12/31/16 – Salton Sea saw more activity in 2016, still much left to do in ahead of 2018

Imperial Valley Press, 12-31-16

One year from now, mitigation water deliveries to the Salton Sea will cease, the already rapidly receding shoreline will begin to dry up much faster and the toxic dust emissions that it brings will turn into a bigger concern for the Valley residents’ health.

For that and many other reasons, 2017 is shaping up to be a crucial year that can have a big impact in the future of the Salton Sea and the Imperial Valley.

Although matching the restoration efforts with the speed of the sea’s decline seems as a tall order, the actions done during 2016 have set the stage for a big year to catch up, but 2017 will be crucial to dictate whether the state is up to the challenge. Here is a recap of the most significant events of the year pertaining to the Salton Sea:

Jan. 4

During their first Board of Directors meeting of the year the Imperial Irrigation District approved the Salton Sea Backbone Infrastructure Project to ensure the implementation of an adequate design of restoration water supply facilities in order to guarantee the protection and continued functionality for IID drainage systems.

The goal of the project is to develop the engineering of the necessary reservoirs and water delivery systems to allow the diversion of agricultural flow returns to the Sea for habitat restoration projects.

Jan. 7

Gov. Jerry Brown announced the allocation of $80.5 million to get the Salton Sea Management Program underway. The monies are intended to fund projects that expand habitat and suppress dust at the Salton Sea as the emissive dust has already generated an air quality and environmental risk to Imperial Valley.

Those funds are the largest amount the state has ever allocated specifically to the Salton Sea, but it was also a small piece of the puzzle.

“(The $80 million) is very helpful, it will allow us to work on designing a construction plan along with the Salton Sea Authority. The funds from the budget will allow us to get ready for construction, although we don’t expect to start construction this year, we expect to start soon after,” said California Natural Resources Agency Assistant Secretary for Salton Sea Policy Bruce Wilcox in January.

Feb. 9

The Department of the Interior announced $3 million funding for the Salton Sea Research Project or Holtville-Alamo River Wetlands Project.

The $3 million are intended to build a 31-acre wetland along the Alamo River in order to improve water quality, provide habitats for fish and migratory bird species known to the area.

Feb. 24-25

Long Range Plan Committee from the California Natural Resources Agency listened to a series of long-term proposals for the Salton Sea, the first day the committee was in the Imperial Valley and moved to the Coachella Valley for day two.

March 15

IID approved an agreement with Controlled Thermal Resources to begin development of Salton Sea land to build a new geothermal power plant.

With the approval of the lease Controlled Thermal Resources the company is hoping to build the 12th planet at the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Area and just the second since the year 2000. Hudson Ranch from Energy Source opened in 2012.

Plans call for the proposed geothermal power plant will generate around 250 megawatts a year and further expand to 375 megawatts.

April 8

The California Natural Resources Agency unveiled a total of eight projects that were going to be the main focus of the Salton Sea Management Program.

The list included the Salton Sea Backbone Infrastructure Project developed by the IID, the Habitat and Air Quality Project which is part of the first phase of the IID Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative, the Species Conservation Habitat phase 1 and 2, phase 2 of the Torres-Martinez Wetlands Project and the Financial Assistance Program Project complete the list. Red Hill Bay Project, phase 1 of the Torres-Martinez Wetlands and the Sephton Water Technologies are part of the Financial Assistance Program Project.

The money allocated by Gov. Brown in January was intended to fund the initial stages of those projects.

Aug. 18

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer visited the Sony Bono National Wildlife Refuge to meet with an array of agencies from the local, state and federal levels to get the latest updates of how the projects are moving along.

Boxer said during a press conference at the refuge that although she understood the complexity of the daunting task of getting the projects moving at the sea, she expressed her discomfort of how far behind schedule some of them are.

Aug. 31

Prior the Lake Tahoe Summit, President Barack Obama announced a series to actions from the federal government to assist the restoration efforts.

The initiatives include funding a plan to protect public health and the environment; additional funding from the Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service; the advancement of geothermal energy in the Salton Sea area and the establishment of a partnership with the state to accelerate conservation at the Salton Sea.

Nov. 15

IID General Manager Kevin Kelley appeared before the State Water Resources Control Board to request the state board take immediate and definitive action before the end of 2016 to adopt a 10-year roadmap for Salton Sea restoration that will hold the state accountable in meeting its Salton Sea obligations.

“Action is needed now,” Kelley said then. “There is currently no plan in place with goals and objectives, with enforceable metrics and with actionable timelines. These are required because already the (Salton Sea) Task Force’s actions are not keeping pace with the rate of expansion of playa exposure.”

Kelley said that if there is no concrete program in place, the sea will face a 150,000-acre-foot shortfall in mitigation water under the state order required by the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

He also warned that not adopting such plan, in IID’s view, precludes the district’s ability to participate in Drought Contingency Measures being discussed on the Colorado River.

Nov. 18

The Wildlife Conservation Board approved on Wednesday roughly $28 million worth of grants for various projects across the state including $14.5 million to completed the funding required for the Species Conservation Habitat phase 1 project at the Salton Sea.

What’s next?

The CNRA is expected to release its’ long-range plan for the Salton Sea in early January, which should give the stakeholders a much better idea of the state’s plans intends to do in multiple areas including the source of water for the some of the intended habitat projects.

The continuous drought facing the western United States will also increase the pressure the IID will have in committing to a drought-contingency plan to build elevation to Lake Mead to avoid mandatory cutback for some agencies, however Kelley has stated on multiple occasions that without a plan to deal with the thousands of unmitigated acres of exposed playa at the Salton Sea, the IID will not take part in such efforts.