Imperial Valley Water Officials Set Ultimatum To Protect Salton Sea

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

Imperial Valley Water Officials Set Ultimatum To Protect Salton Sea
Imperial Valley Water Officials Set Ultimatum To Protect Salton Sea GUEST: Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, California Natural Resources Agency

As far as the Imperial irrigation District is concerned the state has run out of time to come up with a plan to managing the shrinking Salton Sea. At a state water resource control meeting last month IID officials say if they don't see the ten-year roadmap for Salton Sea management they have been promised they will not support a crucial multistate water deal in including Lake Mead. They gave officials till the end of this year to show them timeframe. The threat of a pure water Valley officials underscores the urgency of the problem as a Salton Sea's evaporation is expected to speed up the next few years. Joining me is Bruce Wilcox he's assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy with the California natural resource agency. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Will you be able to comply with the IDT demand and provide a tenure plan for the Salton Sea by the end of this year? We will provide them a tenure plan that has the metrics in it that they talked about at the water board workshop. We have met with them since them to talk in more detail to provide them the plan for the end of the year. A little bit of a Longview question. Why has it taken so long because the state promised Salton Sea restoration as part of the water transfer deal with San Diego and that was back in 2003. That's correct. There was 10 or more years of delay for many reasons. When the water transfer was under litigation for a few of those years and everyone was reluctant to move forward while the litigation was out there. We did not have a united view as to what should happen. There was a delay in 2008 and 2009 hit when we had a Salton Sea restoration plan that was $9 billion suddenly there was a funding issue. The state has been responsible for the delay. The stakeholders have responsibility to it. In the last two years the governor has appointed a task force created a position and we've made progress towards Salton Sea management. Remind us why this restoration is crucial? What will happen if the Salton Sea is allowed to shrink? At the Salton Sea continues to shrink two things will happen. One we will have a public health issue because portions of the Pryor -- we will have problems with dust. It is important from a public health perspective to control that dust. Also important is the Salton Sea position on the Pacific flyway for water salt. It's one of the last remaining scale Salt Lake in this area. It makes it important from that perspective. Over 425 different species of birds have been noted at the Salton Sea. You can see how many different types of birds is that area. What are the things that are included in this tenure Salton Sea management plan that you will come up by the end of the year? The ten-year plan -- we have an working on a plan for several months. This is a relation of the plan. The plan includes development of habitat in concentric rings around the south end of the seat in the north end. The habitat will be fed by water by the Alamo River. It will be managed to a specific salinity so it will be better for the Fish and the bird species. Included in that is a lot of dust suppression projects that we are working with Imperial County. We are developing a series of dust suppression projects that will go a long with the program. If you build habitat and build water on it that's the best dust suppression that we have. Between those things we think we have a lot of flexibility in order to develop. The other thing is it's designed to be built incrementally. We can start and plan to start in 2018 with construction of a series of water management ponds. Those ponds will feed the areas. We should be able as the seat received we should be able to move forward with those ponds and control air quality and has some stabilized habitat for the Fish species. Is finding a place for this management plan? There is $80.5 million in proposition one that is available for the Salton Sea. We received $14 million grant from the wildlife conversation board for the project. There's another $2.5 million grant and we have a MOU with the federal government that talks about about $30 million of funding over the next 10 years. However there is not enough funding to do the entire tenure plan. One of the things we have to do as we move forward is put together a funding schedule and we are in the process of doing that that we can get to the legislature both state and federal and state this is the kind of funding we need over the 10 years to be successful with this plan. We hope given the plan we will start construction -- Redhill Bay has started construction. We hope that will send a message to the legislator that this is a worthwhile project and a project that needs to continue to get funding. The Imperial irrigation District has been propping up the side of the Salton Sea channeling mitigation water into the sea. That mitigation water ends at the end of 2017. You are talking about a vital part of this management plan taking in -- kicking in at 2018. Is that enough time? We won't stop the seat from shrinking. It will continue to shrink because there will be less water going into it. Unless we do some water import plan which we do not have on the books, it will continue to shrink. I think we have enough time to get the plan in place and get caught up over the next few years assuming we get the additional funding. We don't have any additional time. The delays that have happened have put us in a position where we have to move right now. Our plan is to move after the first year and develop construction plans for the sites. Redhill Bay is under construction. We need to catch up a little bit. I think we can do that over the next few years. I've been speaking with Bruce Wilcox he's assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy with the California natural resource agency. Thank you very much.

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.