Kamis, 20 Agustus 2020

California still hasn't found analyst to study Salton Sea water import proposals it asked for - Desert Sun

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An aerial view of the New River and Salton Sea. Flowing into the United States from Mexico, the New River is polluted with trash, sewage, heavy metals and industrial chemicals. Palm Springs Desert Sun

Long-term fixes for the ever-shrinking Salton Sea remain stalled as California Natural Resources Agency officials on Wednesday revealed they have been unable to find an analyst to study proposed solutions to a nearly two decades-old problem.

Eleven different plans, submittedin 2018, suggested methods of importing water from the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific Ocean to decrease salinity and reverse water losses at the Salton Sea, which have exposed a toxic playa laced with pesticides and other pollutants. Although some researchers who study the lake write off the plans as financial and logistical pipe dreams, CNRA still needs to study them as part of the process to determine a long-term solution.

But multiple attempts by the agency to hire an independent analyst to review the plans failed. Agency officials, who have committed to using an outside expert, said they hope to find someone by the fall but did not explain how that would be accomplished. CNRA has already pushed back its timeline to work through the proposals, and it has a 2022 deadline to offer a solution.

This and other updates came at an annual public meeting on the issue of the Salton Sea that was hosted by the California State Water Resources Control Board.

"The state is coming from behind in stabilizing the Salton Sea," CNRA Secretary Wade Crowfoot acknowledged on the video conference. "This has been a priority that has been too long deferred.”

The Wednesday meeting itself was initially scheduled for March but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event included officials from the Imperial Irrigation District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Salton Sea Authority and various other government bodies, elected officials and community groups.

Many of the Salton Sea's problems began in 2003 when a transfer agreement began cutting off huge amounts of water that once flowed into the lake as irrigation runoff from the Imperial Valley. Public officials on Wednesday spoke of years of frustration at the lack of progress, but the meeting had a markedly positive tone that suggested an increase in cooperation among government agencies.

“There is a renaissance if you will. There is a re-commitment, if you will, from the state,” Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said.

Other officials echoed his sentiment, saying that Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration has gone much further than former Gov. Jerry Brown's did in allocating funding and making the slow-moving public health disaster a priority.

Tens of millions of dollars in funding survived coronavirus-induced budget cuts, and the state announced 10 new positions will be created to work on Salton Sea-related issues. Several of those employees will be based at the offices of the Imperial Wildlife Area, Wister Unit, just north of Niland in Imperial County.

The Salton Sea's problems, however, are far from solved.

The lake is currently impaired by toxins ranging from the likely carcinogenic insecticide DDT and ammonia to arsenic and salts, explained Maria Davydova, an environmental scientist at the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board. IID also predicts that there could be up to 66,948 acres of dry, exposed lakebed by 2028, according to Tina Shields, the district's water department manager.

"IID and its stakeholders hope that this year represents a turning point, but that remains to be seen," Shields said.

Since the 2003 water transfer deal, the lake has lost a total of 23,800 acres of surface area and has dropped 9.5 feet, according to Justine Herrig, senior environmental scientist with the state water board.

The Salton Sea Management Program's 10-year plan seeks to cover about 30,000 acres of exposed playa in dust suppression projects and restored habitat by 2028. And in February, CNRA released its Salton Sea Management Program annual report, which outlined a goal of 3,800 acres of dust suppression by the end of 2020.

So far, though, the state has only completed work at one site, the Bruchard Road Dust Suppression Project, which built furrows and trenches across 112 acres of playa to tamp down windblown dust.

"By the end of 2021, we will have somewhere in the range of 6,000 to 7,500 acres of work completed. Quite frankly, this is how we get caught up and get back on track," said Arturo Delgado, the state's Salton Sea czar as a CNRA assistant secretary.

Delgado said that a contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., was selected in July to begin construction in the fall to cover 3,770 acres of exposed playa. That work is expected to be completed by 2023, Delgado said, adding that while the first step will be simple dust suppression — Bruchard Road-style furrows, for example — CNRA eventually plans to convert those sites to restored habitat.

Public officials also touted another project that recently took steps toward getting off the ground.

CNRA announced on Tuesday that it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District to move forward with the Desert Shores Channel Restoration Project. Lake levels have dropped so far that water can no longer flow into channels built into this small community along the lake's western shore.

Now, brackish water sitting at the bottom of the largely dry channels breeds insects, cyanobacteria and a strong stench. The Imperial County-led project proposed there, which is championed by local homeowners, would build a berm across the entrance to the gap that once let Salton Sea water flow in and refill the area with water that would then be treated.

"Our ask in regards to the Desert Shores restoration is that we need to see work on the ground so we can point to some progress," Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley said.

Kelley concluded his presentation with a common sentiment, calling on the state to work faster.

"Help us make a change in this corner of California," he said. "Help the forgotten Californians.”

Mark Olalde covers the environment for The Desert Sun. Get in touch at molalde@gannett.com, and follow him on Twitter at @MarkOlalde.

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August 20, 2020 at 07:12AM
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California still hasn't found analyst to study Salton Sea water import proposals it asked for - Desert Sun

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