The Salton Sea presents one of California’s most pressing ecological and environmental justice crises. The shrinking sea threatens habitat for millions of fish and birds, and as the sea’s shoreline recedes, a pollutant-laced dust spills into nearby communities and threatens the health of 650,000 people living nearby.
Do you have an idea for how to address the public health and environmental crises around the Salton Sea? Are you concerned the state is far behind on implementing solutions? You can let them know this month.
The California Natural Resources Agency announced it will be hosting a new round of public engagement sessions in September to get input to assist in the development of wildlife habitat restoration and dust suppression projects for the Salton Sea Management Program’s 10-year plan.
Water is central to nearly everything we value in California. Healthy communities, economies, farms, ecosystems and cultural traditions depend on steady supplies of safe water. Those values are increasingly at risk as California confronts more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, overdrafted groundwater basins, aging infrastructure and other challenges magnified by climate change.
The Imperial County Air Pollution Control District on Tuesday hit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Imperial Irrigation District with notices of violation for ongoing pollution at a long-stalled Salton Sea restoration project.
The violations allege that the federal agency and the water district have only made sporadic attempts since 2016 to complete work at the several-hundred-acre Red Hill Bay site, “causing numerous instances of elevated levels of airborne dust.”
During a meeting of the State Board of Food and Agriculture on Tuesday, Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said the administration is continuing to advance the Water Resilience Portfolio and plans to complete the policy document soon. … The plan has stalled since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of California.
After a wet and snowy start, California’s winter has gone bust. The 2019-2020 water year started off with robust precipitation after a series of storms in November and early December 2019.
But the new year has not been as bountiful. Dry conditions in January and February added little to the Sierra Nevada snowpack.
Drought-resilient water supplies through diversification
Due to California’s climatological variability, including periods of drought, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have diversified water supply sources. Those successful efforts ensure supply reliability for the region’s 3.3 million residents and its $245 billion regional economy.
“Based on current supply levels, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies will meet anticipated demands through a combination of drought-resilient local and regional water resources,” said Goldy Herbon, Water Authority senior water resources specialist.
Water supplies will meet demand
Herbon said the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, conserved agricultural water transfers, savings from canal lining projects and continued water-use efficiency measures are among the reasons the region’s water supply will meet demand.
The multi-decade water supply diversification plan, along with major infrastructure improvements and forward-thinking policies, also promote fiscal and environmental responsibility.
Dry times in Northern California
While rainfall totals have been closer to average in most of Northern California, downtown Sacramento and downtown San Francisco did not receive any precipitation in February, according to the National Weather Service. The last time San Francisco saw a dry February was in 1864, according to the NWS.
February 2020 was the driest on record for the northern Sierra (8-station index)! Observed precip was 0.2 inches compared to the average of 8.2 inches. Data courtesy of @CA_DWR #cawx #cawater pic.twitter.com/PJMD7u2Uuu
— NWS California-Nevada RFC (@NWSCNRFC) March 1, 2020
Rainfall above historical average in San Diego
Southern California is faring better, with rainfall at 125% of the historical average at Lindbergh Field in San Diego.
Most major California reservoirs are at or above the historical averages for late-February.
The state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 92% (Oroville) and 132% (Melones) of their historical averages for February 26. Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 107% of its historical average and sits at 78% of capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
The Department of Water Resources February 27 conducted the third manual snow survey of 2020 at Phillips Station. The manual survey recorded 29 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 11.5 inches, which is 47% of the March average for this location, according to a DWR news release. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack, which provides a more accurate forecast of spring runoff.
Spring storms could boost snowpack
“Right now, 2020 is on track to be a below-average year but we could still see large storms in March and April that will improve the current snowpack,” said Sean de Guzman, chief of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Section. “While periods of dry conditions are expected in California, climate change has made them more unpredictable and extreme which is why we must always use the water we have wisely.”
Looking ahead, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast favors above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through May for most of California.
A new ocean protection plan sets out steps to safeguard California’s coast against rising seas, while shoring up public access and building coastal economies.
The Ocean Protection Council on Wednesday approved the Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Oceans, a five-year roadmap for navigating threats including climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity. The council, a policy body within the California Natural Resources Agency, wanted to distinguish the new plan from previous editions, by focusing on specific timelines and funding sources.
The California Natural Resources Agency this week released its Salton Sea Management Program annual report, which trumpeted the first completed dust suppression project and set ambitious goals for upcoming mitigation efforts.
The report lays out an aggressive target of 3,800 acres on which the agency hopes to complete efforts to tamp down dust by the end of 2020 to catch up with its long-term benchmarks.
“We’re well-positioned and have identified a suite of projects that will help us accomplish that goal by the end of this year,” said Arturo Delgado, the agency’s assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy.
It shouldn’t have come to this.
California has seen wars over water waged across time eternal it seems. Grand deals negotiated by the likes of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have been hailed as long-dreamed-for solutions to the complicated battles waged by the competing interests of agriculture, environmentalists and thirsty urban areas, only to fail to live up to their hype.
In recent months, however, it seemed that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration was breaking the logjam, working on a compromise that would help realign the state’s water paradigm to something all sides could accept.
“I’m trying to put together a peace plan in the delta,” Wade Crowfoot, Newsom’s secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, is quoted in a column this week by the Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton. “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but there’s beginning to be a sea change in many of these water users. They’re just tired of fighting.”
IMPERIAL — Representatives from Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County took to the air Friday to get a keen view of California’s largest and most troubled lake.
Coordinated by Audubon California, the flights took off from Imperial County Airport Friday morning, flying over the perimeter of the Salton Sea. Passengers witnessed the decline of the receding lake and viewed the IID’s and the state’s dust mitigation projects and Audubon’s proposed new project, Bombay wetlands.