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Salton Sea Battle Continues


Last updated 12/19/2016 at 10:02am

Managers of water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada gathered together to finalize a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River before the end of the Obama administration. The deadline has now proven to be unobtainable and the talks acknowledge they likely won’t be able to finish an agreement until at least several months into President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

The deal is being held up by complications, with the Salton Sea appearing to be the main issue. Managers of the Imperial Valley’s water district, are demanding California officials first present a detailed plan for addressing the Salton Sea’s accelerating decline. They say they want to see a credible “road map” for dealing with the thousands of acres of lakebed that will be left exposed in the coming years.

So far, they say they’re still far from satisfied.

“There has got to be a going-forward plan we can believe in at the Salton Sea,” said Kevin Kelley, general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. “We remain willing, but we’ve got to be able to answer this open question at the Salton Sea.”

Last month, Kelley laid down a deadline and called for the state to present a plan for the Salton Sea by Dec. 31.

A week ago, the Imperial Irrigation District received an internal draft of the state’s 10-year plan. Kelley said it’s too soon to pass judgment on the unfinished document, but based on his initial review, “it still lacks the specificity that we called for.”

The document, which was obtained by The Desert Sun, summarizes the state’s proposals for a “smaller but sustainable lake” and lays out broad goals for building new wetlands along the lake’s receding shores to cover up stretches of exposed lake bottom and provide habitat for birds.

The document says an estimated 50,000 acres of “playa” will be left dry and exposed around the lake by 2028. The construction of “water backbone infrastructure” is to begin with ponds where water from the lake’s tributaries will be routed to create new wetlands. According to the 24-page document, which describes the Salton Sea Management Program, initial construction will start on exposed lakebed west of the mouth of the New River “to take advantage of existing permits.”

The draft says that in addition to building wetlands, the state also will use “waterless dust suppression” techniques in some areas. Those approaches can include using tractors to plow stretches of lakebed to create dust-catching furrows, or even laying down bales of hay on the exposed lake bottom as barriers to block windblown dust.

Kelley said the document lacks key details on funding and timing. He pointed out that it also doesn’t mention the proposed Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP.

“The milestones are, I think, still ambiguous and certainly not enforceable,” Kelley said. “As it stands today, based on what we’ve seen in this response from the state, we cannot participate in a DCP.”

Bruce Wilcox, who was appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown to lead the state’s efforts at the Salton Sea, said he expects more details will be added to the plan before it’s publicly released later this month. He pointed out that the plan does include a schedule for the construction of projects, with the aim of keeping up with the rate at which the lakeshore recedes.

“I’m sure IID wants more. It’s difficult to give them more,” Wilcox said. “The next level of detail is where you actually start construction drawings.”

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