From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):
The State Water Resources Control Board met Thursday to hear comments on the proposed agreement, which sets targets for state agencies tasked with building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control projects around the lake over the next 10 years.
The proposed deal represents a new consensus strategy for the Salton Sea among state and local agencies after years of delays, disagreements and widespread frustration. The agreement resulted from negotiations involving the Imperial Irrigation District, Imperial County, the San Diego County Water Authority and officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.
IID General Manager Kevin Kelley said the agreement “represents the most significant advance to date at the Salton Sea.”
“It’s viable, it represents consensus between our three agencies and I believe it’s achievable, and that’s really what we need at the Salton Sea,” Kelley told the board during the meeting in Sacramento, flanked by representatives of Imperial County and the San Diego County Water Authority. “It is not all that we wanted, but it works.”
The State Water Board released a draft of the agreement, technically called a “stipulated order,” in mid-August and plans to release a final draft soon before considering whether to approve it.
Members of the state board said they understand the urgency of acting quickly because the Salton Sea is now less than four months away from a critical deadline when some of the Colorado River water that flows into the lake will be cut off and its shorelines will begin to shrink more rapidly.
The state’s 10-year plan, which was released in March and is the foundation of the agreement, says a total of 29,800 acres of dust-control projects and habitat areas should be built around the lake by the end of 2028.
If fully built, those ponds, wetlands and other projects would cover less than half of the more than 60,000 acres of dry lakebed that’s projected to be left exposed over the next 10 years – meaning that vast areas of dust-spewing lakebed are still expected to be left exposed, posing worsening health threats in an area that already suffers from extremely high asthma rates.
After years of inaction by state agencies, though, the three agencies said their agreement offers a clear path forward that they hope will kick-start the state’s efforts.
They said the deal also would ensure the state board continues to have jurisdiction to see that the state follows through on its plans after Brown leaves office.
The agreement lays out annual targets for the construction of dust-control projects and habitat areas ranging from 500 acres to 4,200 acres. It says at least 50 percent of the total acreage must “provide habitat benefits for fish and wildlife,” while other areas could be dust-control projects that don’t require water. Those methods could include plowing sections of lakebed or laying down bales of hay to block windblown dust.
Under the current wording, if state agencies fail to meet an annual acreage target by more than 20 percent for two years in a row, they would be required to develop a plan to “cure the deficiency” within 12 months. Several environmental groups, however, said the two-year period would be too long and suggested state agencies should be held accountable if they fall behind for a single year.
Several participants in the negotiations said that time allowance could be shortened to a single year in the final draft.
The agreement brings accountability to the state’s plan by specifying what would happen if state agencies don’t get their projects done on time, said Imperial County Counsel Katherine Turner…
Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, called it a “balanced, thoughtful plan that is fair to all.”
The state’s $383-million plan remains largely unfunded, with only $80.5 million approved so far. California lawmakers been discussing a proposed measure that would include $280 million for projects at the Salton Sea, but the measure – and the dollar amount – have yet to secure final approval in the Legislature.
The bond measure would also have to be approved by voters next year…
Michael Lynes of Audubon California pointed out that bird populations have been crashing as the lake grows saltier and the habitat deteriorates. Birds that have seen major declines in numbers include white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and eared grebes.
Ignacio Ochoa, an organizer with the Sierra Club, pointed out that dust from thousands of acres of exposed lakebed is already affecting people’s health and leading to high rates of respiratory illnesses…
The lake, which has no outlet and is already saltier than the ocean, has been getting progressively saltier and regularly gives off a stench resembling rotten eggs. While Thursday’s meeting was underway, in face, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an odor advisory for the Coachella Valley due to the smelly gases, specifically hydrogen sulfide, coming from the lake.
The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly next year under the water transfers. The 2003 agreement called for the Imperial district to send “mitigation water” from its canals into the sea through 2017 – a period intended to give state agencies time to prepare for dealing with the effects.
At the end of this year, that flow of water will be cut off and the lake’s shorelines will retreat more rapidly. Over the next 30 years, the lake is projected to shrink by a third.