On Thursday, Sept. 7, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) held a workshop on the Salton Sea to consider the Draft Stipulated Order on the Salton Sea proposed jointly by the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Imperial County and the San Diego County Water Authority (Water Authority). The State Water Board listened to a full-day of testimony, and is expected to vote on the proposal in the coming weeks.
The Draft Stipulated Order, which would be an amendment to the original Water Rights Order that approved the Quantification Settlement Agreement water transfers, represents a path forward toward a realistic restoration program led by the State under its Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP). It would establish a set of milestones that must be met over the initial ten years of the SSMP. Further, the proposed Stipulated Order would establish a timeline to develop a long-term plan for restoration and ensure the State Water Board maintains oversight over the restoration effort.
As noted in a joint letter by IID, Imperial County and the Water Authority, the Draft Stipulated Order requires:
- That the State of California, through the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), act so that there will be almost 30,000 acres of exposed playa covered by habitat and dust suppression projects by Jan. 1, 2029.
- That the State Water Board retain jurisdiction over the implementation of restoration efforts and the parties, led by the California Natural Resources Agency, would report annually to the State Water Board on progress toward the milestones in the Draft Stipulated Order. In particular, if implementation of the plan falls more than 20 percent behind the obligation in a year, there would be an obligation on the part of the CNRA to develop a plan to cure the deficiency. In this way, unlike the experience of the past 15 years, there will be a process for accountability and adaptive management as the parties implement the 10-year plan.
- That the requirements of the original Water Rights Order continue as planned through implementation of the prescribed four-step mitigation program to address air quality as it relates to the QSA water transfers.
- That the State develop a long-term plan for the Salton Sea.
During the workshop, Bruce Wilcox, California Natural Resources Agency Assistant Secretary in charge of Salton Sea policy, called the Draft Stipulated Order a good compromise that “puts us in a good place” to accomplish the goals of the Salton Sea Management Program. He noted it establishes a path forward where agencies can work in a unified manner to address restoration.
One panel that presented to the State Water Board was made up of Maureen Stapleton, General Manager of the Water Authority, Kevin Kelley, General Manager of IID, and Katherine Turner, County Counsel for Imperial County. Again, the three agencies came together to help develop the Draft Stipulated Order. All three acknowledged that while their proposal is not perfect, it represents a way to ensure the SSMP moves forward and that the State be held accountable for achieving key milestones on an annual basis.
Joaquin Esquivel, a member of the State Water Board, responded to the panel, stating for the first time there is a unified vision for the Sea. Other members of the board said they were pleased with what was presented, calling it a step forward.
Throughout the workshop, different panels and speakers—while noting the Draft Stipulated Order is a good step—pointed out that funding remains a critical issue. Phase One of the SSMP—which covers the initial ten years of the plan—would cost an estimated $380 million and to date the State has committed $80 million. However, there is a proposed water bond under discussion in the Legislature that could provide additional funding for the SSMP. Members of the State Water Board noted that while funding is an unresolved matter, having a SSMP and a proposed Stipulated Order would be important signals to the Legislature to award additional funding to the Sea.
The Water Authority stands with our partners in supporting the Draft Stipulated Order and the SSMP. It represents a compromise to address the need to both protect human health and provide habitat at the Salton Sea.
At the end of the workshop, the State Water Board directed the Water Authority, IID and Imperial County to continue working together to consider further amendments to the proposed Stipulated Order to consider points brought up throughout the workshop testimony. A new draft will be made available to the public for review by the State Water Board in anticipation for a later meeting when the State Water Board would consider a vote on the proposal.
In the meantime, the Water Authority and our QSA JPA partners will continue to fund and implement mitigation efforts at the Salton Sea.