4/10/16 – Shovel-ready projects announced by state

Imperial Valley Press, 4-10-16

The California Natural Resources Agency unveiled on Friday the list of projects that are in the final planning, environmental review or permitting phase as precluded by Assembly Bill 1095, which was authored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.

The projects included in the report will be the ones that will be the focus of the Salton Sea restoration effort for the next few years.

“This is the first step in the development of additional projects,” said Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea Policy.

A total of eight projects are included in the list which includes the Salton Sea Backbone Infrastructure Project developed by the Imperial Irrigation District, 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 good thing about these projects is that they are incremental and we can build on them and expand as the sea recedes,” Wilcox said. “Stakeholders want to work on the short-term first and eventually they’ll become part of the medium-term plan.”

The purpose of the Salton Sea Backbone Infrastructure 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. The initiative Habitat and Air Quality Mitigation Project will consist of a series of cells that will be flooded for wildlife habitat or managed for dust suppression, those cells will be shallow water impoundments designed to provide habitat for shore and wading birds.

Phase 1 of the Species Conservation Habitat will consist of berms and levee improvements to impound a 640-acre pond with islands and deep water channels for habitat. Phase 2 will focus on developing aquatic habitat on the exposed shoreline at the mouth of the New River.

The Torres-Martinez Wetlands Project is the only one that is at the north end of the sea and its objective is to restore 50 acres of wetlands and create of 20 acres of habitat. The Red Hill Bay Project which had a ground-breaking ceremony last November is in the list because the final design of a portion of the project hasn’t been finalized yet and the last project Sephton Water Technologies aims to create habitat at the sea through desalination using combined energy from waste steam from geothermal plants and constructed solar ponds.

Wilcox said these projects are important because it will teach them a lot about how to implement future projects of the Salton Sea restoration efforts.

“These projects are crucial, the Species Conservation Habitat is the first habitat project that will get done and will teach us a lot,” he said. “Red Hill Bay Project will teach us about how to combine geothermal with the wetlands.”

Most of the projects are funded through the 80.5 million that Gov. Jerry Brown allocated for the sea in January from Proposition 1 monies.

He expects Red Hill Bay and Species Conservation habitat projects to be done by early 2017 and the rest will be completed in following years.

Wilcox said that he knew that at some point they could run into some unforeseen obstacles in the future whether it is leasing of land or permitting but his biggest concern is that the $80.5 million won’t go far enough.

Long-term projects

In February nine different long-term projects were presented to the Long Range Plan Committee from the California Natural Resources Agency, the committee is set to meet on Wednesday to begin the evaluation process for all of those projects which include the water import project from the Sea of Cortez.

Wilcox said that although the state of California is looking seriously into those projects the state is focused on the developing and implementation of the short-term projects.

Gary Jennings, founding partner of Jennings and Johnson Partnership which is behind the sea-to-sea concept, said that he was led to believe that his project had a chance of getting funded for base-level engineering and said he was disappointed of not getting considered.

“At this time the state has no long-term dust mitigation strategy and is not funding anything out of the $80 million to develop it,” Jennings said.

Wilcox said that was never the case and that money was going to be invested in the projects that are ready to go.

“We’re just about to begin to evaluate this projects, our long-range plan will not be done before the end of the year,” Wilcox said.

He added that the message from the stakeholders has been clear and feels the short-term projects are the priority right now and doesn’t want the construction of those to be slowed down.

Jennings said that by not helping his team with the basic engineering, the state is wasting an additional 3-5 years until the next funding opportunity.

“Even if you start tomorrow it will take five years to be ready to begin. (Regarding water importing project) we first need to decide if that project works. It’s not ready to go and it’s too soon to even know whether or not it will be part of the long-term plan.”