California Natural Resources Agency Releases 10-Year Plan for Salton Sea

The California Natural Resources Agency on Thursday released a 10-year plan for the Salton Sea, detailing targeted habitat and dust suppression projects aimed at improving air quality and bird and wildlife populations.

“Under this plan, we’ll build the backbone infrastructure we need to limit airborne dust and create lower-salinity zones that sustain tilapia,” said Natural Resources Secretary John Laird in a statement. “We are committed to not only getting started quickly with these projects, but also to learning as we go and adjusting so that our future work is as efficient and effective as possible.”

According to the Natural Resources Agency, water levels in the Salton Sea, located in Riverside and Imperial counties, have receded sharply in recent years for a variety of reasons but will shrink significantly after 2017 when mitigation water deliveries stop under previous agreements.

In May 2015, the Salton Sea Task Force was created by Gov. Jerry Brown to develop a comprehensive plan to meet short- and long-term goals to respond to air quality and ecological threats at the Salton Sea caused by declining water levels an increased salinity.

The 10-year plan describes the first phase of the Salton Sea Management Plan (SSMP) created under the governor’s direction and addresses requirements of AB 1095 (Garcia, 2015) by including “shovel-ready projects” and cost estimates.

It will take a total of $383 million to complete the habitat and dust-suppression projects needed over the next decade, according to the Natural Resources Agency.

Specifically, the plan estimates that a total of 48,300 acres of lakebed will be exposed by 2028, and proposes dust-suppression projects for at least 29,800 acres of that exposed land. Along with dry-land dust suppression projects, the phase one plan proposes the construction of a series of river outlets and ponds along the lake to create wildlife habitat zones that will also serve to suppress dust. Phase one projects are being targeted at the northern and southern ends of the lake where the exposure is most severe.

Existing funding for Salton Sea restoration efforts currently includes more than $80 million in Proposition 1 funds, a $14 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, and a $7.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

The plan identifies the Water Transfers Joint Power Authority, a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Interior, philanthropic organizations such as the Water Initiative Fund, the Water Resources Development Act, U.S. Department of Agriculture partnerships and future California state budgets as potential sources of funding in the future.

Public comment on the plan will be solicited through several regional workshops to be announced on the Salton Sea Management Program website.

The 10-year plan is available here.