Here’s Hoping State Tour of the Salton Sea Brings Results

California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, pictured far left, speaks about the Salton Sea during the recent Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. renewable energy summit.

On a recent day in March, there was an unprecedented event at the Salton Sea. A handful of State Senators joined by an Assemblyman and several other key State officials gathered for a tour of the Sea. It may have been the first time—at least the first time in recent history—so many State officials came together at one time to see the Salton Sea. And while only time will tell if such a tour will have a substantive impact on how the State addresses the Sea, it does represent a heightened awareness the State has a responsibility to manage the Sea.

The tour was organized by the Water Foundation  together with Sen. Ben Hueso, who represents San Diego and Imperial County, and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who represents the southeastern portion of Riverside County and Imperial County. They were joined by Sens. Toni Atkins of San Diego, Jeff Stone of Riverside County, and Ben Hertzberg of Los Angeles County. Additionally, John Laird, Secretary of California Natural Resources, attended along with many other representatives from key State departments.

On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, these esteemed visitors flew in from Sacramento, then boarded a bus to the Salton Sea—specifically Red Hill Marina—to see the progress on one of the first restoration projects to move forward, a 450-acre wetlands project where water will be pumped from the sea to cover more than a mile stretch of exposed playa. While there, Bruce Wilcox, Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources in charge of Salton Sea policy, discussed the State’s plans to address the Sea over the next ten years—a plan called the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP). This phase one portion of the SSMP comes with a $380 million price tag—with about three years of the necessary funding in place. That money would go toward building habitat that would cover exposed playa by establishing shallow ponds to maintain a fish population, which would then maintain habitat for the 400 species of birds that currently utilize the Sea. The project serves another vital purpose of protecting human health by covering and preventing potential dust emissions from exposed shoreline playa.

While it is much too early to say whether the State SSMP will succeed, it appears as if the State has recognized its responsibility to address restoration—in whatever realistic form that might take. These days, the State uses the term “management” as opposed to “restoration” and the phraseology includes developing a plan that would maintain a smaller but sustainable Sea. The fact that a number of Senators, an Assemblyman and Secretary Laird himself visited the Sea may not be proof enough for some that the State is now finally serious at the Sea, but it’s the best sign to date that we are on the cusp of real action.

It is now time for these leaders to lend their strong voices to the cause of a realistic and fundable approach to restoration and to push for annual funding that would enable the State to meet its obligations to the Sea. Certainly, Sen. Hueso and Assemblyman Garcia have been active in their efforts to build support among their fellow State leaders for restoration at the Sea. It is their efforts that led to this important tour. The Water Authority and its Quantification Settlement Agreement Joint Powers Authority partners, the Imperial Irrigation District and the Coachella Valley Water District, have also made strong efforts to seek State action at the Sea, and will continue to do so.

We urge all those State officials who participated in the tour to ensure the annual funding that will enable the SSMP to move forward is continued. We will continue to monitor where the State goes from here. For that matter, we must watch closely to see what the Federal response to the Sea is under a new Administration, which joins this issue through the last Administration’s recent memorandum of understanding with the State to work together on Salton Sea restoration.

Vigilance going forward is key. Stay tuned for more updates on issues related to the Salton Sea

[MK1]Was it the WEF? Not sure what the Water Foundation is?