During its Oct. 24 board meeting, the Salton Sea Authority (SSA) passed a resolution honoring out-going Assistant Secretary of Salton Sea Policy Bruce Wilcox for a career devoted to trying to better the Salton Sea. The resolution was adopted by a unanimous vote of the SSA Board of Directors. Wilcox, who was present for the resolution, was appointed to serve as assistant secretary within the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) in 2015 under the Gov. Brown administration. It was a new post within CNRA, created in the wake of Gov. Brown’s formation of a Salton Sea Task Force to recommend stepped-up efforts at the sea. Wilcox’s efforts led to what is now the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), the state’s phased approach to restoration at the sea.
As part of the SSA’s resolution, the board acknowledged that Wilcox’s leadership moved the state’s restoration efforts forward, bringing the state closer to implementing the Species Conservation Habitat, a 3,770 acre habitat project on the southeastern shore of the sea, as well as progressing the wetlands project at Red Hill Bay, also on the southeastern side of the sea, and the proposed North Lake project on the northern end of the sea, which is anticipated to also cover over 3,000 acres. In accepting the resolution in his honor, Wilcox said there were positive steps forward and that he expects efforts to continue to move forward toward the implementation of the SSMP. He also said he hopes to stay involved with the Salton Sea.
Wilcox steps down from his position at an interesting time in the implementation of the SSMP. Under the Gov. Newsom administration, CNRA is now led by Secretary Wade Crowfoot, who has promised to work toward fulfilling the goals of the SSMP, which begins with a ten-year phase one effort but also will look at other mid-term and long-term restoration efforts. Under Crowfoot, Arturo Delgado, who formerly worked on Salton Sea issues under the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, has been appointed as the new assistant secretary assigned to the Salton Sea. During a recent two-day summit on the Salton Sea held at the Palm Desert campus of University of California, Riverside, Delgado announced plans for 9,000 acres of dust suppression projects at the sea, an attempt to meet missed annual targets for addressing exposed playa over the first three years of the SSMP. The first 200 acres of dust suppression projects, to be located near where the New River flows into the sea, could get under way before the end of 2019.
As an added development on Salton Sea issues, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors recently adopted a declaration of an emergency at the sea, a move county officials say is meant to break down barriers to getting projects underway. In the declaration, the county points out the sea is too large of an issue for Imperial County to address, and therefore both state and federal support are needed. The county is hopeful the state will concur with the declaration, issuing its own emergency declaration as a way to speed up permitting and provide additional funding for the sea. They want to see the issue escalated to a federal level in particular, as the federal government is a significant land owner around the Salton Sea.
In regards to the sea, it is difficult to say what the future holds. However, it appears that a path forward has been forged, at least with phase one of the SSMP. The resolution in honor of Wilcox from the SSA is well deserved recognition in that he faced the daunting task of coalescing efforts at the sea into a path forward. Though there have been delays in projects, Wilcox has worked tirelessly to advance restoration of the sea. That the SSMP appears on the verge of a fuller implementation is due in large part to his efforts. As the first ever Assistant Secretary for Salton Sea Policy, he faced a difficult task to try to bring stakeholders together toward a shared goal. Now it is up to the new administration to advance the efforts at the sea.
As always, we all need to be vigilant to ensure there is success going forward.