1/27/17 – Salton Sea Authority given update on state’s Salton Sea management program

Imperial Valley Press, 1-27-17

The Salton Sea Authority held its first meeting of the year Thursday at the North Shore Yacht Club in Mecca with the intention of giving the people around the sea an opportunity to learn more about the current restoration efforts.

Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea Policy for the California Natural Resources Agency, spoke to the board about the latest development and provided an outlook of what is coming next.

He said the state is continuing to work in the development of a 10-year plan that intends to draw the path on how the state intends to cover up to 55,000 acres of exposed playa over the next decade. Wilcox said the agency has sent a preliminary plan to the stakeholders to get comments and said a draft is expected to be available for the public at the end of February.

The key piece of the puzzle is the question of how the plan will be funded. Wilcox said they’re still working on providing the state different ideas of how to get funds to get the habitat projects done.

“We don’t have the full funding for the 10-year program. We are trying to develop a program that will help us how to get that moving forward,” Wilcox told the board. “It is difficult for agencies to accept that uncertainty and I appreciate the fact that agencies such as the IID (Imperial Irrigation District) understand of that how we have to move.”

The 10-year plan will become part of the agency’s long-range plan, which is still being developed after it was originally scheduled to be finalized by the end of 2016.

Wilcox said after the meeting the focus as of now is to get the short-term projects underway as soon as possible. He believes no additional water will be needed for the initial set of projects and also noted it wouldn’t move to make decision on whether water importation makes sense at this point without the 10-year plan being finalized.

He told the board the parts of the plan they’re still working on is the hydrology models and how the Salton Sea could be impacted if a drought contingency plan gets implemented at some point in the future.

The other main point of discussion during the meeting was the addendum made to the Memorandum of Understanding between the three agencies involved in the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

The changes open the possibility for the IID, the Coachella Valley Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority to use funds they have set aside for restoration to be used in the mitigation efforts.

The QSA Joint Powers Authority was established as the funding mechanism to mitigate environmental impacts associated with the water transfers authorized by the QSA.

“They are separate but it is conceivable that restoration funds could help mitigation funds and vice versa,” said IID board director Jim Hanks.

After the state didn’t include any additional funds for the Salton Sea in this year’s budget, tapping into the JPA funds could be the next path to move forward, he added that could be the intention of the state too, to first exhaust those monies before allocating any additional funds from the water bond.

“I think it gives us a head start on Salton Sea Management that should be advantageous to all the agencies,” he said.

Despite being an intriguing option, some members of the SSA board pointed out that even if all three agencies agree on using JPA funds for the next round of mitigation projects, the state still holds the power to block the agencies from doing so.

“I think the agencies could agree but state needs to be on board as well,” said Patrick O’Dowd, CVWD board member. “I think that is something that is very much worth continuing dialogue about.”

Once the 10-year plan is finalized, Wilcox said he expects to have a few meeting and workshops to inform the public in the area of what the next steps are in the ln the Salton Sea restoration efforts.