County Supes get facts on new comprehensive plan for Salton Sea initiative

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IMPERIAL COUNTY — Offering an extensive, but manageable goal-oriented proposal, Bruce Wilcox, the newly appointed assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the Natural Resources Agency, spoke before the Imperial County Board of Supervisors Tuesday on the Salton Sea Restoration & Renewable Energy Initiative.

The Salton Sea initiative, launched by the Imperial Irrigation District in partnership with Imperial County, sets forth a plan to present the state with a comprehensive blueprint that prevents the receding Salton Sea from becoming an ecological disaster that would threaten the health of neighboring counties.

“The time is past for finger pointing and incriminating others, all of us are looking instead for solutions,” Wilcox told the board.

Under legislation passed in 2013, the Salton Sea Authority now locally manages planning and implementing projects for the sea, with support from the State of California.

The ambitious goals of the plan presented include preserving air quality, maintaining the sea as a major bird migratory point on the Pacific Flyway, providing clean renewable energy for California residents, maintaining habitation, and continuing to supply coastal cities with a consistent water supply. The plan calls for implementation of new renewable energy projects located at the sea to partially fund the mitigation plan.

Because of new satellite data, the hydrology model was retooled to note the latest changes on the shrinking sea, Wilcox said. He told the board that the model shows shrinkage will expose 100 square miles in the coming years, exposing playa whose blowing dust could mimic conditions during the 1930’s “Dust Bowl,” lodging harmful particles in lungs, and potentially causing considerable pulmonary diseases in residents.

Wilcox said that new solar and geothermal energy projects would have a dual purpose, producing renewable energy and doubling as groundcover, keeping the playa stabilized.

The $3.2 billion plan, a substantial savings compared to an earlier $9 billion plan, has three stages of attack, beginning with building shallow ponds on already exposed lakebed.

The two-foot shallow saline ponds would not only cover the playa, but also provide shelter and food for shorebirds through planted wetland grasses. Wilcox said that the exposed playa could also be covered by renewable energy facilities such as extensive photovoltaic arrays, solar gradient ponds, biofuel ponds, and geothermal plants.

Fresh water shallow ponds would also be created using fresh water flowing in from the Imperial and Coachella Valleys towards the sea. The ponds would be created at a small distance from the sea and be linked by a gravity-fed channel to circulate the water between the west shores, the northern side of the sea and the eastern shoreline.

Wilcox said the California Task Force was very interested in the comprehensive plan after officially receiving the documents. Everyone is very interested in moving forward, he said.

Board member, John Renison (Dist.1) agreed, saying it was important for the County, the IID, and the State to all be on the same page.