State Water Resources Control Board commits to timetable for Salton Sea restoration

The State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday committed to an annual timetable for habitat restoration and dust suppression projects aimed at rehabilitating the Salton Sea over the course of the next decade.

The agreement sets milestones for completing projects within the $383 million Salton Sea Management Plan, which calls for construction of 29,800 acres of ponds, wetlands and dust suppression projects to restore the receding lake, beginning with 500 acres in 2018, increasing to 4,200 acres by 2028.

The agreement also includes committing to a long-term plan — to be created by 2022 — that goes beyond the initial 10-year plan.

“Successful management of a smaller but sustainable Salton Sea requires active support and participation from local, state and federal governing bodies, and stakeholders,” State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus said. “The annual milestones give us a roadmap to pick up the pace, and the annual public meeting will maintain transparency and keep a light shining on this hugely important effort and on all of us.”

The plan is part of ongoing efforts to restore the lake’s receding shoreline. The exposed lakebed has uncovered toxic dust, which has been harmful to both humans and animals living nearby. The dust has caused respiratory problems for residents in both Imperial and Eastern Riverside counties, while rising salinity in the lake has also threatened food sources for local birds and other wildlife.

“We heard from residents of the Imperial and Coachella valleys, and understand the urgent need to improve air quality and maintain valuable habitat,” State Water Board member Joaquin Esquivel said. “We are going to be monitoring the restoration work closely, and have identified cumulative milestones necessary to protect public health and the environment.”

The State Water Board’s annual public meetings will feature updates on completed projects, amount of acreage and financial resources. Unspecified steps have also been outlined if the state fails to achieve its yearly targets.

Funding for the plan includes more than $80 million in voter-approved bonds from the state, a $14 million grant from the state Wildlife Conservation Board and a $7.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

A $200 million bond measure recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown will go before voters on the statewide ballot next June.

State environmental agencies praised the agreement as a commitment to improving the health of residents and the overall habitat surrounding the lake.

“This agreement locks in a shared vision for projects and activities over the next 10 years to protect air quality, habitat and water supply reliability in the Salton Sea region,” California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird said. “It provides assurance for all parties that state agencies will live up to our commitments.”

California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriguez said: “Restoration of a smaller but sustainable Salton Sea is critical to protecting air quality for Imperial and Coachella valley residents and maintaining valuable wildlife habitat. This consensus agreement shows the way forward, while the State Water Board’s oversight provides the transparency and accountability to ensure we meet its goals.”

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